OR OF THE MIGRATION OUT OF THE BODY
I’m 55, class 1966. I grew up with the Italian national television starting the children programs at 5pm. Until then, it was outdoor playtime, gardens’ and streets’ embodiment, dirt and runs, bicycles and scratched knees, fights, alliances and the marvelous intimacy with the city wild flora and fauna.
There were two TV channels: we would sit on the sofa and, in order to change channel, volume or brightness, you would have to stand up and touch the machine. That was our touch TV.
The word remote is Latin; it means to move away from. It is contained in the verb “to remove”. I saw the remote control arriving, it was a magical object, revered as the ultimate power. At the time, it seemed science fiction. The one who had control over it, had the choice of the channel. That was the beginning of the process towards couch potatoing.
The Greeks had two divinities in charge of Time: Chronos, the god of the flowing time and Kairos, the god of the instant, the sublime moment for an opportunity to emerge and to be caught. Carpe diem. Seize the day.
The television became something else when it became possible to record a program on a VHS tape and watch it later. Finally, we had power over Chronos. And then there were shops renting VHS tapes and, later on, DVDs. We were finally liberated from the daily programming and the fateful question: what’s on tonight at the telly?
I saw the first mobile phone, a brick-like object that in the 90’s became a status symbol.
I saw the first and the last answering machine, made obsolete by voice-boxes.
I saw the arrival of fax machines, and computers. When word processing completely transformed the writing process and freed us from the tragedy of spelling mistakes and made our handwriting a vestigial practice.
But the real game changer, the Deux ex Machina for homo sapiens was the Internet: the world wide web, finally the dream of an interconnected world at our fingertips.
I saw the invasion of emails.
Faxes? Gone. Letters? Gone. Cards, gone. Except for Christmas, for somebody, sometimes, the first years…and then…gone.
Voice messages, phone calls… endangered. Birthday cards…gone. Text messages were the new rulers.
I saw the transition from dial-up Internet to broadband to WIFI to smart phones. 2G 3G 4G.
I saw 11 generations of iPhones.
As everyone, I have upgraded myself to this new technologies, sometimes happily and willingly, sometimes with some initial resistance and perplexity. Often, I have been forced by the machines themselves to upgrade or stop using them all together. I have followed the flow, mainly to stay in touch with everyone else. But I was observing my pattern of behaviour and there were some disturbing processes. My brain was changing.
I have embraced the internet: emails, websites, smart phones. And at one point I draw a line to not cross. This line was Facebook and the social media. This made me a dinosaur. I am writing this so that the reader will understand why some of my thoughts and observations will sound obsolete. They are. I am a digital dinosaur with analogical nostalgia. And I confess that I miss my pre-internet brain.
Why I am not on facebook, nor on any other anti-social media, is a chapter that you will find later in this journal. Here I will just say that I did not want to say the same things to everyone. Books, articles, websites and blogs were already there for this. I did not want to perform my communication on a virtual stage, to write to myself in order to let people know what I do, what I feel, who I am, who I am with.
The fact is that I was already in an obsolete position, resisting a wave of technological innovations, when the pandemics hit and this whole scenario of remoteness took over.
What started with the remote control ended up with remote work. The word on-line is somehow more upbeat, it evokes the on-air of the radio waves. An on-line performance sounds like something that could be on-something. On-line theatre still holds some promises. So I prefer to call it remote theatre, to feel its impact, as well as its absurdity. Like a remote kiss. No thanks.
Now, whether it is a theatre piece or a pedagogic event, we have the option to perform it from a remote position to a remote audience. The audience which usually would gather as an assembly in the same shared physical emotional and poetic space, is now spread in multiple places, so the interaction between humans is fundamentally transformed and very seriously impacted by the nature of the technology.
What has been most stunning to me, is the speed in which a vast majority of the world population, at least in the so-called developed countries, has simply accepted this instant migration into cyberspace. Within weeks, hundreds of millions of people have abandoned the real reality and moved into cyberspace. As if the remote learning could replace efficiently the live connection. The first week was an emergency, the second week was an adjustment, the third week was an evolution, the fourth week was a progress, the fifth week was the new normal. Welcome to the future !
To embrace this remote mode as the new normal, is a political action with tremendous consequences. It means to embrace a technology that will keep us distant while claiming the opposite.
These are tricky times. Very tricky.