Coronavirus: What Has Happened to Us, People?Society | November 23, 2020, Monday // 13:39| views
Today, some 50 to 80 percent of those who are now working remotely say that they prefer to stay at home even after the pandemic is over. Even in the less developed digital economies, such as that in Bulgaria, the figures are similar. The common platforms, video connection, access to all kinds of archives and programs actually makes our labor more productive. We save hours of being strangled in traffic jams, relax on a sofa in pajamas with our favorite cat in the lap while our bosses save money on office rent.
However, any progress has its price. Remote working contributes to growing inequality between people. Some have all kinds of conveniences at home, others do not, some families have a separate room for each member and can afford moving to a comfortable summer house, others can find isolation only in a wardrobe. There is an emerging will for universal and free access to the Internet and if the quarantine persists, probably there will also emerge new policies in this sphere.
So far, though, workers shoulder the main burden of the digital migration. I do not know how matters stand with the Bulgarian school teachers, but we, at the universities started working remotely without any help from the institution, it did not pay neither for internet subscriptions, nor for new PCs. Some may say that these are trifles but these trifles are too many.
Close things proved to be so far away
The new remote work sets a new trend – it may blur the distinction between work and leisure time. Well, you are at your colleagues’ disposal practically around the clock. To the difference in Internet skills, which some of us had luck to acquire before the pandemic, one more purely psychological difference will be added that remote work makes even more prominent – the ability to plan your work, to control without anyone breathing down your neck.
This ability will replace the skill of establishing useful connections. So to say, the sociable people will be replaced by those more concentrated. Online conferences pose another specific problem. On the one hand, workers do prefer them to offline meetings: while the boss is reading a boring report they can cook something or play solitaire. There was such a trend before the pandemic too, especially in big halls here you could yak on your phone unnoticed pretending to be listening.
It is a serious question whether the virtual meetings can substitute for physical ones, which have become terribly boring for us. We fancy increasingly perfect communications which transmit the facial expression of every participant, their tone and intonation. Artificial intelligence will probably start zooming and enlarging specific approach angles, similar to cameras in reality shows, we will have data about body temperature and heartbeat rate of our interlocutors.
Anyhow, all of the hitherto civilizations have developed almost religious faith in the physical face-to-face contacts, in a nutshell – in a common bodily experience which strengthens our contacts. When two heads of state meet it is an event; when they have a videoconference it is a routine occurrence. Conference connections leave a feeling of some simulation, same as civic protests on Facebook, an attempt to replace physical presence in the square. It is easier to hate on the Internet. Alienation, however, does not only make our relationships more frigid.
As show the surveys, aggression, be it racial, homophobic or class – is inversely related to the fact of our personal acquaintance with live people or just virtual images. This is the reason why such storms of hatred are raging on the Internet, stirred mainly by otherwise peaceful people sitting on their sofas in pajamas. Just think about homeless street beggars – their ‘business’ has been hit the hardest by our transition to life online because passers-by became Internet surfers.
In contrast, those organizations that have websites and digital PR are now prospering, like Amazon or Facebook, according to the ironical “Matthew Rule”, “the rich will get richer and the poor get poorer”. There is no need mentioning the revolution in shopping, which will soon transform stores into exhibitions where you only go for looking around and then order everything online. The price of this amenity is the death of small district food stores, small bookstores and emerging businesses. The humankind’s migration to the virtual world made us start living with remote things – we follow new sequels on Netflix, get excited over US presidential election or love drama of Cloe Kardashian. And vice versa – things right around us have drifted farther away – quarantine made going outside a travel adventure.
You for sure have noticed that we have forgotten about going to a cinema, for example? Today we face the risk of losing the habit of physical visits to museums, concerts or theaters. Not that we will lose interest in them but we will grow accustomed to visiting them online and this will change the whole thing, same as cinema changed after the onset of TV era. Now life is running in hybrid mode. People learned to organize Facebook parties, with crystal glasses and candles, each on his side of the screen. It is not only cheaper but also more practical – everyone may cook what they like.
We are prepared for this type of communication thanks to the touching Internet parenting, when a mom staying in Italy asks her child in some village in Rhodopes if he or she had breakfast or did homework. What will happen to friendships when people will stop visiting their neighbors and start having dinners with friends around the globe? And the younger ones will dance at the online parties? One may ask, what party is it if I am not there? But it seems that emotions may be contagious even at a distance.
The main thing is that the event is experienced at the same time – time coincidence replaces the coincidence of place. Such streaming-communities make a breakthrough in organizing political party’s rallies, scientific conferences and even religious services. Maybe, after the pandemic we will again go back to the squares, auditoriums and churches but it is highly probable that our lives will go on mostly in hybrid mode. The Internet hermitage will affect love relationships most as bodily contact is inevitable in this case.
The previous generation has already lived through AIDS drama which made the then youngsters to sharply limit their sexual freedom. Today, senior people are at greater risk but the fear of other’s bodies has permeated the entire society. In this case the quarantine is knocking on the open door: online dating has long become part of our culture, it is no longer еembarrassing to look for a partner or spouse via an online dating agency. What’s to be done – we have to learn to live under null-gravity conditions of the novel online world. If there is any benefit from this damned virus, this is it.
Ivailo Dichev, Deutsche Welle
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