I was watching this documentary this evening and it made me think about the way technology and lockdown have created a new reality.
I warn you now that I’ve been reading a lot of Heidegger, so he might pop up here and there, but I think there are some valuable reflections to be had on the current times.
Being in the world pre-covid
If we want to describe what Being in the world is (or Being-in-the-world, how Heidegger terms it) it’s the way of being that we have in our everydayness. The alarm rings in the morning (the one I set the night before because I have things to do and I have to wake up by a certain time) and I wake up. I know what it means – it is not an alarm that signals that there is a burglar or a fire in the house, it poses no threat, I know what it means; I wake up. I eat – I know what food is, where the fridge is, I know that if I mix oats and water in a pan and warm it over the fire it will make porridge. These are banal examples, but this is exactly what ‘being in the world’ is: going about our lives with meaning and knowing, understanding these meanings.
When I get out of the house, I also know that I live in a society where there are certain rules and certain customs. Pre-covid, I knew that if I wanted to catch a bus, it would only stop if I signalled the driver at a bus stop; I know he won’t stop randomly for me. In the UK, I know there is a certain distance to be observed between people (unless you are on the Central Line).
But being in the world is also something else: if you speak to an athlete, he or she or they will tell you that the moment where they perform at their best is when they are not thinking about their actions, but follow the flow of the game and of their bodies.
We are not just walking brains, we are our bodies, and our bodies help us to navigate the world. For example, I don’t have to think about how to move my legs when I use the stairs: my body knows those stairs and moves accordingly. I know those stairs. You know that weird feeling in old houses when the steps on a staircase are not all the same height and you’re having to calibrate your steps by looking at the steps and thinking about them? Thank goodness that’s not what we have to do all the time.
Part of this knowing has been taken over by technology: for example, I don’t necessarily need to know how to cook something, I can buy it ready-made, pop it in the microwave and tah-dah!
This applies to a lot of other things. For example, I am reading Heidegger this term and I know that if I don’t understand something, I can open my laptop, go to google and type my question – more often than not, I find an answer. I don’t have to look up references in a dusty library and read through lots of books to find my answer. What have I lost in the process though? I might have lost a lot of serendipitous, casual events and knowledge in the process of looking for an answer in a library. I will also have not held any books in my hands by asking Mr. Google. What is the difference to read a book and read a book on a Kindle?
Granted, technology has made our lives easier in many, many ways. It saves lives. It enhances our life. However, it depletes our life our many meaningful experiences too.
Technology and lockdown
You probably have a better idea of where my thoughts were going with this. I have written an article here before on something similar.
What is happening these days is a great example of how we’re losing (and missing) being in the world.
We barely leave our houses these days; we don’t interact in meaningful ways with people outside so much anymore, our interactions are mediated by Zoom and the like. Will I remember how to talk to people in real life?
We get our food delivered to our doorsteps, and most of the time it’s already cooked. Our society mass produces everything and we can trust Amazon to deliver it promptly to us. There are rules of conduct that must be observed (which are really important, please wear a mask) and which cannot be strayed from; although the current rules are important, they reduce our possibilities for risk-taking and spontaneity in very vital ways. I cannot hug my friend when I feel really close to them. I cannot walk really close to someone because I am lost in my thoughts.
During the first lockdown, the general malaise was very palpable. In this second lockdown, I notice myself ‘getting used’ to the way things are but also suffering in deeper ways. If before I was actively looking for ways to feel better and care for myself, now there is at times a sense of despondency and wanting to adjust. But I cannot adjust to being without the world. I need the world to be who I am.
Yesterday, I went to the garden and collected a bunch of dead leaves and foliage and branches and made a little composition out of it. It’s a small act, but it brought the wide-world back into my confined house-world.
Being with others is also part of who we are and how we thrive; so, call up your mum, your best friend, your sister or whoever. Meet up (outside) if you can. It’s important that we come out of this situation having beaten the Covid-19 virus but not at the expense of our sense of being human, being-in-the-world.