This is a repost from my COVID-19 Diaries at the Institute of Network Cultures.
In this edition I interrupt empathy-talk, question the romantic power of streamed TV, and learn about ‘Explainerism’.
29th March 2020:
We are shouting from our balconies in between the intervals of clapping. Buzzwords of the brink. But
Empathy is everywhere. Except, not really. Today when I was trying to play Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon in full on YouTube I had to wait for an ad by Masterclass, who seem to be really capitalising on the stuck-inside-moment. This one was for Natalie Portman’s acting classes. Learn to act with Natalie Portman! “Your job is to imagine somebody else’s life. It’s the act of empathy” she tells us amateurs. I knew empathy was trending.
Later on Twitter I see Ms. Portman is interrupting the lives of others. @jesslbergman ‘instagram explore, brimming with satanic energy in the best of times, will not stop showing me videos of natalie portman preparing awful bird meals in a professional grade kitchen’
At least somebody is getting paid. Heyoh. The next Youtube video lines itself up. Unlimited Basil! How To Grow More Than You Can Eat.
The clocks changed and I woke up not knowing. The digital bedside clock is now on the correct time, as is the one on the oven. One overdue task that now eradicated itself.
Word of the day: Reification
The process whereby human beings become dominated by things and become more thinglike themselves. Where commodities, technologies, things (i.e., “objects”) come to dominate people (“subjects”) divesting them of their human qualities and capacities.
29th March 2020:
I’m wondering if what’s tethering my boyfriend and I together are Netflix shows. We spend the day in separate rooms. He in the bedroom, and I in the living room. He’s at a desk, I’m at the dining table. Our hours roll by in our own virtual worlds. Working. I’m a freelancer, he’s employed. I’m writing like this, he’s on Slack. I’m making calls with random strangers; he’s trying to simulate office life with his colleagues. In the evening, we settle down to dinner and a show, lining up his laptop because he’s got the biggest screen.
Throughout the day, the hours get punctuated by breaks to the kitchen together, and spontaneous cuddles and kisses. To be honest, we’re loving this. We’ve never spent so much time together, having never lived together before, and the company of each other is something we consider fun, not merely tolerable. But it’s the evenings that draw us together. These evenings of a shared narrative and a comforting escape. Binge-watching is in his nature, it’s something he needs to be aware of. For me, it’s not a threat. One episode is more than enough before I want to get up and do something. Yet in this strange time, I feel a foreign sense of relaxation from dialling into trashy episodism. I finally get it.
I guess I knew this would happen to you
Inside I did, but I refused to know the truth
I’m headin’ back inside to sit at home with you
I think I know what’s wrong
– What Once Was, Her’s
Something bad is ’bout to happen to me
I don’t know it but I feel it comin’
Might be so sad, might leave my nose running
I just hope she don’t wanna leave me…
– Dark Red, Steve Lacy
We just finished Tiger King, like every other person in the world apparently, and it was freakishly exacerbating. Was watching somebody else’s fucked up world balming our own unbelievable dystopia? Okay, dystopia is an overstatement. We are safe and sound. Only semi-house bound. But was it relieving to live another’s fantasy for a while? No doubt. That’s what books, theatre, music and art have been there for, since forever. What’s up with the couple connection aspect though? I supposed when we put human interaction and connection in the lense of culture and its abilities, it is not so strange that the boyfriend and I are finding a cushy easy common ground with streamed TV. Perhaps I’m afraid by its power, only because it’s Netflix.
31st March 2020:
How many people are breaking up with their phones now? I heard social psychologist Adam Alter on an NPR podcast titled ‘IRL Online’ share his addiction barometer; “I ask people, how many hours a day is your phone out of reach from you, in a way that you have to move your feet to get it?” Men explain things to me. Personally, that is the majority of the time. Though I realise this is not true for the masses, and even saying that you’re not part of that majority is a trope for elitism.
Sent from my WhyPhone
– sign off in a recent email from Wyatt Troll in LA
I like even the most disorderly garden, but I am against the sense-vacated world of the screen.
– Anne Boyer
Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have
– Lana Del Ray
Thinking about Genesis P-Orridge with their passing. I remember a quote I’ve used from their iThese NPR podcasts are like the bubblegum of science. Chewable, delectable, easy. ‘A sense of ennui and overdetermination binds the audience of NPR podcasts together in a bloc of obnoxious explainerism’, says David Banks in his essay Podcast Out for the New Inquiry. Explainerism is a great term. My upcoming book fell into this camp through the naiveté that my experiences could provoke desire for change, out of a life that revolves around online everything and into ‘real life’ spent with real people. And better ideas. The moralist critique of myself can come later. For now I read the words ‘IRL Online’ and learn that I believe there is a real life that happens whilst sat behind screens too. An important area that cannot be overlooked. As much as I tried to shy away from it, now I’m one who lives in the new IRL and knows it has a deserved useful place as well. Right now the offline hangout with friends is not superior to the online. Where to from here?