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01
Monday
01 June 2020

The phone, the non-place par excellence

Belittling intimate pleasures, amplifying wishes, digitising happiness.
We were lost and gave up the virtue of simplicity: a smile, a hug, our awareness. We also let go of a fundamental action. Contemplation. Looking inside ourselves and being aware of every instant – an aware person constantly knows what they do and know their position in the universe and their relation with others; they see the world with a cosmic perception and from a different perspective – one from above.

Our soul is all but forgotten. ‘But there is no time!’

There was never time – hardly surprising, as busy as we were. This forced halt gave us the chance to reflect and contemplate life. Did we seize the chance, or did we simply make the most to connect with real and virtual friends via a screen? In the past, the whir, click, and buzz of a phone allowed us to hear a voice. Now it is but a mere metronome measuring different stages. It delivers information quickly and leaves us with the illusion of having learnt something, and that knowledge is just a click away. If it were really that smart, it would tell us that what we consider knowledge is nothing other than a messy pseudo ethical-scientific-medical-literary approximation of knowledge.

Instagram lives by the next self-proclaimed Oliviero Toscani, without ever having read anything by Man Ray or knowing the type of strength behind Salgado’s black and white pictures, can be a great hobby; they can help us socialise and help us see the surface of the world of images… but they can also be misleading lessons.

Many of us, too many, forgot how to read. The risk of falling into a pixelated world of subjective opinions and ending up with blinkers is real. Breaking news and alerts on the phone, vomiting figures and constant statistics about deaths can make me lose objective sight of a world which, let’s not forget, did not start at the end of February. We have created a tailored, pocket-sized world with our phone, a coruscation of illusions which convinces us we are alive and live in the ‘right’ reality. A world seen through the prism of different moralities and traditions which are not opposite to each other but exist in parallel. Phones gather many things: wishes, signs, languages, outbursts, egos, different hearts and pixels, places where people comment on their solitude.

Speaking of places: smartphones are non-places par excellence. A non-place for the individual.

Years ago, Marc Augé defined non-places as concrete spaces: a huge airport, a shopping centre, the sound of thousands of evanescent footsteps echoing in the halls. Ghosts, if you will, that is what we are, going through life with our head turned down, eyes fixed on that thing in our hand. An illusory extension of life. You can experience emotions on your phone; however, these emotions are not a byword for connections and being with someone. Bonds need feelings – and phones can’t create them. You can feel less alone with a smartphone, you can exchange words without thinking too much about them. We can convey real wishes, flights of fantasy and memories, true or false they may be. But that is not enough.

It is fundamental to know and see how to recognise who and what is true in what for many, especially young people, is a parallel world. This digital world needs to be outlined, not demonized, ensuring we do not lose sight of being able to see a starry sky.

It doesn’t make much sense to doggedly keep on using an old Nokia – guilty as charged – trying to escape innovation if one has the mental ability to distinguish what is right from wrong.
I would like to confess that I, too, have discovered Instagram. I have seen beautiful things and I have seen a world made of trash. I have seen angry people and understood that even if we have been talking for decades about the environment, the real war could be that of technological systems and their chains of defects which could halt entire cities. I have also understood another thing: most of us will not be able to live without the digital world. I imagine many young people are about to go through a smartphone crisis, an overdose crisis. I think of the younger generations: they need our physical presence. I think of those who will have trouble distinguishing the real world from the fictional reality because their mothers were glued to online lessons and their fathers participated in constant videoconferences.

Working from home, therefore, seems to break down the boundaries of work and life balance, it is invasive and ridicules any type of personal privacy.

Where has that slower time gone, the one we had during these last months? If we do not focus, we will create closed, scared, unalert, fragile porcelain teenagers with wraith-like adults guiding them.
Luckily, there will be plenty of them and plenty of us – those who despite virtual reality, will have plenty of energy and want to have a beer at the bar, a stout at the Biraria Murin together with other people outdoor. They will not want to know anything about that smartphone.
And let me confess: I am raring to go. I want to hug that ancient larch, and hug people. Once my Instagram Lives finish, I will become one of the people who place the phone somewhere to reinvent themselves. Become more human than I was before.

Michil Costa