There are dangers in surrounding ourselves with screens. Not the danger that we will become one, but the severe danger that we will lose contact with the tangible nature of the environment we live in. Tangible, touchable, palpable — not just words, but essential parts of our being, fundamental to the cellular/physical nature of humans.
Smell, passion, sight are not just extensions of who we are, but at the heart of what we mean by human life. I am not a believer in the post-human, since I am pretty sure the term references more of a psychological state than a real one. I am a lover of digital culture and the world it has generated, but not ready to give up on the sounds of birds, the smells of a wet tropical forest or the vistas available to anyone who climbs a hill or a mountain.
The visual power of screens and in particular, the visual power of internet-based communications technologies does not so much convert the world into a vast array of signs and symbols, as it supports and promotes the potential strength of people interacting with each other. Screens now mediate most of these interactions, but that does not mean that we have to abandon the physical world we share.
How does this make you feel? A father is feeding his daughter. He holds the bottle in one hand and an iPhone in the other. The screen of the iPhone is in Facetime mode. The baby is staring at her mother who is talking and gesticulating — trying against all odds to reach out from the screen to her child. The interaction is rich in potential and contradiction. On the one hand, mother and child are “together.” On the other hand, they are not. The father has become the medium and is a passive observer.
This scene, which is more like a tableau, took place in Whole Foods near their food counter on November 29th 2013.
If screens are boundaries, mediators and frames for reality, then it is possible to envision the baby connecting with her mother solely through the screen of the iPhone. As preposterous as this may appear to be, that is essentially what Facebook is, a virtual environment to which we entrust some of our most personal moments. This is largely because connection has superseded the rather banal and sometimes trying moments of physical interaction. That is the ultimate irony of networks. They permit, encourage and support interconnection without the need to test the physical space of touch and smell and more. (Part 2 will appear soon.)