Note — May 03, 2020

Home Screens

The state of quarantine—where anything can be delivered, work and schooling done from home (maybe), and entertainment delivered through fibre—seemed like exactly the future tech companies were trying to sell us anyway. So it should work, right? Drew Austin looks at what we are actually missing, and how incomplete that vision was (surprise, surprise!). Without as broad an experience of space, we are also losing our grasp of time. With far less real human connection, we lose the richness and depth that nourishes us.

Much of the last 15-20 years of tech (Silicon Valley) “innovation” has been about fulfilling the wishes of college dropouts, replacing their mom and abstracting human interaction. Great fit for a pandemic, but what kind of life is that?

When the formal quarantine came, it seemed like domestic cozy was fully coming into its own. Much of the necessary infrastructure was already in place. The world that tech companies had built and persistently tried to persuade us we wanted was waiting for us, ready to fully take over. It was consumer-facing disaster capitalism in action. […]

Pure economic exchanges can relocate to screen interactions with a minimal loss of fidelity, but encounters meant to be less instrumental are proving harder to sustain without the texture of physical space. Most of the apps we use for interaction simply unbundle an informational component from the scene of social contact. […]

“With people told to work from home and stay away from others, the pandemic has deepened reliance on services from the technology industry’s biggest companies while accelerating trends that were already benefiting them.” […]

Pandemics, beyond their direct consequences for those who get sick, heighten fear, paranoia, isolation, xenophobia, economic vulnerability, and depression. If some tech companies complement such a world well, we should ask why.