Suspended in (cyber) Space – For better or for worse? (For CLTR 3508)

I don't know about you, but it feels like everything and nothing has changed for me in this pandemic.
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Note: This post is written for a grade in a University course about Issues in Cyberculture. While the views herein are still my own and perhaps not much different from the content I would freely post here (had I not abandoned my seven readers some months ago), I am very much conscious of what I am about to write, knowing that my lecturer will read it. I am unsure whether that awareness is working for or against me, or whether it will make my content more or less authentic than what was posted here before I started this course, but here we go…

I don’t know about you, but it feels like everything and nothing has changed for me in this pandemic.

While I’m still trying to figure out whether my life is falling apart or coming together in 2020, I do know one thing – it’s all happening online. I mean literally all of it. A day without my phone these days is a day that did not happen. Here’s why:

  1. I work in communications – Once upon a time (circa February 2020) my job involved attending events, face-to-face interviews, boardroom meetings, unpredictable cafeteria lunch and pleasant office banter that made the work lighter. These days it’s zoom interviews, zoom events, zoom meetings, predictably tasteless food from my own kitchen, and the occasional WhatsApp message from a coworker that’s yet another message to open and respond to. If my Internet is out for a day, I’m out for a day.
  2. There is nowhere to go – On new year’s eve a friend had begged me to attend the fireworks on the Waterfront for the first time in my life, and I refused as usual. Let’s just say right now I deeply regret that decision. I also regret never attending ISSA Boys’ and Girls Champs, even though my High School was in top 5 every year for both. I regret never attending a cricket or football match. I regret never going to Taboo. I regret every Church invitation I turned down… you get the idea. I, a sworn crowd-hater, miss the excitement of crowded spaces.
  3. My entire social life is online – My best friend’s baby turned one in October, and my niece back in June, and I attended both their parties on Zoom. It really doesn’t feel like I was there, especially with the connection issues, not-so-tech-savvy people on the line, and the fact that one-year-old don’t know that real people are in the phones telling them happy birthday. I felt more disconnected than ever. I live alone with my son, and I realize that days can go by where I don’t utter a single word to an adult in person. My friends are all online. My parents are online. My life is online.

Yea, we shifted. So what, Candiece?

The problem here is that I don’t want to spend all my time online. It’s weird. Before this dependency on the Internet, I spent a lot more voluntary hours there. A few months ago I was even wondering if I was addicted to social media, and I found it very hard to put my phone down for extended periods. These days, however, I’m wishing half the time that I didn’t have to take it up. I can see the clear benefits of having everything so readily accessible at my fingertips, and on the other hand, I can also see the issues that can arise from increased screen time. I’m having a hard time deciding whether my COVID-driven suspension into cyberspace, in my particular circumstance is for the better or for worse.

Here’s my dilemma:

For better: My job now requires less effort, money and time

I don’t need to go into details here. I switched from waking up early, getting dressed, getting my son ready for school, waiting at the bus stop, going to the office, buying lunch, traveling to assignments, waiting around idly for meetings and events to start, spending about two hours max each day actually creating content then taking the bus back home, to signing into my machine and being present at work. It’s no surprise that studies show remote workers being at least 13% more productive, according to BBC. It just takes less physical effort.

For worse: My job now requires more focus

I live in a small studio apartment, so believe me, nobody was happier than I was when the government allowed the daycare down the street to reopen. My son has been going at least half of each week since (shhh, don’t tell my boss). So there, child out of the way, I should focus, right? Wrong. My neighbour’s dogs, the men cutting yards, Netflix, my bed (which is three footsteps away from my little desk) and my household chores have other plans. I run my own canteen now, so I have to make food, and try as I might, work is not very appealing at home. Count me out of that 13% BBC, I’m just struggling to stay awake and employed here.

For Better: I no longer HAVE to meet people in person

I have no idea what one of my two lecturers look like this semester, save for her display picture in the virtual classroom. Apart from the few I knew pre-pandemic, I don’t know any of my classmates. For work, I was very ambitious early on and tried to do my interviews with cameras on and everything, but I soon learned to just go with the Flow (phone call, email, Whatsapp only). These days I conduct full personality interviews and write articles about people without even knowing what they look like beyond the pictures they send to me for publication. It’s all very simple, and it leaves little room for biases and ill-feelings to develop before the work is done.

For worse: I no longer GET to meet people in person

It just all feel so transactional that it almost feels pointless. I don’t love the stories I write for work, because I feel like there is hardly any soul in them. How do I pay attention in a two hour lecture when I can’t even imagine the lecturer’s expressions and how they match her voice? I didn’t even realize how different voices sound coming through speakers, vs going directly from a mouth to my ear, until speaker voices was all I was hearing. They are not the same. Imagining the people I am interacting with is getting increasingly harder, and the interactions are getting increasing unappealing.

For better: Social media has never been more engaging

The war is on between these social networks for what’s left of my attention span, I tell you! Just these last few weeks I can recall LinkedIn introducing a ‘Story’ feature similar to Whatsapp Facebook and Instagram, Twitter made it a little harder to retweet without adding my thoughts, and WhatsApp introduced disappearing messages (so I better open the chat as soon as it goes ding, just to make sure). It’s very hard to miss a moment, when everything noteworthy is happening right there on the phone. It has never been easier to create and consume information in cyber space.

For worse: Social media has never been more overwhelming

I’m sure there is a theory about surplus and demand to explain this, but this increased Internet usage, to the point where it is a dependency, has made me feel way less inclined to use it. In fact, I feel the need, more than ever, to escape it. I often feel like I have seen enough, heard enough, scrolled enough. My brain is having a hard time computing that I just went from work to class to class to a live concert in an hour without even changing my posture. I feel anxious and dissatisfied. Every social group is pushing their virtual agenda, to the point where it feels like insanity. I am overwhelmed and just need to unplug. For a long time.

To be honest, I have never been more connected to the Internet, but I have never felt less connected to reality. The pros are clear and appreciated, but so are the cons. The jury is still out on this one.

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