by Bindiya Bedi Charan
For the second year in a row, we enter April in a state of Covid fear, the thorniest Lent of our lives. A year ago, it was the shock, now the ordeal. Suffering and deprivation has affected the vulnerable and the strong to carry the weight of a cross that the pandemic has made heavier with an economic crunch. Though, I think the physical isolation is a bigger crisis and is pushing us to a near psychological mess.
We have not seen such a radical change in working conditions in our societies for the longest time. I find a complete abolishment of the distinction between public and private space in working life. The resumption of the traditions of working at home reminds me of the old spinners or the workers who farmed their pieces of land outside the factory. The most basic manual labour, agriculture and industry and some more qualified work (health sector, for example) could not, by nature of their work, be relegated to the domestic space. The fact is that the pandemic revealed the enormous potential of this way of working, made possible by the extraordinary technological advancement of digital media.
I am working at the edge of a computer. There are teachers who teach their classes, doctors who provide their teleconsultations, secretarial staff who carry out their tasks from the home computer, shift workers who, in the call centers attend calls of the companies’ customers. If we make an inquiry into their working conditions, we may be surprised not to find them as satisfied as they appear in the minds of some economists.
The meetings, the videoconferences always start, like the old spiritualism sessions of the past centuries, by ensuring that the participants in the network are effectively present, through successive invocations of images that slide across the screen, sometimes focussed, sometimes blurred, then without sound. And continue with all the voices overlapping furiously, then with the little microphones under the faces going out and a voice finally emerging. We can, it is true, turn off the camera and go on with our lives, while listening to the gathered voices and take part in the conversation only when it is our turn. But neither the meeting is more productive nor our understanding sharper.
Beyond those meetings, a rich cultural life in streaming is within reach of my computer. But does going to the theater or concert through this route offer me anything more attractive than everything that is available to me on the multiple platforms to which I have access? If real presence is expendable, and all history and creation in the world is offered to us in this extraordinary and infinite imaginary museum that technology today provides – then how to choose? If being physically in the concert hall is irrelevant, then why choose Sarod over Kailash Kher? If I have access to the Louvre and to the National Museum, why choose any of them? We miss the physical presence without any doubt, because the technically reproduced work of art has already been in our world for a long time.
At a festival of virtual poetry, I cannot stroll between sessions, socialize with other poets and poetry readers, skip sessions, wander around: I must watch everything from beginning to end on my computer until I see what interests me. In a work meeting I cannot have side conversations with the other participants, with gestures of support, quick moments of empathy without words – and this matters in any collective work, in any negotiation!
What becomes dominant, in this way of working, as in this online mode of culture and leisure activities, is the growing atomization, the destruction of ties between people, the undoing of collaborations and affections, the erosion of solidarity, of everything that makes us human and capable of resisting and creating. It is a sophisticated and highly effective way of control and exploitation.
Blaming the pandemic, resenting the social distancing is suffocating us into bitterness. Our collective spirit must not collapse. We cannot just wait for the day when the saviour will redeem us. Our moods oscillate between excessive enthusiasm and depressive pessimism, as if this collective bipolarity were the identity of our nation, one of the oldest civilizations in the world. We must find ourselves stronger and, together and more supportive, recognize that we are unique and unrepeatable beings. We must live with the heightened awareness of the truth, that pride and self-esteem depend on us.
And finally, the question again – but who are we, if not the common online workers?
About the Author:
Bindiya Bedi Charan Noronha is the author of the book “Dream Keeper A Poetography Ensemble” (www.binko.in). Her poetry, short stories, articles have been published in various anthologies and magazines. She is a linguist, works at a diplomatic mission in New Delhi, is involved in social initiatives and her passion is weekend storytelling sessions for her community library.