The network is experiencing a kind of resurrection of long forgotten ideals: everyone talks to everyone. And always have this one topic of conversation immediately.

There are artifacts from the past that anticipate the present. One of these cultural works is E. M. Forster’s short science fiction story “The machine stands still”. Due to a catastrophe not explained in detail, people can no longer go outdoors. They now live in underground isolation in standardized living spaces. All physical and psychological needs are served by the very machine that gave the story its name.

In 1909, Forster not only foresaw a state of quarantine as we have only seen it for a week, but also the instrument to alleviate it. And his machine is similar to the Internet. There is the possibility to keep in touch with the other people by means of video telephony, and the machine is questioned on every question of everyday life. The residents’ task: to feed their ideas online and to produce new knowledge.

If you let the permanent creation of memes and funny Twitter clips pass as new knowledge, Forster’s scenario is similar to the present. The “Internet” machine alleviates the social bottlenecks of the quarantine.

But here there are no chance encounters, say the two media artists Danielle Baskin and Max Hawkins, people who are not part of the tight circle. That is why they developed the “Quarantinechat.com” website, which connects you to randomly selected users all over the world. Because everything is handled via the “Dial Up” app, there are not even any fees.

The project “Loveisquarantine.com” turns the level a step higher and tries to connect people with each other. Interested parties provide their phone number and a few personal details, the two makers are the matchmakers, and of course everyone involved afterwards provides information on Instagram about how it went. A Russian creative agency named Shishki has meanwhile launched the “staythefuckhome.bar”. Here you are connected to up to twelve other people via video chat.

Such offers are not new. More than ten years ago there was “Chatroulette”, which became famous quickly and sadly. Mainly because it was not unlikely that the randomly chosen interview partner would hold his genitals in the camera without being asked.

A little hope of decency

There remains a little hope that even in such a moment as now, even hard-boiled internet trolls will find their way back to a little decency and allow the door to their pants. Above all because it is probably the first time that we are experiencing the effects of globalization for everyone. Regardless of whether you are talking to people from Russia, Italy or Chile, whether you are talking to professors or hairdressers – you always immediately have only one topic of discussion, about which everyone has an opinion and a personal experience.

In Forster’s narrative, the machine ultimately collapses without revealing too much. But even if the network nodes get hot, there is currently no indication that the Internet is collapsing. On the contrary.

The corona virus, says Kevin Roose, a columnist for the New York Times, is now forcing us to use the web for what it was intended to do. For networking, information gathering and collaboration. It is teeming with virtual literary evenings, art courses and jam sessions. Perhaps we are now experiencing a more humane form of digital existence, as is otherwise only shown in sleazy advertisements from Internet providers.

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