In 1996, the writer William Knoke published a book called “Placeless Society”. In it the author creates a vision of a society in which places no longer play a role. Modern communication technologies like the Internet would turn the world into an electronic village in which it doesn’t matter whether you are in Mumbai or Munich.
“Imagine being in two or three places at the same time,” writes Knoke. “Or imagine the ability to move objects around the world as instantly and effortlessly as if you were Aladdin’s ghost out of the lamp. This is what a world looks like in which there is no place. The placeless society describes one World in which everything and everyone is at the same time. ” An insurance agent, according to Knoke’s vision, can work from home and “telepend”; a computer company writing its software in a small town in Utah; Hypersonic planes put space and time into perspective.
If you read these lines a quarter of a century apart, you will be amazed at how visionary they are. Today you can really log into your communication rooms from anywhere in the world where there is a functioning internet connection. You can make a video call home in the outback of Australia and the sound quality is sometimes better than a local call. The smartphone, whose home button is not called that for nothing, has become a substitute home that can be turned into a mobile apartment with diaries, folders, music and books.
The corona pandemic has intensified this trend: graduation celebrations, weddings, concerts, protests – what otherwise took place on streets, schoolyards or public places has shifted to the internet. We’re all in lockdown SomewheresHow British journalist David Goodhart described the localized people (as opposed to the flexible Anywheresthat are at home everywhere).
Why fly anywhere when there is virtual reality?
With techniques such as virtual reality, it is possible to pack entire landscapes and scenarios into data glasses, with which immersive experiences are possible. You have the feeling of being at the scene with your body. Why fly anywhere when there is virtual reality?
When the telephone was invented in the 19th century, there were fears that opera houses and churches could empty if the telephone carried music to all homes. “No one who can sit in his own room with his phone to the side and listen to an opera performance at the Academy will bother to go to 14th Street and spend the evening in a muggy and crowded building “, the oracle New York Times on March 22, 1876 in an editorial. “Likewise, many people will prefer to listen to lectures and sermons in the comfort and privacy of their own four walls rather than going to church or the classroom.”
How up-to-date that sounds! Who still takes the risk of infection in a church when they can watch the service in the live stream? Who wants to sit in a badly ventilated movie theater with Netflix on the sofa?
Even before Corona, society was considered cuddled
But what if the 90-year-old mother in the home doesn’t just want to see her son via Skype, but in person? What if the child no longer feels like homeschooling, but wants to play with their classmates in the playground? Can a society even exist without places?
Emotionality, physical closeness, touch – none of this can be conveyed via internet lines. Eye contact cannot be established in video conferences either, because you cannot look into the screen and into the camera at the same time. Under every video conference there is a fundamental tone of futility: The moment you see yourself, you realize that you don’t really see yourself.
It is the feeling as if one were seeing the world through a pane of glass, as if one were living in a clinically pure consumer world, as it is depicted in Jacques Tati’s film “Playtime” from 1967: In the search for Monsieur Giffard the protagonist is wrong Hulot through sterile, labyrinthine offices, stumbling into conference rooms, talking on the phone in cubicles, but in the end they both miss each other. It is a society in which you constantly avoid each other.
In doing so, people need physical contact. Touch reduces stress and strengthens the immune system (which is why social distancing can also be detrimental to health). Scientists have found that waiters in bars get more tips when they touch the customer’s shoulder.
Even before Corona, society was considered “snuggled up”, psychologists identified the problem of “skin hunger”. Corona has sharply exacerbated the problem. Many long for touch, deep hugs, a handshake, cuddles.
The new class divide
The two descriptions of society are in sharp contrast to each other and yet – at least in the western world – they are also part of the everyday presence experienced by each individual human fate. Nobody just lives digitally, and very, very few now never live digitally.
However, the contradictions of modern life outlined in this way are not completely trivial. It sharpens the view of – despite all the frenzied digital progress – continued shared experiences across class boundaries. All the money in the world does not make it any easier – if you want to obey the law – to spend time with your friends and relatives at home.
On the other hand, new problems become abundantly clear. For example, the chasm that runs along the ability and possibility to escape the cage of repetition and confirmation loops of digital filter bubbles and to be able to practice something like non-digital escapism. Communication workers of all levels – from management consultants to social media assistants – can no longer afford to do this without running the risk of being left behind.
The New York Times declared human contact to be a “luxury good” last year, because she sees the screens disappear again from the lives of the rich, while the poor stared more and more at screens. But you don’t have to go that far to notice the “digital divide”, the digital rift through our society that the new technologies have brought and continue to bring. This digital divide is one of the great and still underestimated political challenges that will become even more glaring after the pandemic.