It’s no news that most people, including me, spend 90% of their waking hours staring idiotically at the various device screens we carry around wherever we go – or, more likely – wherever we stay, motionless. My eyes keep shifting from my iPhone to the iPad to the laptop, and back to the iPhone again for hours on end.
We all check our social media news feed and timeline hundreds of times a day, count the likes and shares on the latest clever joke or quotation we posted, watch carefully the pictures of what our friends are eating, the problems they are having with traffic jams or with their kids. I didn’t use to care at all what my friends’ kids did over the weekend or the costume they wore for the latest school function: now I follow these events with the attention and interest I used to devote to facts such as the beginning of the Iraq War or the the inaugural speech of Queen Dilma. We won’t stop answering our messages about nothing on whatsapp or looking for our next prospective date on Tinder. The date will never happen in the real world, as one of the parties will cancel 5 min before the scheduled coffee, but this does not stop us from keeping trying and hoping for the best. Do married people do the same? Is that how they have lovers and affairs today?
I can’t cook well, but the Internet emboldens me to pass on tips on the kinds of seasoning and ingredients my relatives should use on their pasta for their next Sunday lunch – by the way, I will not be taking part in it, as they live in Recife, some 3,000 km from where I live – and offer expert advice and consolation to my cousin who broke up a 10-month-old relationship with her boyfriend, with the authority of a marriage councellor.
The current times are no doubt different from how we behaved only ten years ago, when our lives were more real than virtual. But what worries me is not to know if this is worse. I’m not complaining.
I have always been an avid reader and nothing in real life compares to the excitement I get from a well-written novel by Philip Roth or an insightful factual book by Malcolm Gladwell, from whom I learned that, to excel in anything at world class level, one needs to devote at least 10,000 hours to the practice of that skill: I counted nervously how much time I had left on Earth based on the average longevity of the members of my family – maybe I should have left the women out of the calculations, as they tend to outlive their men by many years – and was thrilled to find out that I still could pick a skill and try to become a Leonardo da Vinci at it.
So, if life as portrayed in fiction and non-fiction books is so much more enticing than reality, who are we to judge the validity of the virtual lives of today’s world – especially teenagers’ and kids’ – who have never known any other kind of life? This is just a fact of human history, an unexpected turn taken by the course of our species, and there is no way we will ever be the same again. Artificial intelligence, robotics, 3-D printing and genetic engineering are already on our doorstep, and the possibility of cloning yourself so you can have the ideal partner for life cannot be that distant in time.
Let’s embrace change. Disturbing? Definitely. But life is exciting for this very reason. Some people claim that it’s death that gives life meaning. We wouldn’t be able to love or appreciate anything if we did not know there would be an end to it. Soon. Well, death is a kind of radical change, so the same goes for technology – we are living and appreciating a totally new life style, more and more isolated from the real (as opposed to virtual) contact with other human beings and nature, and getting used to it at an amazingly fast pace. I foresee a time when the only opportunity we will have to be touching other people’s skins will be during the Carnival in Vila Madalena, when it’s impossible to avoid the barbaric crowds gathering around you, and I can’t refrain from flinching at the idea. Can’t we all do our own ALALAÔ from the comfort of the hammocks in the verandahs of our tiny apartments via Skype?
Physical contact with other people will be considered more and more dangerous and rare, as we immerse in our virtual worlds, moulded to our own tastes and specifications. Yesterday, for example, I eagerly anticipated a time when, riding my bike, I wouldn’t run the risk of running over a beautiful teenage girl who all of a sudden crossed my path at Parque Villa Lobos in Sao Paulo with her head down and eyes glued to the screen of her smartphone. As I yelled to warn her against the imminent catastrophe, she simply looked up at me with a defiant look in her face and carried on crossing the street as if I was just an annoying piece of Candy Crush Saga which wouldn’t align to her taste! I should have kept using the stationary bike at home.