by Fiona Joy Green and Jaqueline McLeod Rogers
Oh what a question this is! Since the onslaught of COVID-19 and the incessant pivoting of adjusting to the ongoing series of closings, openings, lock downs and shut ins, technology has enabled me to remain safely at home while also connected to others and earning a living. I’m deeply aware of my white and class privilege that has afforded me the technology and ability to adapt to a world that struggles with daily challenges related to COVID-19. I have a safe and secure home with access to stable internet connections, a new computer with needed software and a good cell-phone. I am well connected to a university that has adequate resources and support for faculty like me learning how to teach online from home. I retain contact with colleagues, family and friends who live close and afar. Technology has been a life line. It’s my own limitation and lack of experience with technology (which I’m gaining in spades) that I find frustrating. It’s the amount of time it takes me to develop the necessary knowledge and skill to use the infinite options and features of the technology that I find exhausting. I’m on a screen learning, teaching, talking, advising, or seeking assistance most hours of any given day. Technology simultaneously allows for mediated connection with others while fostering a level of detachment. I miss the energy exchange in real time and space interaction with other humans. I don’t like seeing and experiencing the world through a screen. Yet, I shudder when I think where I’d be without the technology to do so.
COVID-19 sparked my fascination with the newest social media craze, Tik Tok. Unfortunately, throughout the three months spent confined to my home, my cell phone sent me a weekly report of my average screen-time per day (it was always upwards of 14 hours). I am still unsure whether this obsession with Tik Tok impacted me positively or negatively in the long-run. On one hand, the app provided an entertaining avenue for commiseration with the rest of the world surrounding a common plight. On the other, I spent more than half of each day lying in bed, staring at the screen of my phone. I still love Tik Tok, but my screen-time report now is far less distressing than it was in March. Technology has allowed me to stay safe, and relatively entertained and connected throughout the pandemic, despite missing the personal human connection afforded by in-person classes and other social engagements. Much of the generative, co-creative energy escapes when you’re not in a shared space. One thing I can say for certain, is that the screen-time report is an evolution of technology I could do without.
Indeed, Fiona, what a question! I remember anxiously awaiting the ‘arrival’ of COVID-19 in early March. At that point, I was facing (dreadfully, at times) the last few weeks of my final semester of undergraduate studies at the University of Winnipeg. As I walked toward an early morning class, I checked and scrolled through my Instagram, my Facebook, responded to texts, refreshed my email and triple checked my CBC news app to see if the virus continued to remain untraced across Manitoba – sounds a little chaotic as I type it out, yet aside from the anxious occupation with COVID-19’s arrival, this kind of rapid intake of various media is an incredibly embodied and routine action for me. One that has, as I see it, been developed in response to my privileged intimacy with and access to technology. I grew up using a shared household computer and my parents handed me down a used Blackberry with Internet access when I was in middle school. And while this familiarity and intimacy has only grown since that little banner on my screen informed me that COVID-19 was indeed, finally in Winnipeg, my relationship to technology has become strained since the onset of the pandemic. A few things I’ve learned: Zoom burnout is SO real and becomes quite overwhelming when needing to use video chat for work, connecting with loved ones, organizing with community, attending classes, etc. Yet as Fiona pointed out, technology in this time is quite literally a life line! Without having a computer or internet access to Zoom with, I would not have been able to complete my degree, connect with people outside of my home, send money to folks needing food, rent money, or organize whatsoever. And so another essential thing I’ve learned: technology and access to the Internet is vital for survival, for accessing information to stay as safe as possible, for working through and tending to the mental strain that physical isolation causes, for organizing and participating in funds and initiatives that are community and harm-reduction oriented. And yet this access is not a possibility for so many. The very platforms that have allowed me to connect and stay okay infringe on user’s privacy, they censor queer and trans Black and Indigenous lives and content, and they all require a very pricey piece of technology to simply… log on. As COVID-19 has shown me, technology is essential in our world, yet the virus has also shone an important light on a pre-existing problem: access to and conditions of use around technology.
Prior to COVID, I cultivated deliberate fear and resistance to communication technology. Social media seemed silly and a fast ushering out of expertise and selectivity in favor of hearing from everybody. Populism, ok: but not a thorough soaking in everyone’s reactions and activities. But during COVID lock down, social media got some important things going. In place of scorning slackivism and hashtag culture, I concede there’s democratic energy in MeToo and BLM. People coming together to make change. Not perfect, but making connections helping people to forge a commons of shared values and hopes.
I also like ZOOM. Using it is not twice as hard as meeting people in person–for me, it really doesn’t drain double the energy of live encounters. It is astonishing in its easy ability to link people across geographies and cultures.
Sunny views aside, I can’t wait use this blog to enter round two next week: when we talk about what we lost in this firestorm of sickness and separation and technological tools. There are problems growing from our collective embrace of tech that will change what it means to be human. We turned up the lights!