It does not need Corona to realize that many of our forms of interaction had become digital. But what Corona added is that the threshold to use digital channels is lowered for those who already had the means. How did the readiness to use digital means slowly increased and swept into our daily lifes?
What Corona made happen here and there is that it allows collective reflections about to what extent interaction matters to us. As offline meetings and physical contacts became rare, living became confined between few and selfsame walls. Echoes of ‘social distancing’ has actually provided pushs to something that felt like ‘(hyper) socializing’ of another dimension.
Looking trough the glasses of Science and Technology Studies I notice and experience current developments of ‘distancing’ actually becoming more invertedly proximate. ‘Out there’ was more and more ‘in here’. My smartphone is one portable gateway to the social universe and at a finger tip, I surprisingly had more digital visitors via video calls than ever before. Most of them who already lived far away. My living room became my teaching room, where students now can see through ‘laptop windows’ how I live, how my wine glasses are shining through the old vitrine hanging behind my shoulders. Not only do they see my habitat, I also gaze into 51 different student households, with different ‘real’ and ‘zoomed’ backgrounds. ‘There’, where I have to put an unopened Quizz-game under my laptop in order to have a perfect height to display my face – not from too low and not too high. All these carefully arranged tinkerings are – as I noticed – not mere self-absorbed activities. My online students also keep adjusting screens. Carassing hair from their faces. Smiling at odd moments, swiftly looking back and forth between camera and screen. Unmuting audio timely while doing ‘casual’ brainstorming sessions, which is now still kind of intuitive yet much more disciplined and coordinated.
Bizzarre is not the word that can capture these forms of having these “there’s and here’s”. There and here is even more sweeping into each other, boarders between places and spaces had already been blurred before Corona, but in these exceptional times it seems to have tipped yet another record of collective experiences. Four months ago “zoom” was uknown to me, now attending zoom meetings has become like playing an easy instrument for years. I even caught myself being amused when someone asked me recently: “zoom? the objective of your camera?”.
Becoming accustomed and used to these forms of digital meeting points does not only result into new routines of managing work, it also makes us realise what the newly valued gains and costs of those technical options are. A few that I came to realize live up to the prominent Janus face: I save time and hassle travelling by bike, train and bus to my work place at Uni Duisburg-Essen. But what is missing are casual meetings, running into colleagues in hallways, having spontaneous lunch meetings, and thereby get informed about informal happenings at the faculty that no “weekly” newsletters could fill in. I miss students coming after class to my table and ask questions they wouldn’t dare to ask in class. Rarely I receive an email after an online lesson, because I assume the threshold is higher daring to ask as students often say “stupid question”, where often these questions were quite crucial, to get a glimpse “where they are”, and how to reach out to them. It was another ‘looking glass’ to their world and their concerns that now is ghosting around unspokenly.
Seemingly minor but relieving is that students in online meetings wear a continuos name tag under their faces, written in clear and equal manner, for someone like me not seeing well from afar, a simple but important add-on. It endows me with a pleasant sense of knowing-it-anyway everytime I eloquently refer to the hand waving “Mr. or Ms. Surname”. At the same time I find online meetings less memorable, simply because the visual grid of the digital tool is always the same, the faces seem interchangeable, sensation from my living room is not of any change either, – as compared to walking into the seminar room, with its own windows, different table set ups, and the smell of the building intrinsic to itself help and the equipment such as bags, jackets and stuff being placed around provided all ‘sticky’ orientation points that help to recall various past meetings I had.
These subtle and inconspicuous changes are few of those newly valued practices and interactions that come along with the digitalisation of learning, teaching, working and living. What can I import from the digital experiences as learning lessons to ‘offline modes’?
As many of us are experincing now the loosening of the strict Corona measures, there seems to be a renewed gratitude for the little things and moments that are in our daily lifes. Running into acquaintances. Colloquial chatting. Seeing a student having an epiphany. Weighing whether an offline meeting is indeed necessary or if zoom could also do. A student with new good excuses (“I was late, the train, – hold on, I mean: my wlan connection was bad”, or “I couldn’t open the link.”), concerns re-voiced about our economical system, the diagnosis of the problem and the role we play therein: “It should not have taken Corona for us to realize that the economy that we have created is killing people and the planet” (Barbara Prainsack on Twitter about ‘The New Normal’: The world after COVID-19″)
That was all part of Corona Phase no. 1. Including the postponements of activities to “After-Corona”. I wonder, what will Corona phase 2 socially and morally bring about? What newly accustomed changes, practices and re-valuations will uphold?
If you feel like sharing your experiences, please feel free to comment!