Working 100% Online is Weakening my grip on reality – how about you?

June 10, 2020

     By Duncan Green     

Following on from yesterday’s post, I wanted to write something more personal than usual, about the below-the-surface effects of moving to a 100% online working life. I think I may be suffering from something I’ve named ‘attenuating reality syndrome’. I know this is an experience mainly relevant to the minority of us who have virtual jobs, but let me explain.

In ARS, a whole host of work interactions that used to be in the flesh – in my case, trips to various countries to talk to communities, aid workers and academics; meetings and conferences; rubbing shoulders (doesn’t that sound transgressive now!) with students and faculty at the LSE – are now entirely mediated through my laptop screen or my phone. We are all zoomers now.

You can carry on functioning of course – I’ve been blogging and enjoying the boost in numbers from readers deprived of anything better to do. But underneath, it feels reality is thinning – the world of work, which was probably too core to my sense of identity anyway, is becoming less immediately tangible and real to me. I still enjoy the to and fro of ideas, research, new information, but it’s all becoming less and less visceral, more top of the head stuff.

In contrast, the non-work world of my immediate surroundings is becoming more real. The colours of flowers, the scent of roses or jasmine, the morning birdsong, the vagaries of British weather, the inscrutable faces of my cats, are all amplified. They feel massively, vibrantly real and bring home the sensory paucity of the online life – a world that has moved from five senses to just two is a poorer world.

Seeing friends and family and not being able to touch them falls somewhere between the two – at least they’re not digital, but the inability to hug and touch leaves a quiet ache.

I worry that this reflects some previous flimsiness in my grasp of reality – as a teenager, I indulged in those fantasies about the world being a gigantic experiment, with me as the subject. (Do only boys do that?) When The Matrix came out, I was transported back to those times and loved it. What we are now living through seems like a slowmo, rubbish remake and this time I’m not enjoying it at all. I’ll have the blue pill please.

If this is true, then we should add it to yesterday’s list of downsides from the move to online. ARS-affected activists could become less passionate, less engaged, less deeply bought in to a set of injustices and issues that have become more ephemeral and digital, rather than in-your-face outrageous.

And of course I fully realise that this kind of musing is a mark of luck, privilege and age – for many the pandemic has made ‘life’ only too ‘real’ (lost jobs, anxiety, bereavement, kids bouncing off the walls).

So does this resonate with any of you? Or am I (not for the first time) just talking through my ARS…..?

June 10, 2020
Duncan Green