COVID-19 Blog

Management, service delivery, therapeutic practice, discussions with colleagues, disputes, differences of opinion, management meetings, dialogue with employees, supervision, counselling, all forms of human services, support and interaction have been transformed overnight from physical face-to-face to electronic and online. The world has gone viral and analogic through this digital medium, all in the blink of an eye.

Impatient, we await the reappearance of tautology, the stock in trade of the sports broadcaster. This is a global crisis manifest in the actual and real micro-exchanges between people, now electronic, now an image on a screen, sometimes a disembodied voice. The literal has taken a literal beating in this extraordinary process of transformation. What does all of this mean?

The medium may be the message, but it does not massage the ego or the soul, now stripped back to its bare essentials. The incidental, accidental, interaction has disappeared, admiration so easily and invisibly absorbed, the turning of the head stripped back and bare, it is difficult to leave the room, there is no excuse, there is no respite, no longer do we bump into each other, no longer do we overhear a conversation, gossip is condemned to the forest, the impromptu is no longer impromptu.

Interaction can be so warm, so cold, and we know that. How is this so? Cognition is a collective. Daniel Hutto from the University of Wollongong says so and he is correct about this. Cognition is collective before it is individual, and it degenerates into a loop of self-reference and recursion. The collective moderates the individual.

Online warmth is so easy to detect because it is us and who we are, and we are it. We as the humans of this earth go in search of warmth and find it in the most unlikely of places, often where we first started out on this journey across this exquisitely beautiful blue planet we are so intent on destroying, so blue it must blind aliens, or perhaps they, the aliens, are waiting until we are done with this place. Perhaps that is why no one ever visits.

Warmth is an assumption and we find it where we find it and we know it is present in the other, face-to-face or online, no matter what, we will find that warmth between us. It connects us, binds us to each other, yes, but that is not the issue. It is the absence of warmth, that is the issue here, and in the literal of the face to face encounter, uniquely equipped to detect the absence of warmth, we walk away, we bide our time, we are on the alert, something is afoot here, come back later, beware, beware, beware. There is nothing in the electronic medium, the online process of interaction, the absence of warmth, it is not nuanced, it is not nice, it is abrasive and unforgiving, it confuses the literal with the analogy and vice versa.

Time aches and disappointment appears more quickly than it should. The upside and the downside of this spatial analogy that is online delivery and work are not equal. It is not a level playing field between the upside and the downside. The set of assumptions that we make about warmth, closeness and generosity make it easy online, on the upside. No, not so on the downside. You can feel the absence of warmth, that emptiness of being, so intensely online. It turns a difference of opinion into a different order of events. Silence, my stock-in-trade, is entirely different, eerie. Conflict is stark and bare and cold online, without its visceral complement, without its nuanced nuance, faint traces of movement or the look that tell us, which way this ancient river is running.

The question is, how do we address this, given the fact that we are going to be stuck with this disaster for quite a while yet. This allows us to drift into the theoretical domain of symmetry and complementarity, symmetrical and complementary interaction, the only two forms of interaction that can take place between people, there is nothing else, no other form of interaction; and these two forms of interaction intersect with closeness and distance, to produce a grid that describes all human exchanges, good or bad, right or wrong, intimate and ugly, productive and pointless; there is no other. And of course we as humans require an enduring close complementarity at birth in order to survive; small wonder that this of the four quadrants is privileged in the emotional lexicon that is us; small wonder that we can detect this online; and symmetrical closeness becomes affection and intimacy and love; and again small wonder we can detect this online, given that we are always on the alert for either or both; we are hardwired for this.

Distance and its near synonym in fracture, presents us with a serious online problem when dealing with difficult and dark matters. The movement away and not into. The movement forward and into the camera is much easier to detect than the faint trace movement back and forth and away. Of course, we can hear it in the other person’s voice, but ordinarily we require visual confirmation of the verbal and vice versa. Online is a cold climate for the politics of difference. That is why a text message conflict is threadbare.