Without barely noticing it, we are routinely doing two things (or even more) at the same time. I don’t mean having the TV on in our houses, as Juan Goytisolo called it, “Spanishing on” in the background like in a typical bar here.
What I continually notice is that our daily lives are an action movie of driving while texting, texting while watching TV, watching while screen-scrolling, scrolling while not listening to our companions.
Without questioning, our species silently changes what we do. Only 25 years ago, the phone had a fixed place in the hallway. Now it’s wherever we go. Some use it to shop at midnight or gamble and simultaneously watch sport. We experience a collective near-addiction to the stimulation that technology provides and this means that we are caught in our own man-made bubble of fixation, at work, at home and in between.
Piled on top of this, personal identities are more and more undefined. The more fashionable among us are flexitarian, pan-sexual. What was private is now openly public. We are selfie-supermodels: silicon titty down-shots and dick-picks for the under 30s. Even what was someone else’s body can now be yours. There are women you can find wearing hair extensions from an unknown Chinese stranger.
Some do the opposite and cling to identity. I’m my race, let’s leave Europe, get out of MY country, “walls are good things, barbed wire can be beautiful” says Trump, “eat my shorts” says Homer Simpson.
And who still has a 20th century-style job? The blurring of life-lines has of course crossed over into the world of employment. Oh, you’re a consultant? He’s freelance, she’s a temp/intern/trainee and that kid makes big money from playing computer games. The rest of them all have zero-hours contracts.
In fact at this moment in time, my own income comes from seven different sources. I’m a teacher/journalist/translator/author and occasional recipient of parental financial help...at age 50. I currently go to how many different work locations? Apart from my own home, which is also a workplace, the answer is: 10. That is over five days. Imagine, too, how many more it would be for a truck-driver, a Deliveroo bike-rider, a home-shopping deliverer or an Amazon door-to-door courier.
Added to creeping uncertainty and the old ways being so far gone, across this fragmented society there are “a million mutinies now,” as the author VS Naipual once wrote. To unconsciously fight against the disappearance of any real certainty in our lives, internal reactions are made into actions. Gay bashing, wife-bashing, woman-hating, immigrant-hating, Muslim-hating, Jew-bating, tail-gating, restaurant-rating, bomb-making, piss-taking, muck-raking, reality-faking. All with the momentum of a mudslide that doesn’t want to stop.
And what are we now scared of? Not the bullies. Plenty of people are frightened of the failed-economy’s victims. People with next-to-nothing: refugees, the homeless, beggars. We are not afraid of the unknown (giant multinational companies, faceless billionaires. They are all too abstract). We are fearful of The Other.
One of the ironies here is that as a result of this ‘loss of separation’ and things being so indistinct (possibly because of it) we are probably further away from each other emotionally and physically, even when we eat.
The French are continuing to be an exception to this trend but research has shown that more than one in five [British] families “only sit down to eat a meal together once or twice a week. 40% of them only sit down together to have a meal three times a week.” The average American eats one in every five meals in a car!
All this has made me tired now. I suspect you are too.