Commentary: Living in a virus virtual world

Commentary: Living in a virus virtual world

Ian Haysom, a veteran journalist and writer, is a news consultant for CHEK. His coronavirus diary will appear here regularly.

We had friends over for dinner Saturday evening. Other friends for coffee Sunday morning. And a big family gathering last night.

I also went to an exercise class this morning and attended a work meeting afterwards.

All this, I hasten to add, was done online, in front of an iPad. The new coronavirus reality. We are living in a virtual world. The real world is on hold.

For the dinner, we propped up the iPad on the other side of the kitchen table, and our friends did the same in their home. We ate a shrimp curry while they cooked a turkey pie, but otherwise, it wasn’t that much different than a regular dinner party. We didn’t even have to tidy up the place, and they did their own dishes. We should entertain like this more often.

The online coffee chat yesterday was one of a number we’ve done with friends. We brew our own coffee and chat via Skype or FaceTime. The only problem yesterday is our friends never quite got the hang of where to position their phone, so we spent a lot of time staring up their nostrils.

The family gathering was achieved via Zoom, where you can chat with various people at once. So, including grandchildren, there were 11 of us on the call yesterday, and everyone behaved at first but then the grandkids got bored and started leaping around the place and started putting on silly hats, then cooking needed to be done and people kept slipping in and out of the room, and it all went happily sideways. Just like when we get together for real.

The exercise class was courtesy of a guy called PE Joe. I’d heard about him and checked him out on YouTube. He’s a good-looking, long-haired ripped kind of guy and he runs a daily 20-minute workout from his living room.

Millions are participating around the globe. I happily joined in, doing all the exercises, touching toes and doing squats and body curls and then, exhausted, I was congratulating myself on a job well done until PE Joe, the body coach, said, “Well, that’s the warm-up almost done, let’s get to today’s program.”

That is one good thing about a virtual exercise class. The instructor can’t see you collapse on the couch and say, “Maybe tomorrow.”

The virtual world isn’t anything new. We’ve been moving there, relentlessly for the past few decades, as online FaceTime has replaced real face time. But now we’re relying more on the virtual world than ever before. The virus has accelerated our reliance on the online universe. And my fear is we’ll never fully go back to where we are.

I am missing being in a newsroom right now, but even that has changed massively over the years. Where once there were clattering typewriters and insistent wire-machines humming at you, and people yelling everywhere, now most reporters, producers and editors sit studiously in front of a computer screen. “Is this a newsroom or a f-ing bank?” I’d sometimes yell. Quietly.

It’s like offices and workplaces everywhere. We spend more time looking at screens than interacting with the person sitting next to us.

And now many parents, who in the past severely limited screen time for their kids, are relying on the screens to occupy the kids while the parents work from home. But it’s not all Netflix and Disney. My son-in-law went out and bought a trampoline last week and now he can work while looking out the window as his kids bounce themselves silly.

My concern is that we’ll never need to leave home after all this gets back to normal, if it ever does. The new normal will be staying indoors and living life vicariously. Leaping around to PE Joe to keep fit, ordering food online, working without speaking to anyone. You don’t even need to travel. Rick Steves will do that for you.

That said, I just went in the other room where my wife is Skyping two small children, She was asking our six-year-old granddaughter to spell “whistle”. I then taught her to whistle. And then we “tickled” our four-year-old grandson. And he giggled. Online magic. And we got to see our granddaughter’s wiggly tooth.

You may have seen the dystopian TV drama Years and Years a few months ago. In that drama, a teenager called Bethany, apart from hiding behind a virtual mask with dog’ ears and flapping tongue (in real life as well as online) also explored transhumanism.

In this process, she transfers her intellect from a biological brain to a computer. Though she would never have a body anymore, she could still enjoy friendships, experiences and a kind of life online. With advanced virtual reality, she could have sex, travel, play sports, even enjoy food and drink without having to buy anything.

And here’s the other thing. She could live forever.

I went online and discovered transhumanism is, in fact, a thing. Or at least a discussion. As one site said, “essentially, it’s about how technology will eventually interact and integrate with human beings, and how we may eventually live on after death.”

Scary stuff. I’d like to say I’m happy I won’t be around to see it. But maybe I will. That’s real self-isolation.

Read the previous diaries here:

Commentary: The Coronavirus Diaries March 18, 2020

Commentary: The Coronavirus Diaries March 19, 2020

Commentary: The Coronavirus Diaries March 20, 2020

Commentary: The Coronavirus Diaries March 22, 2020

Commentary: The Coronavirus Diaries March 23, 2020

Commentary: The Coronavirus Diaries March 24, 2020

Commentary: The Coronavirus Diaries March 25, 2020

Commentary: The Coronavirus Diaries March 26, 2020

Commentary: Living in a bubble world

Ian HaysomIan Haysom

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