Either we’re going to create simulations that are indistinguishable from reality or civilization will cease to exist, those are the two options.
For over a year, our world has been surviving in a frozen capsule where people continue to succumb to sacrifices in close personal interactions, distant travel, routine work, social pleasures, such as dining out, drinking in bars, partying, and going to cinemas, concerts, gyms, and other public activities and events. Yet, some people have spoken of a positive outlook that this epidemic attests. Many spend more time with nature like never before. Walking to the parks, gardens, lakes and mountains has stimulated appreciation of the green, as well as mobility of the physical body. Personal and public hygiene has triggered a higher level of consciousness. Self-cultivation of personal interests, such as cuisine, arts and crafts, music, writing and physical exercise has taken on a higher level of diligence. Minimalism of essential needs has also been made more transparent and has deepened the essence of simple living. Crimes have even diminished to some degree due to the absence of human confrontation. Above all, family quality time is nurtured with far greater attention.
On the backside of the coin, however, the quarantined lifestyle has provoked rebellious minds for some drenched in anger and doubt, who flood to the streets in protest of the crisis, perhaps as a result of restlessness or refuge in an “excuse” to “get out” and be part of a community herd to release emotions that have been locked up for too long. For a greater population, the admittance of a global pandemic that has interrupted all facets of “normality” and freedom has been too harsh to accept.
Something drastic has surfaced out of the “new life” we have been compelled to live to combat the virus situation. People have now turned to the computer and mobile phone screen as their dearest and indispensable friend more than ever before—the friend who will deliver food and commodities right to your doorstep; the friend who will connect you digitally to your family and loved ones in faraway places; the friend who will make regular work possible through Zoom conferences; the friend who will process your bank transactions; the friend who will glue you to online movies and social media like time never mattered; the friend who will virtually take you to holiday destinations, live events, school ceremonies, weddings, funerals, and all other routines of daily life. During the Christmas and New Year holidays, particularly, the computer and smartphone had been everyone’s best friend. There is absolutely almost nothing that an online connection cannot do.
Virtual reality used to exist merely as a form of entertainment in an era now seemingly obsolete, wherein you could hop on a mechanical chair and play video games, pretending to be a race driver, skier, skydiver, or soldier, but alas, this phenomenon has become the true reality of our age. In Japan, some wedding receptions are held by virtual telecast between the married couple in one place and their guests in a hotel in another place. Guests actually book their seats at the reception venue, come in formal attires, sit around beautiful table settings exactly as how wedding parties should look like while watching the married couple in a huge screen toast “Kampai.” Likewise, many bars have started “virtual drinking” between the bar owner and regular guests pouring alcohol from their homes. Company parties have also resorted to this method to maintain the corporate camaraderie while teleworking. School graduation ceremonies around the world have conducted the traditional rites online. A school in Japan had actually installed life-size robots holding tablets synced with students back home as the robots marched inside the auditorium for the graduation ceremony. Some school events are now conducted in the same manner. Travel agencies have developed streaming sites to tour travelers virtually. Funeral companies also upload live streaming links for those who could not pay respect to their deceased loved ones. Government leaders, doctors, and even religious rites have all resorted to virtual communication on a day to day basis.
While our new virtual life appears convincingly convenient and intriguingly cutting edge, eliminating the hassle of getting dressed and spending transportation money, and allowing us to take control of our time, does it enhance the quality of living? Or, could we become so accustomed to this forced mode of interaction that in the long run, dangerously confuse it with natural behavior? Or, perhaps, in today’s pandemic era, such can be practically labeled as “natural.” Technology buffs may certainly be thrilled by the innovative perks of virtual activities, yet one can’t help but realize how humankind has inevitably sought comfort in the “friendship” of the digital screen to fulfill human needs. With the inclusion of the 5G interface in every aspect of our daily life, day to day personal interrelationships may slowly appear awkward, uneasy, and even disturbing without a digital screen. Self-seclusion, as quarantine regulations have predominated our existence, is seeing its comfortable niche that some people may, in fact, refuse to meet other people after the epidemic is over. The ability to express openly may soon lack its shade of sensitivity, spontaneity and warmth that only face-to-face human connection can imbue.
One illustration of this is the widespread use of dating Apps, as called, which quickly matches men and women (or other gender preferences) by a single “swipe,” with so much convenience that meeting partners out in the real world has become toilsome and time-consuming for some. Consequently, the substance of the “getting-to-know” phase has been abridged to brief phone messaging and emoji that have replaced the verbal and gestural expression of emotions. This “depersonalized” manner of human bonding has consequently hampered open communication, resulting in timidness or unintentional callousness, as though recognizing actual human presence has slipped one’s mind.
In the next stage of information technology innovation, perhaps, another invention would be necessary to reversely unlink humans habitually from artificial networks, and instead help to reroute us to return to basic human relationships and revalue the innate essence of humanness amidst the superiority of technological power. While the world is continually mesmerized by the staggering developments of digitization, it should be a phenomenon that doesn’t undermine our instinctive nature, but rather fortify our human intelligence and sensibilities because of it. A simple unplugging of the network interface would see our world in a total blackout, and that dark thought, indeed, could put an end to everything, but hopefully not everything.