Illustration: Felipe Mayerle

A year looking at screens

A year ago, the WHO called the coronavirus crisis a pandemic. Rodrigo Ghedin tells about how, from screen to screen, our lives have never been the same

Ler em português

A year ago, on March 11, 2020, I was in one of the beautiful movie theathers of Cine Passeio, in downtown Curitiba, Brazil, watching Ken Loach‘s most recent film, Sorry We Missed You. On that very day, the World Health Organization (WHO) called the coronavirus crisis a pandemic. Our lives have never been the same.

In Brazil, the first case of COVID-19 was detected days before, on February 26. The first death caused by the coronavirus would be recorded in a few days, on March 17. It took a little more than a week from that March 11 for reality to settle in and local governments to begin imposing distancing measures. On March 14, a Saturday, I went to the grocery store and bought some extra groceries. I didn’t even need to. From then on, the grocery would be the only place I would go.

READ ALSO: Your last minutes of free time

Besides the different language, which according to the style guides requires the use of quotation marks or italics, there is another reason why in Brazil it is always necessary to write “lockdown” like this, in quotes: we have never had a real one. In the absence of political will to shut everything down without dooming part of the population to starve, social distancing, one of the few measures proven to be effective in curbing the coronavirus, ended up by being poorly done here by a privileged and conscious minority that saw and still sees, helpless, the announced tragedy unfold.

I watched last year go by the window. Or through the windows. My eyes shifted between the ones in the apartment where I live and the ones on the computer, on the smartphone, on the TV.

That concern with screen time, that we used to have has gone to waste. Now it is easier to measure screen-free time because we have much less of it. I spent more time looking at them than sleeping, which would be an over-exaggeration before March 2020. Now? I don’t blame myself, just feel a bit sorry.

It was an ironic coincidence that the last film I watched in the movies, on the day the coronavirus became a pandemic, was a fierce criticism on the gig economy. Later that March, I downloaded one of those delivery apps and ordered my groceries remotely, exposing another human being to the risks I was trying to avoid. I gave him a good tip and uninstalled the app.

READ ALSO: Latin America gains ground as a monetization laboratory for YouTube

Some consumables I started to order straight from the neighborhood stores. I went to the kitchen more often – I prepare almost all my meals. At the very beginning of the pandemic, I decided to go to the grocery store myself, first without a mask, then with a mask. Everyone was stunned by the then-unknown threat of the coronavirus, even the health agencies that, at first, for who knows why, advised against the use of masks by the population. We have corrected the course.

Making mistakes are part of it, and so are admitting and making them right. That’s how we move forward, that’s how it has to be. Or should. Coronavirus-related misinformation has found a breeding ground in social networks and messaging apps. Digital platforms have instituted rules and have since removed zillions of fake content related to COVID-19. Even though, when I go to the grocery store, an employee measure the customers’ temperature by aiming the thermometer at the wrist, and not at the forehead. There are days when I feel dead inside, but even that doesn’t explain my supposed cadaveric body temperature, taken from my wrist, of 34º C.

READ ALSO: Tough competition? Not at all. The ‘streaming war’ in Latin America has a whole different meaning for Roku

Despite the deprivations, the nonstop fear, the crises of “is it anxiety or COVID-19? ” and excruciating loneliness, facing isolation in 2021 seems easier than it would have been at other times, thanks to technology.

Technology companies hold it together and were rewarded by the “market”, that invisible entity that seems to determine so many things in our lives. The stock market hiccup in March 2020 was quickly recovered. Perhaps the scare that helped it to get rid of it came from Zoom, which skyrocketed in popularity and revenue. Or from the big techs, which have continued to grow dramatically. In Brazil, companies that were already betting on digitization have reaped the rewards of this good insight much earlier than they expected. “We anticipate the digitization process by five years”, was the usual speech.

READ ALSO: Paramount Plus lands in Latin America: deep catalog and fresh originals to face Netflix and Disney Plus

For us mere mortals, all that is left is to digitalize our lives. We have an abundance of distractions and conveniences on the smartphone, result of progress worthy of science fiction. Endless series and movies on streaming services, yoga classes via app, entire libraries and all the newspapers of the world at a click. The lack of human contact, a big issue in this crisis, can be mitigated by countless means of communication, by text, audio and video calls, with all the people in our lives, from co-workers to grannies in the countryside. 

That, as we know, is not for everyone. I go back to thinking about Ken Loach’s film, about delivery app couriers, perhaps the most exposed face of the inequalities that often support the so-called “cutting-edge technologies”. One of these days I learned that, in São Paulo, food delivery couriers were lined up to receive donated meals.

Given this scenario, it is impossible not to feel uncomfortable. And, in Brazil, we still have a local aggravating factor, which adds displeasure and anger to the discomfort: the political news.

In the last few days, with the country breaking record after record of daily deaths, growing deficits of hospital vacancies, and Brazil becoming a threat to global health, the highlight in the news is… the 2022 presidential race.

During the pandemic, I have to be extra careful with my health: to avoid being contaminated by the coronavirus and to avoid worsening my gastritis, largely a courtesy of our unbelievable president. I won’t even begin; just writing this has already given me a twinge in the stomach.

READ ALSO: Are you listening? It’s Clubhouse, the new audio-based social network

Technology, which has bridged the gap all while it showed its own limits, also offers us the light at the end of the tunnel. The vaccine, a century-old technology, is there to get us out of this. Several of them, even unprecedented vaccines, those using messenger RNA, have been developed in record time. It is astonishing that less than a year after the first reports of SARS-CoV-2 emerged, humankind already has such powerful weapons to confront it.

In March 2020, we thought that things would settle down within a few months. This timeframe became longer as the health crisis intensified. The start of vaccination in December renewed our hopes. The mess in Brazil, the governmental negligence to guarantee our vaccines, clouded them again. I keep seeing the world through windows. I hope not for much longer. 

Translated by Anna Lima.