In April of this year, unemployment in the United States has reached a high record, with 14.7 percent of Americans suddenly out of work. Over three months, according to Pew, this rate rose higher than it did during the entire two years of the Great Recession. The devastation created by the pandemic has been cruel and catastrophic. There have been layoffs, time off and hiring freezes, with black women and men the most affected, including a handful of my own parents.
In New York City, where I live, there is a belief that your work defines who you are. For many, losing a job meant parting with part of their identity. By August, one on three small businesses were shut down for good, and by the end of the summer it was hard to say if the city would ever be the same. Like almost every other city in the country with a flat labor force, New York simply was not New York. But if what film theorist Jonathan Beller suggests is true, the work, in another sense, has never stopped.
On TV and on Twitter, on TikTok, Generation Z TV, just watching has become an occupation. “Watching is working,” Beller wrote in The film production method, suggesting that observation is work, and that in research work there is value. In 2020, this work consumed us entirely. We watched, watched and watched. Like cyborg zombies pierced by the neon glow of disaster, we couldn’t look away, kept in a looping state of anticipation and ignorance.
Today, our main points of access to the people around us and the world at large are through screens. Over the past 10 months, Zoom has become the main vehicle for the digital reconstruction of IRL traditions: birthdays, game nights, weddings, funerals, business meetings, therapy sessions, happy hours, group workouts, dance parties (and even sex parties) took place through a blurry rectangular screen. Face to face with nowhere to go, watching has become the ultimate way of working.
2020 was all about being extremely online, but that shift to virtual life was already underway. The pandemic has only accelerated the slow recalibration that permeated our daily interactions. It required us to be part of a digital audience.
I felt it all.
I couldn’t change what was going on, but I could find a compromise. We were living in a time of harsh separation, face masks, social distancing and endless handwashing, and the safest solution was to log in virtually – via FaceTime, via iMessage, in WhatsApp and Facebook groups, sometimes. by sending voice notes. At first, I mostly refused to participate. I declined FaceTime calls. I ignored more text messages than I sent. I have withdrawn from our common isolation. The irony was obvious: we turned isolation, a solitary experience for everyone, into a community activity. How could I carve out my own space among this new reality? I decided to reactivate my secret Instagram.
New York City thrives on touch, touch and closeness. This is the source of its charm, and what makes the city like nowhere on earth. This is why I love him. Before everything changed in March, I was committed to opening up, to connecting in a way that I once thought was too revealing. I challenged myself. Try new things. To meet new people. Take more risks. But when Covid-19 reached the United States, my plans changed overnight. I couldn’t get out. I couldn’t roam the city after work. I couldn’t go to the gym or meet friends for dinner. I couldn’t date or have casual sex with strangers on the street. I couldn’t take the metro into town to have my hair cut. I couldn’t stumble out of my local bar, Bed-Vyne Brew, and into the magic of everything that a Friday night in Brooklyn held.