Every click you make, every stance you take…they’ll be watching you

“Dryware, wetware, hardware, software, blackware, darkware, nightware, nightmare . . . The modem sits inviting beside the phone, red eyes. I let it rest— you can’t trust anybody these days.”
― 
Neil Gaiman, Smoke and Mirrors

I have joined a voyeuristically-addictive Facebook group which has members posting photographs from their windows during lockdown. https://web.facebook.com/groups/viewfrommywindow/files/

People from all over the world are responding and posting their pictures on the page and I am realizing how fortunate some are during lockdown. Unless they have copied and pasted something from a local travel mag (I’m always suspicious of the lie factor), people on this Facebook group seem to live amidst great beauty in infinite variety. Some of those vistas make me a tad jealous; I’ll be honest, especially with spring blossoms emerging in Northern hemisphere gardens in flamboyant, living defiance of the COVID-19 virus’s silent death march through countries.

The green-eyed monster in me was pacified however when I reflected on how privileged I am to be able to step out onto my bedroom balcony and see all of Table Mountain, Devils’ Peak and Lion’s Head, silhouetted by the setting sun in the distance.

Not my picture but similar view.

However, as spectacular as some folk’s panoramic, views may be, it struck me that we don’t know what lies behind them as they take their shots: what sadness, what fear, what violence lurks in their households. We don’t know whether they have washed the dishes in their kitchen; or made the bed in that boudoir; or what books lie on couches in the lounge behind them. We don’t know what their stories are. And rightly so. That’s something we in South Africa fought so hard for in our struggle. Privacy is a right enshrined in our constitution. It’s to stop heavy handed wannabe-totalitarians from spying on us.

I get that this site is to encourage lockdown-prisoners to look beyond their current confines and see the world beyond, in order to stay connected, as well as in order to appreciate the tranquil beauty of nature – and haven’t we seen how pristine a state the ravaged earth has restored itself to, with opaque polluted clouds of smog no longer obstructing God’s creation in cities where industry and human traffic have been suddenly switched off by COVID -19?!

And I fact-checked this post btw – it is considered pretty accurate.

But I confess I am reluctant to post a pic of my own iconic view due to internet paranoia (okay and I am a rubbish photographer!). That whole Big (Orange) Brother is watching idea via multiple conspiracy theories has some substance when one reads the terms and conditions of social media sites. Let’s face it, if a service is free, YOU are the product. (Of course, this doesn’t stop me posting copious family snaps on my Facebook feed and being pretty open about my life, to the horror of my social media lawyer-friend. I suppose it must be possible for spies to obtain my IP address) Mind you, good luck to anyone trolling through my stuff. Pretty boring. While they’re in there if they could just answer some emails for me it would be great. At least they can read what I write. I can spell. But it’s the principle of privacy that’s at stake here.

And they are listening in:

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/google-home-recordings-listen-privacy-amazon-alexa-hack-a9002096.html

It’s the advertisers who are benefitting of course. Even the microphones on our phones and cameras can convey information to certain websites unless you change your settings. If you don’t believe me, listen to what Microsoft support services says about how to limit it:

https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/4468232/windows-10-camera-microphone-and-privacy

George Orwell predicted it in 1984. Margaret Atwell’s ‘eyes’ in A Handmaid’s Tale allude to spies abounding; even Sting promised to be watching me every step I took. (Sadly, I don’t think he meant it.)

Just the other day we had a random conversation about skin tags in our house – you know those teeny tiny mole-like growth one gets sometimes. Now that was a truly arbitrary conversation, but blow me down if I wasn’t sent adverts about skin tag removal the very next day!. Your phone is listening to you – at least mine is. Now if I could get the children to…

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a total conspiracy theory fruitcake (that moon landing though?…) But if this Big Brother surveillance is a thing, it could work to our advantage. I am hoping for magic medicine for cellulite now so I have told all my devices about my quilted ass. I’ll let you know what they suggest. At least such descriptions might put off the alphabet-soup agents from listening in too.

Anything would be better than all this indoor cycling I’m forcing myself to do. So, COVID Lockdown/Covert Surveillance – bring it on!

The Lockdown Terrarium

I am in lockdown in a nice safe, middle-class suburb, which unfortunately allows me to be locked away from the reality of my neighbours’ lives down the road in Dunoon, no matter my lefty leanings. Some days I forget why we are even in lockdown because I am so busy I don’t see the news. Because we are only travelling the short distance to the shop once a week or so, not seeing the suffering of the shack-dwellers on the other side of the railway line, and not encountering and engaging with their reality at the moment, we run the risk of living purely in our TikTok-challenge, foodies-Instagram; and meandering-mindless-meme feeds (no matter how clever or funny they are), stuck in a sort of rarified closed-system that is incestuously self-centred. Similar to the way the algorithms on sites like Facebook and other platforms control what we see on our newsfeeds and screens, based on what we search for, making us run the risk of receiving only information that corresponds with our world view, like a kind of inbred feedback system, echoing back on itself; so does Lockdown prevent us from engaging outside our socio-economic bubbles, as we live in our own private terrariums. For example, in my home, the five of us are happily co-existing in our individual work hubs. The Maestro and I are focused on the work of our two schools, me at my window desk in our bedroom and him galloping between his piano in the lounge and his laptop in his den. Caitlin, as an accounting trainee for one of the major accounting firms in South Africa, continues to do her number magic (well it seems so to ignoramuses such as me) disturbed only by her mother’s rant at the person who left a sticky hot chocolate spoon to attract flies on the counter (in the middle of an online meeting with her partner! Oops, Mom.) Shannon’s Art classes continue, albeit in a slightly different form and I hear her mutter that her lecturer’s belief that beetroot and shoe polish are not naturally occurring substances in her home! Liam is committed to his matric curriculum, delivered via live online classes and project work, earphones perched on his woolly head like a disc jockey. He has been rescued from the evil Edward-Scissor-Hands of the local barber, by Lockdown and alternatively yells expletives to his brother as they game themselves out of boredom. (I hope Caitlin’s partner didn’t hear that!) and exercises the now-fat Mad Lab. Liam has also called in our resident musical expert so The Maestro is guiding his beginner piano lessons – I realise now why learner-pianists are called ‘plonkers,’ although in Liam’s case, it’s more like plinking. (No left hand involved in his music yet!) We come together at mealtimes or to bully and be bullied into exercise or chores and we talk about – our lives. Then we carry on. There is not enough cross-pollination of thought outside the home. We are not hearing the tales of people struggling to scrap together enough for food with the collapse of the informal sector. And we can’t see its absence either. Because, worse even than during apartheid, we are here and ‘they’ are there. Lockdown has prevented us from seeing the raw need of indigent workers congregating on street corners or bin people rummaging for food. Liam came to me today though, and proclaimed his disillusionment about the injustices in our society and he wasn’t just speaking about the naked ugliness of the digital divide, exposed so clearly in this time of national crisis. After his Business Studies lesson, he came upstairs and vented about how selfish business is in its ultimate goal only to benefit itself. We discussed the way he can do things differently one day by becoming a social entrepreneur as opposed to a rabid capitalist. I was grateful for that moment in his education where I was able to engage him about the concept of King IV and ‘people, planet, profit’ (in that order!) – see even an English major knows something about accounting principles. But he also nudged my thinking about how Lockdown tends to make us selfish and drains our generosity of spirit in this closed-circuit living we are experiencing, which has prompted this post. So how can we overcome the tendency to be purely inward-looking at this time?
  • If you can, contribute towards the SA COVID-19 Solidarity fund. https://www.solidarityfund.co.za/ The State President has just announced there is a massive tax rebate for doing so, if you need a less-altruistic reason.
  • Call your employees, especially if they live alone. Assure them their jobs are safe. Hopefully you can.
  • Check out your local neighbourhood pages for community projects like food parcel packaging and mask-making. There are still things we can do.
  • Participate in the many fundraising efforts for South African artists who are so often called upon themselves to do free concerts for world causes. https://www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/16/202932.html
  • Donate Blood if you can.
  • Pray for our essential service workers.
  • Paste more suggestions in the comments section of this blog and share.
Thuma Mina!

A Series of Unfortunate Series

The watching of series phenomenon has altered the way we live. I fear that family life will never be the same.

First came TV dinners; then came social media and lately series; all transforming us from social, companionable beings into individualistic  fowl who pop into our chicken coops after dinner with the zeal of a greedy child hiding the Christmas chocolate back in the advent calendar.

I suppose I am speaking on behalf of all those with addictive personalities – you know who you are: you have to finish all the chocolate once it is opened; you can’t stop scrolling through Facebook/Instagram notifications, even though you are bored already with other people’s family outings/ neatly arranged meal/cocktail/ or random sunset; you just have to try once more to reach reach the next level on Candy Crush, and of course you who cannot stop until you have finished every season of a series.

Binge watching is the problem, not the series itself. I mean ever since Charles Dickens first began publishing his works in serial form, both weekly and monthly, readers have become used to anticipating the next episode.  Daily and weekly television programmes did the same thing. Who does not remember the excitement of the opening bars of the Dallas theme or the desire to know who shot JR?! Now, however, an entire season of a show is dumped on Showmax or Netflix (I don’t want to know if you are pirating your addiction) and we no longer have to delay gratification by waiting to see the outcome of the cliffhanger ending, because Netflix tells us that the next episode of Luther is opening in …7…6…5…seconds. And then you carry on, even if you really should switch off and go to sleep; have sex with your spouse; or have a conversation with a flesh and blood person. But let’s face it: Idris Elba. Well, Idris Elba:Image result for idris elba

Too much of anything is bad for you, my mother always said. And reluctantly even Idris needs to be switched off from time to time because as Aristotle pointed out 3000 years ago, true happiness should not be confused with pleasure; and just to be clear, series are ‘passing pleasures’ they do not give us deep, soul happiness. In fact the obsessive consumption of episode after episode can cause the same kind of sick feeling after you’ve polished off the whole Cadbury’s Milk Choccie.

It seems some shows also result in rather tumultuous emotions:Related image Game of Thrones fans are so devout that they gather in bars for ‘watch parties, causing some problems for HBO because they are publicly screening the shows, costing the channel revenue. But just look at the picture above – this is the episode when we discover how Hodor got his name – my girls wept for half an hour after that. I still think these cult parties are better than the habit most of us have of disappearing into our own territory to watch alone though.

Related image

Such solo viewing of series has brought about a new form of cheating on your loved ones. My husband and I used to watch series together, but because one or the other would want to stop after a while (that would be him – he has more restraint), accusations of going on alone can rend a relationship asunder.   There’s actually a name for it, I kid you not: ‘Netflix cheating’ and any number of ‘scholarly articles on betrayal-by-watching-on. Such behind-his-back watching was found to be considered worse than sending flirty smses to someone else in one study. Seriously?! And yet this addiction for ‘just one more’ is so compelling …

Like all film media, we must always consider the hidden cultural messages we are being exposed to. There is your usual standard US propaganda in shows about law enforcement. And here I must pick on services like HBO yet again with the gratuitous sex and violence in shows such as Game of Thrones. Pause to consider that the target audience of channels such as HBO are 18-44 years and male and you get an idea whose interests are being catered for. This explains why there is so much hyper-masculinity and misogyny vis a vis nudity and the general way women are depicted. We become so inured to regular blood-spouting decapitations and debauchery that they begin to seem normal. And that is how stereotypes and implicit bias works, my friends.

Big Bang Theory has been accused of ‘the complicity of geek masculinity’ in reinforcing gender stereotypes, despite having as its protagonists ‘unconventional male characters’. So beware of those hidden biases when you watch your series and ensure you are not unconsciously assisting in the perpetuation of homophobia, hyper-masculinity and misogyny.

Of course one could avoid watching these shows, but – the FOMO darling! I just had to watch – and to be honest it was rather satisfying to see the chicks taking control. Now if I say ‘and there’s Jon Snow’ I shall reveal my own sad objectification of men. So I won’t say, ‘And then there’s Jon Snow.’

Image result for jon snow

At least with sub-titled shows, we also have exposure to other cultural experiences. We have been fascinated by Rita set in a school in Denmark and has shown some interesting contrasts to our educational offerings: small, glass-walled classrooms for one.

Then there is the Rocky-III phenomenon. Some shows go on longer than they should. They have a season or two, the producers are making money, so they carry on with further seasons which just just don’t have the same sizzle. Sometimes a story is exhausted after its initial telling. Then it should stop to avoid the soapie-type serial developing. Orphan Black,  for example, just got so convoluted and ridiculous that I stopped watching. Breaking Bad got it right. Mind you that was the most mind-blowingly brilliant show ever! As a work of art, it was sheer brilliance. And it ended. My daughter has been nagging me to watch The new episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale which is also a superb piece of theatre and despite being rather dark it is compelling. This one at least has a screenplay for the new season written by the original author so there may be some integrity there, but I do hope it does not become like the sequel to To Kill a Mocking Bird, which ruined the original.

Anyway I’m off to my own coop now to snuggle in and watch the next episode of my current show. “Winter is coming’ after all.