— Heidegger’s stammering brother Fritz
The pandemic is over (though it has been over probably since last May as a real, tangle, experience-able public health emergency), but the damage — specifically the cognitive damage caused by the pandemic — lingers, digs in, entrenches. I feel it. I feel how hard it is to close my laptop, turn off my iPad, my phone and just go out; I have become a creature of the QuarLife even as I resisted it, wrote about it, complained about, actively tried to live a non-QuarLife. My brain is a QuarBrain, a function of the global crisis simulation which has played out across the Internet for more than a year; I’ve learned that, as a healthy person with a healthy immune system, I could completely ignore Covid, disregard it, and in fact laugh at it, scorning the fear of others, I could not ignore the sense of crisis, the governmental emergency, the state of emergency that was not only declared or by mandated by institutions, but internalized as an operating procedure by individuals. In this sense, in the sense that the state of emergency, the phenomenological experience of crisis, became not only normalized — but an addiction, a longing. To put it another way, it became normalized to replace all long term imperatives — imperatives of the spirit — aside for imperatives of the moment; 2020 might have been the end of contemplation, colonizing the last realms of cognition free from the Internet, the System.
Each day, I follow roughly the same circuit under New York: along the 2 or 5 train from Brooklyn to Manhattan, and back again; a few years ago, when I was a high-school teacher, I would write on the train, usually in my journal or on a novel, but now I mostly read; strangely enough, the subway, because it’s mostly cut off from WiFi, is where I get the much of my reading done. I, strangely or not, look forward to my 90 minutes of aggregate commuting each day: it gets me away from the buzz of my home/office — my QuarPod. I feel grateful enough, as it is, that I have a little office in my apartment; working from my bed or kitchen table seems distressing: a weird and comfortable conflation of leisure and cognitive labor.
I worry about my mind, which I can tell, despite my homely attempts at self-improvement, has gone fallow, unexercised and lethargic. The scrolling brain is just not the same as the brain that reads, falls in love, strolls, and this is something that I think most of us are aware of, but subtly and regularly normalize and repress because it’s too depressing: proof positive that the human animal is rather easily hacked and turned into something approaching a cyborg.