Let’s Talk About: Lockdown, Presence and the Internet

Part 1: Hyper-Physical Awareness

I think I’ve mentioned in other posts that I’m into meditation. I’ve been practicing for about two years – and practicing really is the word, because results are always mixed. The reason I get up that 15 minutes early every morning is to try and be present in a time when shutting out my inner monologue is legitimate. The next step is to then get that presence in the rest of the day – way easier said than done. Usually I’m lucky if I get a single moment of genuine awareness.

In an unexpected twist to this pandemic, I’ve achieved more presence in lockdown than in two years of practice. Because I’ve been aware of the details of me all the bloody time. You know like how you crave certain foods when you’re low on certain vitamins because of vitamins we’re low on? I feel like my senses are going through that, crying out for stimuli so it can feel some semblance of normal function.

“Hyper-Physical Awareness” is the name I’ve given this feeling.

I’m not very good at existing within a confined sphere. I’ve never been a homebody, am quickly distracted by a curiosity with where & what else I could be experience. I take up space – despite my best efforts and no matter how light my baggage, my possessions will inevitably take over every surface in range. So being confined to just a few streets on my daily walks is a challenge that’s really getting to me. But I’m finding this restriction eased by what I can only account for as a subconscious decision to sense every single detail. If variety can’t be found in geographical movement, my body is determined to finding it anywhere else it can. I feel so much more aware of every sound, sight and scent. Who knew so many flowers grew around this suburb?

Elsewhere I find myself desperate to engage in activities with a physical dimension. Sitting with Netflix hasn’t often appealed. I’ve started a sewing project, taken up drawing, play piano for hours at a time. Running and yoga have become grounding points in my week, with yoga particularly enhanced with an awareness of every single sensation. Just where is the pressure landed in my hands during that downward dog?

Another surprising development has been how certain long-standing concerns regarding my personal physical existence have changed in nature. For example, my management of the relationship between food and my body hasn’t been great in recent months. Better than it was in my teens, but not great. Except suddenly my concerns have all but disappeared – I only even realised their absence when thinking about this topic. In a way I get why. A lot of my worry manifests itself as a kind of reckless hysteria: bouts of laughing so as not to cry, followed by a sense of abandon like I want to throw myself into the flames. Food is an easy outlet for this escape. What’s the use in worrying about that slice of cake or slab of Easter egg when people are dying?? Worrying about the continued existence of myself and the ones I love takes precedence over any feelings about my waistline. And I’ve noticed that I’m craving particular types of food, too – rich ones, indulgences like cake which I usually eat so rarely. These days my body wants its pleasures where it knows they’re easily sated.

My makeup routine has gone through slightly different fluctuations. Some days it’s felt essential, either as a spot of normality or means of transformation. How can I not feel fabulous in my most vivid eyeshadows? More often its fallen by the wayside, part of a toolkit for interactions which I can’t get motivated for right now.

Part 2: Online Presence

The only times I’ve really questioned my cosmetic routine is when its purely been for the purpose of a ten-minute call. Zoom and Skype have played their own significant role in my hyper-physical awareness. It’s been widely noted how the (often enforced) experience of viewing yourself in adds a whole new dimension to a conversation. From crafted backgrounds to wearing that lippie, I’ve had to get used to how a chat is now also yet another platform for defining my self-image.

Other aspects of my behaviour on the internet have changed too. I’m interacting with social media in some quite different ways – I’ve shown my face in videos on Instagram! I’ve posted my drawings to Twitter! With actual material connection impossible, I find myself experimenting with what’s possible online if I adapt my actions, what kind of life could be created. Some of these may well translate into long-term behavioural changes, ways of blurring the line between physical and digital existence.

But in many ways, the internet is coming up short for me right now. Surely I can’t be the only one who feels tinges of parts of both comfort and pain during online socialisation? Rehearsing with my drumming group has become particularly heartbreaking. We may all still be practising together but the essence of playing music with others, that working in sync, has gone. But I feel a similar lack in all online communications. The relief of being able to see the faces of friends quickly becomes replaced with a feeling that I’d bargain anything to be able to grab them out of the screen and feel a genuine interaction. With every day, their screen presences feel more like wafer-thin imitations.

Then as I was first sketching my thoughts on this subject into a notebook (writing is another thing I’ve preferred to try in the material realm), I was listening as The Week In Art podcast asked museum directors about institutional responses to the crisis. And Frances Morris from Tate Modern casually described how she’s “been to Sydney…been to Hong Kong…was in New York yesterday twice…back in New York this afternoon”. Morris’ statement implies total buy-in to the idea that the Internet has replaced reality wholesale, actually teleporting us around the world. What a glamorous, jet-setting delusion!

Newspapers and screenwriters, from Black Mirror to real-life cyborg stories love to scaremonger about technology. What these fail to take into account, which I’ve felt increasingly strongly over these weeks, is the unsatisfactoriness of digital-first life. Increased dependence on the internet is only making the spaces it can’t replace more defined. Its potential is only optimised in concurrence with physical activity. We use the internet to find and share culture which exists either in parallel with or in opposition to our lived experience, and it’s the emotions and reactions we have in our mortal bodies that make these worthwhile. I’m convinced that my body and mind are seeking out material and physical interactions because I don’t feel like I’m truly living without them. “Hyper-Physical Awareness” is a strange state strange enough to warrant its slightly ridiculous moniker. It may be aligned to what I’ve been practicing for, but I can’t say that I’m entirely glad of it because I wish the conditions from which it’s arisen didn’t exist. It is, however, a state I’ll try to keep in mind in both my physical and online lives as the world adapts to whatever normal will be.

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