Before we greeted each other with two kisses. Now we do not know whether to fist, elbow or simply bow. Covid is changing the way we interact. But it is not only the fear of the coronavirus that makes us distance ourselves. The pandemic has accelerated a previous trend, spurred by the digital automation of many daily processes, which leads us to the so-called contactless economy, and from there to the contactless society, or at least, with much less human contact.
Shortly after the start of the pandemic, in June 2020, Satya Nadella, a director of Microsoft, confirmed that in just two months there had been a leap of years in digitization. Teleworking became widespread, classes and most meetings became telematic, and money was withdrawn. Banknotes and coins were displaced by cards and these by Bizum and other payment systems without any contact, through mobile phones.
Some of these non-contact forms of relationship have penetrated almost without realizing it. When you enter a store you are greeted by a shop assistant – “How can I help you?” – it almost annoys you. We can wander through the sections, look for the size, try on the garments, go through the automatic checkout and leave without talking to anyone. In many restaurants, the QR code replaces the waiter and soon it will be a robot that will bring the drink. The pandemic has triggered trade on-line and it will not take long to collect the orders that we have made without talking to anyone at the lockers set up in the basement of the buildings.
It is already a very common experience, almost always irritating, having to interact for a long time with a machine in a dialogue of sea breams based on numbers and short sentences to be able to access any service. Including medical services. In some primary care centers to get a face-to-face visit you have to be downright bad. Also there, the covid is accelerating a technological transition that will have to be closely monitored to prevent the overload of care and the lack of human resources from dangerously leading to contactless medicine.
There is no doubt that many of these technologies have advantages. They make life easier, increase productivity and can give us a lot of time. Even to flirt, it is infinitely more efficient to resort to a dating platform than to wander around bars and clubs to see if you are lucky. But living life from app to app also has its dark side. The society of distancing leads us to a social interaction governed by algorithms, automaton and depersonalized, which sometimes ends surprisingly well and sometimes fatally. The machines neither smile nor get angry. There is no emotion in artificial intelligence.
We begin to notice the consequences of living permanently connected to things and disconnected from people. If loneliness was already a silent pandemic before the pandemic, what will happen when the economy of distancing is fully developed? The philosopher Byung-Chul Han warns us in The expulsion of the different, that “we hear many things, but we increasingly lose the ability to listen to others and to attend to their language and their suffering. Somehow, each one is left alone with their pain and their fears ”. And he adds: “The political will to configure a public space, a listening community, is declining radically. Digital interconnection favors this process. Internet is not manifested today as a space for common and communicative action. Rather, it disintegrates into exhibition spaces of the self. Today, the Internet is nothing more than a sounding board for the isolated self. No ad listens ”. Technological changes are unstoppable but we can modulate their pace and the direction they take, so that the contactless economy does not lead to a society of isolation.