Benjamin Bratton says we stay hyperaware of contagion post-Covid

Benjamin Bratton says we stay hyperaware of contagion post-Covid
Image: Courtesy Benjamin Bratton
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It took a global pandemic and stay-at-home orders for 1.5 billion people worldwide, but something is finally occurring to us: The future we thought we expected may not be the one we get.

We know that things will change; how they’ll change is a mystery. To envision a future altered by coronavirus, Quartz asked dozens of experts for their best predictions on how the world will be different in five years.

Below is an answer from Benjamin Bratton, a professor of visual arts and director of the Center for Design and Geopolitics at the University of California, San Diego. His work covers topics such as philosophy, art, design, and computer science. according to his web site.

The Covid-19 pandemic made everyone into an epidemiologist by choice or by force. It delivered the epidemiologist’s vision of anthropology, which is that human societies are less the sum total of cultural practices than a discontiguous biomass that inevitably mediates thousands and thousands of other species.

The mainstreaming of the epidemiological view of society will induce contradictory responses in how people understand their own bodies, the bodies of humans in general, and the hypothetical and real experiences of touch and being touched. Otherwise obscure vernaculars of risk and synonyms for “contagious” will appear and disappear in uneven rhythms.

Some people will cultivate sociopathic technologies of distancing, while others will manifest equally delusional compulsions toward flamboyant commingling. Our responses to the crises (biological, social, economic) of the pandemic will grow around each other like blind-purposed vines. As a whole, they will retrain our mental faculties to the value of scientific disenchantment, but also mobilize many of its least intelligent implications. In uncertain times, stupidity adapts. Stupidity evolves.

What will the middle of the decade show? The hour-by-hour quantification of the status of bodily fluids—heretofore the purview of diabetics and hypochondriacs—will be standard preoccupations of everyday life. Waves of biomedical startups will offer specialized platform diagnostics for targeted psycho-demographics and private delivery services will have to develop new protocols for physically handling the tons of spit, blood, and piss that they carry from home to lab. Jurisdictional controversies on interstate biocommerce will see the location of many such labs in northern Mexico: Maquiladora-scale facilities microprocessing the excretions of the subscriber classes.

Vaccine paranoia will evolve and speciate. Canonical Truther strains will compete with more acceptable, centrist Sino-phobia after China succeeds in developing the best second and third waves of medicines. Who does and does not “take” the vaccine will become increasingly contentious, as the annual cycle of flu shots graduates from a delayable errand to an overtly political act, full of congratulations or carefully-nuanced compromise.

Increased reliance on automated delivery services will bring an arms race between struggles for better labor conditions for warehouse workers versus the branding of their work as super-essential or easily replaceable, or both. Long-distance remote robotics will allow for manufacturing and service industries in American cities to employ persons on other continents as easily as call centers do now. In response, robots will be abused for diverse political motivations—nativism, technophobia, and their composites most especially.

Automation will recompose the home’s interface to the urban exterior. Urban architecture grows new prostheses dedicated to the principle of touchlessness, and design schools will convene studios of serious aesthetic interest debating the politics of this plan or that. The Big Locker motif, for which packages are kept under temporary lock and key in individual cells, will give way to more precise apertures, on the one hand, and the seemingly more pluralistic open commons accessible only to permanent residents, on the other.

Apple and Nike will capture the biggest shares of the smart masks market. Apple’s platform integration of built-in sensors that track user breath and external air quality on their phones, will be later to launch because of an antagonistic federal approval process. However, their tidy integration of predictive metrics with other personal health related streams suggests that their position is better for a wider market (including China), whereas Nike’s array will be superior for serious athletes (i.e., real-time blood oxygenation analysis and other key performance indicators).

Per the usual gravitational slouch of history, most of the changes brought by the Covid-19 pandemic on our homes, houses, and morals will not be named as post-Covid permutations, but simply as the normality of the new normals. Those with sufficient means will be attended to with renewed care, and those without will provide that attention as a service, or become themselves the unattendable. Five years after five years from now, the epidemiological disposition will not be an emergency any more than luggage scanners at airports, counting calories, saying thank you to your passenger for using the hand sanitizer, or getting your shots.

To read more New Normal answers, click here.