In 1983, the musician Franco Battiato composed the song Ci vuole un’altra vita. Its orchestral start, beautiful and evocative, contrasts powerfully with the lyrics, which tell us about the endless traffic in the city, the cars parked in triple rows and the nervousness that urban life generates. Immersed in this depressing scenario, we find that tranquilizers and therapies are useless, neither are stimulants or ideologies. And since they are useless, Battiato concluded, one simply wants another life. Other life, nothing more and nothing less. In this era dominated from beginning to end by the unequivocal rhythm of reggaeton and trap, I often remember the beautiful and enigmatic themes, sometimes energetic, sometimes melancholic, but always with a philosophical point, by the Sicilian singer. I have reminisced Ci vuole un’altra vita because of a story that appeared a few days ago in the media and that has not had, perhaps, the appropriate impact. First the BBC and then some other media reported the increase in sales of mobile phones without internet access. The worldwide acquisition of these devices, known as dumbphonesas opposed to the smartphoneshas gone from 400 million units in 2019 to 1 billion in 2021.
Understanding the reason for these figures may lead us to assume the spirit that animated Battiato’s verses. It should not be ruled out that the option to acquire phones without internet access has to do with the lure of an affordable price or with the sting of nostalgia. However, beyond these reasons, it could be suggested that the fundamental factor is the growing awareness that hyperconnection – total, permanent, continuous and constantly updated connection – is no longer considered as advantageous and desirable as we had been led to believe. . In other words, more and more people want another life. What kind of life? We could answer: one -relatively or completely removed- from mobile phones connected to the Internet, from continuous exposure and constant availability, from attention focused on externality and from the compulsion to give immediate answers… In short, a life that, without denying the virtues of authentic communication and, it could be said, precisely because they want to live up to them, intends to place themselves outside that implicit and perverse demand of the society of transparency according to which be Present It is no longer, as Martin Heidegger would have written, be withbut only and exclusively be for.
The data presented in the report Ditrendia Mobile 2020 They were already sufficiently revealing of the saturation level reached in 2019, before the pandemic, and lead one to think that the data on mobile phone addiction must have gotten worse from then until now. According to that report, 90% of adults in the world had a mobile phone with internet access; the average use of the mobile was 3 hours and 22 minutes a day, which is equivalent to paying full attention to it for 48 days a year; 91% of the time was spent using the apps; each of the users had an average of 8.6 accounts on social networks, among which Facebook still held hegemony while tik tok it already appeared as the fastest growing platform; and, for the rest, it was confirmed that half of the Internet traffic was already carried out from mobile phones to add, finally, that this was undoubtedly on the rise.
Another life away from this maelstrom thus seems not only reasonable, but also desirable. And the truth is that glimpses of this different and less unpleasant existence can emerge with a mere trip, with the unexpected depletion of the battery or with any failure that affects the phone. In the simple alteration of everyday circumstances, a non-everyday horizon appears. This is already an indication that the absolutely predictable and controlled world, that world presupposed by the portable agenda and the empire of notifications, is more illusion than reality. At times like this, a freedom that we thought was forgotten or, if this is not the case, because this may sound excessive to us, the truth is that it opens, at least, the unexpected path through which it is possible to momentarily avoid the pressure. Momentarily, of course, because, in any case, the devastating carbon copy of the Matrix universe where we do our best to survive – a closed world much more insidious than the famous iron cage that Max Weber spoke of – remains absolute and inescapable.
Now, it is a miniaturized cage, which we carry in our hands, and in which they try to get us in with little pushes, but in which, ultimately, we end up entering on our own initiative. As if they were mythical powers, both benevolent and evil, the smartphones, on the one hand, they put the world at our fingertips, allowing us to communicate instantaneously, take quality photos and videos, carry out certain tasks, buy goods or services, entertain ourselves and orient ourselves around the environment; on the other hand, and at the same time, they constitute brief luminous altars through which we must prove that it is we, and not other people, who are trying to access some service, or portable fissures through which they slip into our limited comprehension an unpleasant and potentially infectious barrage of unexpected messages, unwanted calls, warnings, advertisements and viruses.
The ancient Christian believers established the convention that 10% of the time of the 24 hours of the day – the tithe of time – should be dedicated to praying to God – the Lord of time. This means a prayer practice of 2 hours and 24 minutes a day. The daily prayer before the mobile phone is not only quantitatively longer, but also qualitatively different. The attention is focused more on images than on words -and if it is on them, frequently in the form of headlines-, it is more aware of the emotional impacts -which turn in a continuous wheel of stories or videos- than of the arguments reflective and, finally, can be easily dispersed to the same extent that it is subject to all kinds of unexpected intrusions. But there is something even worse. The abuse of the mobile inverts the ordinary relationship established between the user and the instrument. Due to the abuse of the instrument, it becomes an end, while the user, who should be an end as sender or receiver, emerges as a simple means for global connectivity. The phenomenon has already been described in relation to the most important social networks in the digital world, which rise as global structures for the production of communication and the accumulation of benefits derived from advertising. At the base of these corporate giants of the contemporary world, whose brands have a planetary reach, there is an army of users who, freely and voluntarily, like those archetypal adults who consent, typical of doctrinal liberalism, are not only their cheapest producers, but also their products. most precious.
To all these certainties that, despite being so, should be remembered from time to time in order to glimpse what we are missing when, permanently connected to everything and everyone, we believe that we are not missing anything, one more certainty of the same tenor should be added. : The same technology that allows us to open a window to the infinite world also makes it possible, through it, to spy on our thoughts, our movements and our hearts. In short, we are not in an idyllic transparency societybut, rather, in the sinister age of surveillance capitalism, what Shoshana Zuboff would say. And meanwhile, reality does not stop playing tricks on our neat epochal language, fascinated by technology, because it is still funny to some extent that they are smartphones, and not dumbphones, those that allow espionage. The directors of WhatsApp they can swear our conversations will be private on their platform because our messages are end-to-end encrypted. But, given the circumstances, this statement seems like a bad joke, not because the massive espionage maneuvers that have affected the cell phones of Pere Aragonès and Pedro Sánchez have now been discovered, but because not even the phones of Donald Trump or Angela Merkel turned out to be invulnerable at the time.
In short, it seems that there are several good reasons for wanting another life, a relatively or completely disconnected one, and it seems that there are people who are taking steps in that direction. For this, it may not be necessary to do without the smartphone nor that we should replace it with a dumbphone. Why don’t you start opening up spaces offline not turning on the mobile as soon as we wake up? It is better then to listen to the beating of one’s own heart and those of the city that is also awakening. And to make up for the missed Franco Battiato, let’s put on a CD or, better, a vinyl, and listen Ci vuole un’altra vita while we drink the first coffee of the day.