The Utopian Dystopia of Lockdown

There’s a familiar dystopian character to the (middle-class) experience of lockdown, conveyed by Slavoj Zizek on loc 384-396 of his Pandemic:

Many dystopias already imagine a similar future: we stay at home, work on our computers, communicate through videoconferences, exercise on a machine in the corner of our home office, occasionally masturbate in front of a screen displaying hardcore sex, and get food by delivery, never seeing other human beings in person.

However the consumer comfort of this situation for some is a remarkable feature of the situation. I’ve never noticed such a frequent proliferation of deliveries in the relatively affluent street in Cambridge where I live. When I take my daily walk I inevitably see at least one delivery driver in the short distance before I enter the park, as well as many packages left on doorsteps waiting to be collected. As Ian Bogost writes, there is a world of service awaiting those who are locked down, utterly dependent on those who don’t have the choice to work from home:

As Twitter’s new policy emphasizes, Americans whose jobs involve pressing buttons on keyboards to create or manipulate symbols into ideas might not really need to go to the office to do so. A laptop and an internet connection are sufficient. Then, when it’s time for a break, DoorDash or Grubhub hastens lunch to the work desk, helping you avoid the coughs and foreign doorknobs of eating out. Later, Instacart or Amazon Prime Now drops groceries on stoops. TaskRabbit lets you schedule assistance with errands, and Washio will pick up and deliver your laundry. Nowadays doing something for real, with your own body, sometimes feels stranger than summoning it by smartphone.

In fact as he goes on to observe, this is a radicalisation of what had become his normal life. The lockdown draws attention to a remarkable transformation which had been underway for some time, while accentuating the class divisions upon which that utopia of (alienated) home consumption has always depended.

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