Preface to the English edition of Internet, Mon Amour

Beloved readers,

Reality, as you all know, imitates art and sometimes even surpasses it. By a twist of fate while we are here to write the preface to the English edition of this little book of ours, we find ourselves immersed in a scenario not too dissimilar from that described in the pages which you are going to read.

Like any exceptional event that disturbs the peaceful routine of our daily lives, this COVID-19 emergency gives us the opportunity to observe the past and present from a different perspective and to open new glimpses on the future.

In taking this opportunity, we will first explain how and why we wrote Internet, Mon Amour, then, in light of today's facts, we will analyze how it fits into the present.

Why Internet, Mon Amour

Internet, Mon Amour was born from the desire to understand our relationships with the machines that are part of our daily life. We are aware that too often we are embroiled in chains of command that are invisible to us as they are covered by layers of make-up. The distance that separates us from understanding hardware and software is hiding under comfortable and smart surfaces. We are alienated from the tools that we use.

It is very difficult to unhinge behavioral automatisms. A lesson, in which I explain how profiling works or I explain what gamification is, does not really generate new knowledge or awareness in the listeners. Instead, during workshops and experiential trainings, where it is possible to expose your vulnerabilities in a protected space-time, I can observe creation of new knowledge: each new understanding is a discovery for both participants and educators.

We asked ourselves how to report this experience in a book. How to write a book that is not the usual essay to read and easily forget, perhaps an interesting read that does not affect daily habits, in short, how to avoid writing that kind of essay that is understood on a cognitive level but that basically slips over us like a river of words. The solution was simple and it was already in our hands: to tell stories.

Stories that had happened to each of us or that had happened to people close to us. Stories in which we can find ourselves, stories where we feel called into question. Stories that can stick in our memory through their simplicity, stories that are emotionally engaging, allowing us to activate an understanding that goes beyond the cognitive level.

This is Internet, Mon Amour: a hybrid between an essay and a collection of short stories framed in speculative science fiction. We play simulation models to foster transformation. It is a call to the exercise of collective imagination, a call to play together.

A story cannot be disputed, it can be liked or disliked, but it makes no sense to claim that it is false: pleasure is not true or false, it is a neurological, emotional, socio-psychological and even technical interaction that makes no sense wanting to identify and criticize, under threat of destruction of pleasure itself. Stories should be told and listened beyond prejudices and idiosyncrasies. A story requires an empathic predisposition to welcome the unknown: "suspension of disbelief" said the poet Coleridge. A moment in which it is decided, in full awareness, to play the game: it's not about believing (the truth?), obeying (science? authority?), fighting (for the Good?), But to take a breath of air and, with a pinch of confidence, open the doors of the imagination. Imagining the incredible, the impossible, the absurd is a fundamental exercise of freedom.

A story allows you to lower your critical defences for a moment; it refuses the oppositional dialectic and concentrates, for once, on cooperation for the weaving of a common sense, of a shared imagination, in which history is "understood" together. It is a game of interpretation rather than an intellectual work. And the game is passion and freedom, in mutual respect for shared rules. The possible seed of peer alliances.

What happens today in the Italian Red Zone COVID-19

Today the Great Plague of the Internet is here. Not the one feared in Internet, Mon Amour, of course. In reality it manifested itself in a slightly different way.

In the scenario imagined in Internet, Mon Amour, the Great Plague was born from the bad habits perpetrated by human beings in their unhealthy relationships with technological devices, technical beings; mutual abuse and oppression led humans to isolate themselves and destroy the social bond that held them together.

During the lockdown for COVID-19, large digital platforms apparently stand as guarantors of social cohesion: «We are all in the same boat! #IoRestoACasa» users proudly posted on social networks regardless of age or political belief.

«You have to stay at home for your own good, you don't have to meet others to protect public health, we are taking care of you, here look, we give you free access to endless libraries of films and TV series ... an unlimited choice ... is it difficult to choose? So let's choose an algorithm for you, so you relax and just click on play. You will be spectator of the game! How relaxing it is, you are free from the effort of choosing, you are free even from freedom! »

We are all in lockdown , thank goodness Facebook and Instagram exist, we can use them to make live videos of the lessons for kids forced to stay home. We can use them to share our recipes, to do yoga classes, to tell our version of the facts to the world. Luckily there are the big streaming video platforms! [1] We can entertain our children, we can escape the dreaded boredom: "Ah Great Entertainment Corporation, grant us our daily entertainment today, give us the grace of an early free subscription, save us from the darkness of our fears."\

Connectivity providers offer unlimited gigs, Amazon, Google and Cisco offer their clouds, as long as productivity doesn't stop, as long as entertainment has no end, as long as nobody gets bored. It's true you can't touch, embrace, meet, freedom is under the threat of moral blackmail, but who cares? «Everything will be fine», «We are in good hands».\

The physical space of human relationships, the roads, the countryside, have become places unsuitable for us. Early spring is exploding in its glory of smells and perfumes but this is no longer the space for humans to meet and exchange. Do we live on an infected planet? Yes: infected for humans, and infected by them!

Let these dangerous virus hosts stay at home! At least one meter away from the others, go out as little as possible, don't meet, talk only on the phone or by video conference on our kindly offered platform!

Digital solidarity is the name of the dedicated page on a government site: telephone companies adhere to the campaign to meet the needs of smart working, distance learning or entertainment for citizens (culture has become leisure).

They are doing it for our own good! Our good as a worker at home, as a student at home, as a teacher at home. Obvious consequence: those who do not adapt to the production of video, audio and materials to be delivered remotely are considered contemptuous of the common good. Anyone who stresses that it is not a good thing to use proprietary tools, that making decisions in an emergency is not wise, is accused of not being attentive to the important thing, to the content: that is, the health emergency. But the health emergency will pass. Instead, the introduction of proprietary tools to carry out work and educational tasks, with all the corollary of data collection, metadata, manipulation, cognitive and behavioral training, risks remaining.

Digital solidarity we said ... the great social experiment had just begun ...

A look into the future

And when the situation will return to normal? Obviously there is no turning back and in the meantime it will have become even more difficult to eradicate the technologies of domination from our lives, addicted as we will have become to the platforms of e-something. In the meantime the capitalism of disaster, joyfully rubbing its hands at the unanticipated opportunity, collected an enormous amount of data and metadata about our behavior. It will be difficult for us to unsubscribe from the streaming service offered for free for two months just as we are watching that exciting TV series. We wouldn't want to stop working from home now that we have installed all the apps for smartworking, who cares if Zoom shares my data with Facebook even if I don't have an account, it's so convenient for video conferencing. Every now and then a red area, a confinement, a quarantine ... it is for the common good! As always, automatisms and inertia will take over our active choices. Less effort, less contact, less friction, less freedom of choice: everything changes because nothing changes.

Now that we have relied on the prodigious help of these networks to communicate with other humans and machines, to find what we were looking for; now that our relationships have become so vulnerable, what will we do when we want to get our heads out of our comfortable filter bubble ? Who will we turn to when we no longer have access to our accounts?

Enough with dystopia! You are the usual catastrophists, the optimists, the hopeful, the frightened will shout loudly. It is true, it is so comfortable to abandon oneself to the magnanimity of the masters of today ... as the serfs looked at the great goodness and justice of the tsar, as the slaves looked at the divine magnificence of the pharaoh as they built his grave, so the gears of the Megamachines, human and non-human, continue to run today without any apparent friction. But we like to peek inside the gearbox, if we scan carefully there are always interstices where it is possible to intervene, where it is possible "to do recreation".

In Italian the word recreation (ricreazione) means the time when children at school can finally play and move freely. Recreation however also has another meaning: technologies are not neutral and therefore it is necessary to re-create tools for convivial interactions that are not subject to the logic of the domain.

We want to imagine that once out of the emergency some of us will have treasured this experience, observed the vulnerabilities and started recreation to transform us starting from the weak points. A path that begins looking at non-gamified tools and conscious choices.

That's all from the Red Zone. You, readers from the future, should know the rest. It depends on you.

Zona Rossa, Italy, March 2020

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