January 22, 2021

What are the consequences of the loss of physical distance?

An article published by a researcher at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) analyses the consequences of the increasing loss of symbolic and physical distance with the media and information technologies.

This phenomenon, accelerated by COVID-19 and the intensive use of the Internet, is associated with a privacy that is progressively subjugated to the logic of the mass media, according to an article published in the Eu-topias journal by Pilar Carrera, associate professor at the UC3M Department of Communication and Media Studies. In parallel, there is a loss of distance from a media discourse that is presented as transparent, as a “window open to the world”, concealing the mediation process and its political, economic, and cultural implications.

According to the researcher, if we examine our relationship with mass media screens and interfaces during the 20th century up to the present day, we can easily see how the trend has been a sustained and progressive reduction in physical and symbolic distance,  as well  as  an increasing sophistication in forms of control through mass media technology that have penetrated the individual’s private and intimate spaces.

The lockdown brought about by COVID-19 has led to an unprecedented restriction of public freedom in countries with a long-standing democratic tradition, combined with the generalisation of legitimate and compelling digital surveillance undertaken in the name of ‘public interest’, especially through smartphones, according to this paper. “It is the perfect example of encapsulated privacy and tightly controlled media, accompanied by large, extensive and frenetic use of the internet as the only window that is ‘open to the outside world’ and the only means of contact as vicarious as it is frustrating with the other”, Pilar Carrera noted.

In a nutshell, the COVID-19 crisis has allowed us to grasp the true scope of the internet in terms of social control and engineering, after decades of the public adapting, internalising, and adopting this communication network en masse. “In this perfect storm, where two viral environments (the internet and COVID-19) have collided, the structural links between the internet and socio-political isolation have become apparent,” she concluded.

Interview with Pilar Carrera | UC3M (video with english subtitles): 

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