Technology vs City Life

An empty downtown street, a Wednesday afternoon, Chicago, Illinois (2020)

Covid-19 , a wreck ball of lives and livelihoods, has taken yet another victim: the city life. The city -as we knew it- a rich source of culture, human connection and meaningful entertainment is no longer the city we know now. Clearly, the hustle and bustle of our busy streets has turned into a vacuum. Customers crowding bars and restaurants are nowhere to be seen. Museums remain close while office buildings look like ghostly shadows of a not-too-distant past. The eerily empty passenger cars of a subway train tell a bleak story. Real Estate properties in suburban areas are coming up in price and people are competing for a piece of suburbia. It is sad to witness the permanent closure of movie theaters and Jazz venues. Be sure of one thing: once a cinema shuts down, it is for good. Why would we even bother about movie theaters? After all, we have “Netflix” or “Prime”, don’t we? We have “food delivery” too and can always buy stuff on line. Yikes.

Covid has certainly catalyzed the city life’s dissolution. However, in all fairness, the seeds of the dissolution had quietly been planted already, years ago. Blame technology. If anything, Covid has taught us that work can be done remotely. Covid made us discover the “convenience” of Zoom teleconferencing. Covid showed us that groceries can be bought from the comfort of our couches, or, even better, from the comfort of our beds. More than ever before, we are glued to our screens, searching for entertainment, comforting distractions, purchasing or just simply working. It does not come as a surprise that the Netflix, Amazons and Apples of the world saw a baffling financial growth in the last year, with their stocks prices nearly doubling vs pre-Covid numbers.

Will we ever be able to venture out again into the city and how is it going to look like in five, ten years from now? Will we ever attend live symphonic concerts? A yoga class? A theater play? Will city trains, buses and subways still be running in the years to come? How about talking to strangers in a bar or listening to a live band? Forty years ago (well before the advent of personal computers, cell phones and the like), Luis Buñuel, a 20th century iconoclast and film maker, described technology as a true human aberration, a mistake of dissociated minds. He might has been onto something. One of the greatest creation of mankind, the city, is in great peril today thanks to yet another human creation, technology. The former evolved organically, slowly, through centuries and it is often full of soul. The latter is a new-comer, cold and alienating, self-serving, an abomination in itself. Saving the city and allowing it to become a nurturing place again -rather a desolated vastness of concrete and isolated compartments- will require lots of human love and not just human technology*

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