Saturday, July 4, 2020

Approaching Dawn

Admittedly, quarantine has not brought any real great changes to my life. I now attend church in my living room Sundays, watching the service streaming over the television on YouTube, and I no longer have to make excuses to keep from going out...having to wear one of those blasted masks is reason enough to stay home. And since we stream instead of using cable or satellite, we miss most of the insipid and virtuous/inspirational commercials. Still, though I can tune out the messages and images (the lonely piano, the solitary car, the idiotic idea that a mask is not a mask), I can't ignore the fact that most of us are on lockdown.

I read recently that many people have discovered the joys of not having to rush about madly, the things that can be accomplished by not going out, a clean garage, for example. Employers/employees have found advantages in working from home. Some have even stated that when all this ends (i.e., when politicians have wrung the last bit of power from the crisis) they might be interested in continuing to work from home. Wanting to stay home to work is but a small step from avoiding people as a matter of principal, a mindset I have had for years. Because of my aversion toward socializing, some have termed me "xenophobic,' which is a fear of strangers (a tribal virtue, not a vice), but I think it might be more "anthrophobic," because it's just people in general, a bit stronger than the common social awkwardness most people seem to have to some degree.

I wonder if this enforced isolation might eventually morph into an actual aversion, which brings us to Dawn, a planet in Isaac Asimov's novel The Robots of Dawn, third in his Robot Series, which began with the SF Mystery The Caves of Steel. Again, Earth-based detective Elijah Bailey is called to investigate a crime involving Spacers (those who left Earth centuries before during a period of expansionism), but this time it involves him leaving Earth and its "caves of steel" (vast underground cities) and traveling to Dawn. The problem is that, like all Earthers, Detective Bailey suffers from agoraphobia (a fear of open places), a phobia so strong it nearly cripples him; it stems from the people of Earth spending their entire lives living in the teeming subterranean cities under conditions that others would see as claustrophobic.

The book is wonderfully written and plotted (what novel by Asimov wouldn't be?), though maybe not as well done as the first two books (the aforementioned Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun), but I really don't want to delve into the plot. If you have not read it, I strongly recommend all three.

What made me think of The Robots of Dawn is what Elijah Bailey discovers when he finally reaches Dawn. He has to deal with the wide-open spaces, the spacious houses and the spaces between people, but he discovers the human inhabitants of Dawn have their own bugaboo phobia. Asimov does not call it anthrophobia, but it is. The isolated houses of the Spacer colonists are self-sufficient, they have robots to run their errands and do their bidding, and if they want to visit anyone they can do so by projecting a holographic image. Over time, the inhabitants of Dawn have developed an intense aversion to actual physical presences, a hindrance to the detective's investigation since he is used to living cheek to jowl with his fellow humans and feels restricted in trying to "read" a hologram.

So, are we heading toward being like Dawn's inhabitants? We're getting used to not being around people, and while Zoom is nothing like a hologram, it's a step in that direction. We may not have robots to do our fetching and carrying, but we can get anything we need delivered...yeah, that Prime membership is really paying off. Our houses may not be isolated, but it's easy to shut out the world, even with the front door open. 

What would make a conversion from gregariousness to isolationism relatively easy, is that every person really is an island...sorry, John Donne. Despite an incessant bombardment by clueless companies and an increasingly irrelevant government, many people are discoving the truth of the new now: we are all in this...separately, not together. Day by day, we learn we don't need others, we don't need to go out, and if we do need to interact with others, there is Zoom...safe, undemanding, alone and coming with an OFF switch. 

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