For my far-flung readers, some context: the UK is in a second full lockdown. Unlike Lockdown-Lite in November, schools are closed, “non-essential” shops are closed. Ditto pubs and restaurants. Stay-at-home orders are in place. No travel, no non-essential journeys anywhere. An hour of outdoor exercise once a day is fine, but no mixing with other households. The result is that the majority of families are home together pretty much without interruption. Adults who are able are working from home. Children are remote learning.
No matter how much we love our families we are very much in each other’s space at the moment. We are all together all the time. Being all together in the same space all the time tends toerase the lines and dissolve the distinctions that usually give shape and definition to our lives. This raises some interesting metaphysical questions about the nature of reality itself.
Are sweat pants real pants? If I change from the sweatpants I sleep in to the sweatpants I type in have I really gotten dressed? Does time spent answering work emails at 8pm in the same room as one’s spouse and children count as family time? Is a zoom call actual people-contact? Does a bowl of cereal eaten standing at the counter at 10am still count as breakfast if you — or, let’s be honest, if I — ate two slices of leftover garlic bread, half a chicken breast, a few florets of roasted cauliflower and a spoonful of mashed potato out of the fridge at 7:30am?
Fortunately, without the work commute, many of us have the time to contemplate these questions, or would if we were not perpetually in the process of resetting the wifi router — a valiant little piece of technology that tries so hard to provide the semblance of horizons beyond our own front room — to agonized cries of: “I can’t get onto Google Classroom!” and “I just got bumped off the remote desktop!” and “Who’s live streaming? and “There’s no bandwidth!”
Just another day at the office…or is it? What even is an office? Who knows?
There is one particular lockdown trend I’ve been thinking about lately. This is our acceptance of screen-based substitutes as real tokens of the things they replace. Time on Zoom is now just an ordinary meeting. For the kids, a few assigned video demonstrations and a classroom chat are now a maths lesson. This makes me wonder: what counts as a book? I don’t mean to ask whether an ebook is a book — an on-screen text is functionally equivalent to one on paper — but what is the existential status of movies based on books?
This isn’t only a question of which is better, the book or the movie. It isn’t primarily a question of that sort. Most people in a position to judge prefer the book to any adaptation for the large or small screen. There are a few notable exceptions. For example, Blade Runner is universally considered to be far superior to the Philip K Dick short story, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, that inspired it. What interests me is the question whether — and if so, to what extent — the film is the book, or a near equivalent.
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