Junkies of Technology
Reflections from Bogotá, Colombia
By Laura del Castillo Matamoros
Scholarship recipient at the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism
December 1, 2002
BOGOTÁ, COLOMBIA: And here he is, once more. The typical amateur journalist, a responsible man who rises each day at 5 a.m. to reach the bus at 7 a.m. in order to be able to arrive early at the TV station where he works as assistant to the assistant to the assistant producer of a “reality show” to select a possible soccer star. That is to say, he has to do a mountain of things that “make them believe that one is busy,” when, in reality, he’s not doing anything.
He had dreamed on the previous night about this job that he hates so much, but today he thought about the DVD player that he could buy with his first month’s salary while he eats the succulent breakfast that his mama prepared for him, oscillating between love and hate, after having seen him pathetically “drunk” the night before. “But it’s barely Monday,” she told him.
After brushing his teeth, he bids his mama goodbye with a kiss on the cheek like the good son that he is and, with that, he buys her love once again. Last night is already forgotten.
The bus, as always, is late. But it doesn’t matter. He was educated to wait, he thought as he stood at the bus stop listening to the same Fugazi cassette as last week on his Walkman: “I am patient boy, I wait, I wait, I wait…”
Just when he thought that he would have to offer a forced smile to respond to the greeting of his neighbor in front of him, the bus arrived at its stop. For the first time he was happy to see it, although when he stepped up onto it he found only long faces, hostility, eyes that move from up to down. He found himself among the agony of “useful” people, like him.
Finally, he gets to his job and says hello to all his companions like the decent person that he is. Now it’s time to race, because work in television is like that: immediate. There isn’t much time to think, nor ask questions. That would be a waste of time. He was known as a judicious and disciplined worker.
If his bosses, successful communicators, knew how much he hated them, if only they knew that to smile he would have to imagine that in reality their gums are bleeding… But, no, he’s too much of a coward to say it. He’s a poor devil that only does what others want him to do.
At 1 a.m. the day’s work, now yesterday’s, is done, which consisted of marking envelopes with the names of the finalists of the contest and file them in boxes. At least the bosses go to the trouble this time of bringing all the slaves to their houses, so that nobody can say that at the TV station the workers are exploited.
Already home, in his room, with the certainty that his mama is already asleep, tired, he turns on the 34-inch television with stereo sound of high fidelity and clicks his favorite channel: Cartoon Network. “Sheep in the Big City” is on. It’s a personality with which he feels a great sense of identity. In all the places where he goes he feels like “a new kid in town.” But, okay, a commercial announces that next they will broadcast new chapters of “Dexter’s Laboratory.” That’s okay. For now, everything is okay…
A Common Story
That was the story of a common man, like so many others who live here, common men and women for whom communications technology dangerously extinguish their anguish, their disillusion and disbelief toward life – something very common, very frequent, among the people of this place, of my discredited country.
Without a doubt it could be said that because of his emptiness of beliefs, his disenchantment and disbelief – products of the crises of religions and politics, among other things – this common man, today, has taken refuge in communication technologies that possess the necessary mechanisms to “make him believe,” simulating reality, elaborating fictions, and offering him the chance to see what can be believed.
Believing, for the contemporary man, is thus based on the grand expectation of the consumer that consists in the having, the possessing, of articles that don’t necessarily form part of life’s basic necessities, but, rather, are more in the realm of luxury. To possess, today, is synonymous with salvation, that which only can be gotten through “unnecessary labor.” If not, he is condemned to live always in an earthly hell, in the zone of the failures, of the zeros.
His urge to have, as you well state in The Medium is the Middleman, has been created precisely by the mass media that puts itself in charge of defining what is the “debtor being.” The newscasters see a reality that is black and white (government-good, guerrilla-bad… It’s good to be thin, but better to commit suicide if you’re fat… You must listen to Shakira because she’s giving this country a good name… President Uribe practices yoga, so yoga is in fashion again…)
The worst of it all is that it’s already impossible to escape from this consumption game. In the end we all end up doing “busy work” that obeys the Middleman that is Media and the standards decided by the large monopolies and oligopolies. Busy-workers so useless as to pile envelope upon envelope to be able to pay the electric bill, or the landlord, or buy cream for mama’s varicose veins, or a collection of Japanese lamps. And that’s all there is.
In this way, the desire to have more and more, whether to pay the water bill or buy a perfume with Lucía Méndez’s pheromones, turns human beings (if they can be called that) into eternal slaves to unnecessary labor that the mass media has made them see as “the work of good people,” of successful men and women destined to have a house, a car, and a scholarship. This campaign, of course, seeks only to capture more and more passive consumers.
And the circle never closes in front of the evident vacuum of vitality in all the “citizen men and women,” their only hours of “entertainment and leisure” reduced to watch contests on TV on the weekend, to look at pages of porn on the Internet or attend the meetings of “strong prayer to the Holy Spirit,” after having seen on the TV show a testimony of salvation.
Those are the drugs.
And they are the potential junkies of the new and promising technologies.
But saddest of all is that which is called “underground,” the “alternative” that is saved from the jaws of the Media. Rock prostitutes itself in giant steps. The United States, each day, fabricates more musical groups of “rebel youth,” because now being crazy and subversion is in style. The same has happened to literature and art that are described as “under.” A sad panorama, without a doubt…
As can be seen, it’s not so bad that it couldn’t be worse. It will continue until nobody, but nobody, has an internal voice (another of your favorite expressions). A person can no longer listen to himself. What’s more, is that listening to himself causes him to be afraid. He is incapable of confronting his own internal Mr. Hyde.
As you must realize by now, the ideas that you put in your text are no more than a reflection of what I am feeling in this moment as a journalist, as a consumer, and as a human being. I might conclude that as a journalist I feel disillusion (the same that you speak of, that born from illusion). As a consumer, I feel tedious. And as a human being, I feel emptiness and resignation.
But, okay, I’ll stop worrying myself with these deep thoughts, better to go use the Play Station: The only place where I’ve been able to win a fight.
A footnote: I hope it doesn’t bother you that I waited until the final hour to send this pseudo-essay. I worked all night on it. I’m an irresponsible child and one of my virtues is the resignation to the likelihood that you will delete this application in the trashcan of your computer along with anything else having to do with me. However, since y’all are very vanguardist and freethinking kids, I trust that at least you’ll read the essay and offer me some criticism…
Ah! I’m already getting used to the idea of not being selected for the scholarship. But I still wish to say thanks, especially for having bothered your selves with reading and responding to my email. I really hadn’t counted on that. Thank you very much, non-narcos, you already have a Colombian accomplice…
Publisher’s Response After Reading this Essay: Laura del Castillo, 22, of Bogotá, Colombia, will make Monday’s list of 25 students accepted into the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism.
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