And then, at the end of the Zoom Gaga session, comes the moment I've been waiting for and the teacher presses 'unmute all,' and at once a multitude of voices are crowding the room. Voices from all over the world, 600 of them who all at once say 'thank you,' 'danke' or 'gracias’, so many smiles and waving hands. People getting closer to their cameras – hey, you're too close – to snatch a glimpse at a screen increasingly vibrating with more and more people who are entering it, coming away and out, flickering to see if there's anyone they know and who just took part in this same experience as they did.
I know this moment. I know it from the end of the night at a club, the first rays of sun are out, and you emerge, drenched of energy and smiles. Stepping out to a new day you are feeling closer than ever to everyone who's been there with you, you barely even know them, with all that music you've hardly exchanged two sentences. I know it from the end of a long and particularly powerful live show, from the last moments of an exhibition opening. After big impressive opening on a Thursday night, it is almost midnight and a few final guests are still clutching their beer bottles, their labels half peeled-off.
It's been two minutes now and people are still waving at each other. Some are still dancing, most are smiling. The proximity is itchy. I can feel those small digital spiders casting their eight long legs far and wide across the World Wide Web. They crawl about, along cables stretched out between my computer and that of the person in the square next to mine. I can feel them, poking at the corners of my eyes – are these tears? – and a tingle of their thick bristles in my heart.
For years now we've been grappling with the question of whether screens bring us closer together or further apart. We have apps for monitoring screen time, limiting online traffic, canceling out the bright tempting colors of our phone. We try and force ourselves away, but we end up connecting. We can't stop ourselves from connecting. Around me people talk of introspection, of the here-and-now, of an inner peace, and I think of the empty, vacated Artport gallery, bare walls and pulled down shutters, and all I want to do is shout 'unmute all'. Anyone. Anytime. Anywhere.
The screen empties out of smiley people and a post-cathartic feeling sets in, physically, mentally. Lonely is the long-distance runner, but lonelier are the Gaga dancer alone at home, the bedroom yogi or the student attending distance learning class. So very lonely. Not just at the end, but all along.