This year Netflix premiere The woman in the window, a mediocre thriller about a woman with agoraphobia (Amy Adams) who never leaves her house, but from her window thinks she is a witness to a crime. The film quotes verbatim the great film of Alfred Hitchcock Rear Window, from 1954, in which Jefferies (James Steward), a photographer immobilized by an accident, enjoys the vision of the lives of others that can be seen from the windows of neighboring houses. Voyeurism is a recurring theme in Hitchcock’s films. In this one, the scenography of a Paramount studio that represents a patio in New York’s Greenwich Village consists of a wall of windows and balconies facing the room where the photographer rests.
Eliseo Veron He explained that milestones in the evolution of the media, such as the appearance of photography, cinema or television, constitute changes of scale in our perception. Suddenly we start to contemplate people or places far from us in time and space, to be witnesses of events that have happened or are happening at a great distance from our environment, even live and direct, in real time. The pandemic has generalized in all of us one of these changes perception, a new turn in the “mediatization” of the gaze.
Cinema and in particular Hitchcock’s cinema taught us to look at detail, to auscultate the psychology of people from their faces and gestures. In Rear Window the camera shows us what the protagonist is looking at, inviting us to identify ourselves with that immobile point of view of a partial visual field: it only knows from the stories what can be seen through the windows, the rest happens out of the field and it can only be reconstructed from what is heard, with the help of the imagination.
The wall Jefferies is looking at looks like Zoom’s now ubiquitous screen. Remember what Jorge Carrión wrote last year in The New York Times: “The image of that grid of faces in different places sums up who we are at the moment: a succession of cells with pixel windows that communicate with other cells. An infinite and virtual hive. The subdivided screen is reminiscent of a façade divided into balconies ”.
This exhausting fixation of our gazes on screens, turned by the pandemic into a central space for interacting with people and carrying out activities in various fields (family, educational, work …), has moved, a little more still, the border between the intimate and the public, the inside and the outside our houses. The home has been transformed at the same time into an office, a school, instead of recreation, all juxtaposed, without precise spatial or temporal boundaries. In addition, this intimate hodgepodge space opens its windows permanently to the gaze of more or less well-known witnesses. This new virtual penetration into everyday life leads to all geographical regions, ages and social levels, phenomena previously reserved for the home office, e-learning or digital consumption only by a group and in well-defined spaces and times. It remains to control the cognitive and emotional damage of this abrupt mutation of the scope of the gaze.
State of affairs
For now we know that we are exhausted, that we feel that we are “late” to virtual meetings that take place in the same room, that we have begun to naturalize the rarity of meeting “face to face” with distant people thanks to video-conferences. The interaction has suddenly and radically transformed. It’s hard to look into the eyes for Zoom, due to the lag between the place of the camera and the place where the person we want to look at appears. The bodies appear encapsulated, but with some more prominent details even than in the presence. With the camera off you can look without being looked at, as with black glasses. We looked at the funds of the houses of colleagues, students and relatives. And there are permanently outbreaks of activities other than those that are being studied: young children of teachers and collaborators, cats of students and friends. Whatever the objective of the virtual meeting It is threatened by domestic interference that filters through people or discordant elements that appear in the background of the screen or ringtones, cries, screams that can be heard.
“We are late” to virtual meetings that take place in the same room
Erwing Goffman He explained that in every interaction that takes place in an organization, two spaces are delimited between the interlocutors. The frontal region is the one that each one wants to display, for example, what he expresses aloud, clothing, conscious gestures. The rear region, on the other hand, is the place where what we do not want to project outward should be stored: what we think, a tear in the clothes that we notice belatedly, poses that can betray our nervousness or disinterest. This distinction is also established in our office: family portraits or books on shelves that are visible to visitors are one thing and what we keep in a drawer or papers that accumulate in a hidden place are quite another. to foreign glances. Frequently, Goffman says, leaks occur from the rear to the front region. In general, they are part of coexistence, such as when we lose the thread of what we are saying in conversation with a boss or we show a disorder on our desk that we would have preferred not to see, although they can become the cause of real scandals.
The scale change caused by virtuality of all our activities is that instead of filtering the private into a public sphere, it happens rather than the social intrudes permanently in the intimacy of the home who is not prepared for these continuous penetrations of strange looks. And what happens to us happens to each of those who connect with us for a virtual meeting. And we still don’t know what this represents for the future of our interactions.
* The author is Director of the Graduate School in Communication
EntreMedios is a space of the Graduate School in Communication of the Austral University, in alliance with MDZ.