In the fall of 2015, approaching the transitional period in Western politics where the racial debate would be taken to the core, leadership skills would be disassociated from legitimate positions and media war replaced the exhausted narrative of information and structural control over big investors for industrial innovation, somewhere in Guarujá, I was updating my Twitter newsfeed.
Forget it, I’m not comparing my dynamic flow knowledge to the collapse in the housing sector prior to the social media boom, with a hypothesis of engagement intensity and relevance; I’m telling you a low-income, male individual from South America chose to listen to the tech trends with an eye to future developments, while arranging for his R$550 rent being paid on time, approximately $200 for a bed, fridge and bathroom to be used in exchange for the company of strangers on social, all the while being in a narrow stretch of a river affluent to the Vicente de Carvalho bridge, bordering Guarujá, the other side of the Santos island and the biggest port in the continent. Across the street, a family of 5 or so, whose younger kids would jump into the polluted waters thinking there was no harm and maybe suspecting there was, but still enjoying the idea of playing with their sense of danger, while the goods for a big market right at the corner came in and I followed the workers sharing a cheap cigarette while operating machines and evaluating the skill in transporting sacks of rice from truck to stock. Dogs watched the operations, someone offered coffee for a buck, a popular restaurant brought the homeless some food for another small value, insalubrious bars displayed yellow eggs and cachaça for the lost souls who walked in, and a big palace was near for the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a few numbers up. In front of that building, the bus station hosted a newsstand where I could find a spare SIM card, and that’s where I changed my career from Claro, the former 21 communications signal bought from Embratel, to Vivo, the mobile service most popular in Brazil, a branch of Spanish domain Telefonica, equivalent to Verizon’s troubled young brother.
I wasn’t going to share my situation with anyone new, but I did meet some people on the kik app, which I knew was Canadian, and offered quicker service than recently bought WhatsApp, in a multibillion dollar acquisition. I was looking for a time saver, but I didn’t have much to do with my time, spent in bed or walking around this unvisited neighborhood, the Santo Antônio Villa, where most people undoubtedly didn’t have an opinion on who would be the next leader of America’s pioneering opportunity landscape. While not sexting, I was washing my clothes on a tank, reading the few books I could transport to my apartment, learning how to play on my gifted Meteoro amplifier, and listening to prayers from my neighbors, at times, and soccer enthusiasts, on different occasions. One of them once said: “there’s some good pinga down my place, you wanna drink some?” and cordially, with a hand gesture, I refused, just like the offer to smoke right at ZIP code 420. I was sure Hillary would win, but the Brazilian impeachment hadn’t showed its ugliest faces yet. Temer would become president the following year, after DJT’s victory, and I still remember the last time I boarded the DERSA ferry boat in fear for my life, asking for money to pay for the readjusted tariff on a short span maritime cruise of nearly 3 minutes, from one city to another.
Where would I go back to? Home, of course. I wasn’t going to pay for it, my hostel account had been closed, I owed two banks and a phone company, but all seemed to be small favors being retributed. Except they weren’t that small after all. When I went back to the Colombia Condominium, I’d be getting back to my psychiatric treatment started the first time I smoked weed, and spend an entire year trying to reconnect to the past, while the high dose of olanzapine took over my conscious self, and in the brightest days write for my published study on academia.edu.
What I didn’t know was that condominiums and domains had way too many things in common. You don’t know who lives next door until their children start crying and get reprehended. You don’t notice how protective they are until you take a picture of their garden. You don’t learn a new name until you memorize a street address. And certainly, you don’t know what’s really happening until you have a badge on Maps for being present at the wrong place and time, but having conviction that you needed to be there, for all the commercial activity. The Syrian-Lebanese or XV club were never on my particular interest, neither the fishing and yatch owners’, the logistics companies, the churches, the beauty salons or the restaurants. I knew my city was in the Guiness book for having the largest beach garden on the planet, and I wondered who lived on the shore. Soon after this childlike mystery was contrasted with practical observation, Lula would be accused of accepting bribe in the form of a Solaris building rent, clearly above $200 but still a small one, in face of land owner history in this country, the true “domain” of the mighty authoritarianism of a nation scarred by assimilation initiatives, with blood on their hands, but so many ads for moisturizers right after another tasty feijoada, a good tainha or any of the items not available at a local Starbucks.
The central point seems to remain inaccessible: while we struggle to understand why a country that invested so much in technology innovation, in agriculture, housing, education, political marketing and many other industries, with a clear example being oil and gas, very few can relate to the disputes in more immediate problem-solving situations, like drought and illiteracy, culture and art funding. I would point out: personal narratives can foster debate, sure, as long as their visibility goes through the scrutiny of watchful underdogs of what we still call democracy, trusting the power of words to convey the impression of freedom. It’s time we really think outside the box, the condominium, the domain and the shared space, to illustrate how important our conversations and experiences really were, before they’re sold to the highest bidder, yet again.