As I saw the live transmission of recently established CNN Brasil on a recently bought platform, Twitter under Elon Musk, waking up from a particularly hot day in Santos with a sun that made my eyes hurt and my sight blur even more when I went outside, around lunchtime, the numbers were showing a two percent margin for a man whose name I struggle to pronounce. I’ve learned many names of cities and people in the English language, and also other foreign regions, but this name annoys me. I feel dirty uttering it. And the reasons are many. From torture enthusiast to pick-pocketer of the Republic, JMB, in short, was a man who said things no media company would allow you to say without penalty. That’s how we know some things need to change, and maybe they will. Investigations can take some time to be developed, and the facts of the law need to be clear enough to argue in a case that could lead to conviction. His supporters don’t think that’s the case. As I’ve mentioned earlier, with no need to tag a post, especially when the entire mainstream media covered it, the city of Guarujá, located in a small margin of water that separates it from Santos, the biggest port in Latin America, took stage in an effort to convince the population that Lula, now president again, would be accepting an apartment as a bribe. He merely visited it, and from this I can tell you a personal story.
In 2013, the company where I worked at installed cameras inside our classrooms. We were seeing the popularization of the smartphone, but some people were already living in a separate reality, and I thought I’d been really lucky to be part of it. The benefits of life with technology were many, not just on videocalls with strangers, something I talk about to my students, obviously without mentioning details of interactions with a few particular people, but on the experience of having an alarm on the phone, a calendar, a note-taking app, social media as it grew, easy communication across countries, music and a camera to register my favorite moments. But in the classroom, I was being evaluated. And this one time, I decided to approach a class with a discussion on piracy and online sex, because it had something to do with the topic proposed in the book, called “classes for advanced learners”. What I didn’t know, and would learn later, was that Sao Paulo was developing intense marketing strategies that would culminate in an effort to analyze private conversation in order to get to know clients better and to offer better service. That was what made my conscience heavy, all these years. And seeing that the president of the country had a conversation wiretapped and broadcast on national TV, as I pointed out on my previous blog, made it seem like something bigger was going on. I lived in a more fast-paced reality, and I’d already lost a number of contacts for not being aware of how fast communications are these days. But what they did was to use this speed potential to disseminate false information.
Everyone became a specialist. Everyone had a voice. And that means speech freedoms were working, but soon enough, companies would realize they’d made mistakes. By allowing everyone to speak at the same time, with no control over what they were saying, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, then Instagram, saw a wide range of offenses and hostility, which they seemed to ignore when introducing the DMs. Messenger was a platform of its own, but few decided to exchange messages on there, worried about security, and WhatsApp promised end-to-end encryption. In the midst of that, Snapchat became an alternative, but massively, people turned their attention to whatever was going viral. And politics became viral, at a point where people were trying to meet people, because that, ideally, was fun and engaging, not enduring and frustrating. Suddenly, they didn’t see the positive side of technology, but rather, the negative ones. It was a burden, not a thrill. It was a perilous effort, not a collaborative process. Technology, in sum, explains our relationship with politics a lot, but in my case, it went even further.
I saw myself as a homeless person, not able to agree with my dad’s rules at home. My brother, of course, played his role. And I remember walking across town with all my belongings, after getting fired from a job for being constantly late, regardless of the lack of leadership and organization they presented themselves. I’d been in a big company and a big university. Also, a big home. All of that faded. And so my dreams became callouses on my feet, pain in my articulations, cuts and bruises all over my body. Trauma was more prevalent than the fact that I had to count coins to smoke cigarettes and buy a ticket for the popular restaurant who served food for one Brazilian real. I would walk around the neighborhood asking smokers I found to give me a cigarette, please. And I’d been abandoned. What kept me away from the streets was a rent my ex girlfriend paid me, and eventual shopping from my more recent ex, who thought our relationship was unsustainable, but basically, I didn’t deserve to die. She thought I had cheated on her, and I was surrounded by people who were very well off, in this hostel where I spent six months of my life, which was supposed to be paid by my ex’s family, but wasn’t. I left with a debt and a bunch of people who thought I’d taken advantage of them, adding up to the narrative of the two-time cheater, but little knowledge that I could’ve been a two-time father. And so I went back home.
What I learned was that, during the years I spent away from internet discussions, events unfolded a lot faster. Every click counted. Every minute spent watching a video, every tweet, every like, every follow. They made a system where technology was supposed to take care of ourselves, telling us what we were doing could be improved, in experience terms. But they lied. For every like in a piece of opinion posted online, they shared data with the opposing side. This was called their audience, or potential customers. If you already liked something, you were only speaking to your bubble, and the point was to reach out to the people who didn’t know you. So they offered content. And that’s how I learned about some of the vehicles and personalities I keep on following today. That also led me to find incredible artists. But these artists had a life that wasn’t easy, and getting in touch with them was something I knew wasn’t possible. At least that I had learned from my first contact with emergent technologies. If I say I lost 20 pounds in 2015 because I was hungry, they’ll say I contacted a thousand people over Kik. One of them, in the following year, told me, when I asked to see more of her: “Die”. So who’s the other side again? And are we even focusing on the right thing? Does politics influence us so much that it’s the only thing we can talk about, or are there more topics to be approached, in retrospect, so we fix the mistakes from the past, apologize for possible misfortunes and bad words, but also, reconstruct our reputation?
Lula is a man who’s trying to do more or less that. I don’t see Lula talking about reputation, especially on the internet. I see him talking about hunger. I see him talking about hope, curbing hate, protecting the natural environment, incentivizing the small business owners, boosting culture by all means, protecting social security programs, giving value to education. He’s a humanitarian. If we compare, the other side wanted to silence or gun down opponents. These were words uttered in public. Can you imagine what was said in private? The pandemic, which spewed controversy in countries all over the planet, was a public health question; but wasn’t it revealed, at the same time, that major technology companies had impacts on mental health, as was the case for Instagram, with detailed data and top ranking specialists blowing the whistle, like Frances Haugen? Wasn’t Mudge recently warning us that Twitter had low security? And wasn’t Snowden telling us that what we do online needs to be looked at with more caution, because institutions are watching? They wanted to say our country, our family and our God were the biggest symbols of who we are; with that, they devalued diversity, closed the door on possible life-changing interactions between people across cultures and mocked existing ones; imposed a moral agenda in countries with an immense disparity on how things are seen when it comes to sex and relationships in general. The government, just like the tech companies, lied to us.
The government said it created radical innovation for fintech during the pandemic, where you only needed an email or phone number to send a payment. When asked about it, the incumbent (a suggestion of vocabulary) tentatively spoke about how it would bring advancements in aviation. The Federal Bank, Caixa, suffered with massive technology failures, delaying of payments and false information not checked by federal agencies. Services like the Digital Work Register, at least for me, were not synched with the registries on paper. A major technology gap arguably favored the rich and strangled the poor, who waited in long lines to receive the news that their payments, extremely low at the beginning (250 Brazilian real), would only be made a month later. Meanwhile, everybody in the top financial analysis sectors wanted to talk about so called “cryptocurrencies”. The value of Bitcoin reached 42 thousand dollars. In other words, 1 Bitcoin would feed 840 Brazilian families. They used to say “that’s the marvel of money”. Now they ask you to give them your data before you change the world. When the world was already exhausted of talking about death every single day, and the markets went “back to normal”, although life didn’t, a military conflict was made the new topic of conversation. Grains exports were concerning, as well as the natural gas economy and nuclear energy. We’d rather believe the Europeans could handle this in a more precise way, but it seemed, the world of Left versus Right was capable of defending Russian war crimes in favor of anti-imperialism, using manufacture as an excuse for how we’re supposed to view the world. Relationships, obviously, didn’t matter. If a government official lied about an American girl, it also didn’t matter. What if Americans lied about many, and an entire industry they lead?
The anxiety to know what was happening only grew, but so did our discontentment with the world, our own relationships and our lives, fixed routines and dead ends. We looked for contact, but saw that communications platforms were enforcing censorship. As I’ve said many times, at a time when the entire world was bored, the hashtag bored was blocked on Instagram. Policy, they said. In fact, we know that to in order the handle the amount of accounts created every day and the activity in them, artificial intelligence was developed to better address issues like language barriers and standards, security and other data-related stuff. They didn’t put a less xenophobic robot in charge. They didn’t fix racist algorithms. Technology, all the time, was lying to us. And so we expected, desperately, for someone to tell us the truth. What was really happening, and how would we get away from it, back to the projections we saw when those early services were adopted, and society wanted to gather and participate more actively in the city and help build more projects, but because they had work and because they wanted more people around them?
It seems hard to unite the country again. Some believe that technology reveals what people won’t say in public. These people consume illegal content, that they haven’t even realized is illegal. When they do, maybe they’ll start wondering why they were so impassioned when engaging with it. Laughable leaks were the new normal; serious journalism was deemed trash. And curiously, the people who wanted to create alternative channels were already organized: their agenda was to defend political parties and ideologies like Brazilian Liberal Party and the free tax for sailboats, along with consecutive billionaire cuts on education and health, while ministers got payments in literal bars of gold. If we touch upon crime, a cult of violence was observed all through the incumbent’s illegitimate mandate, but people forgot that legitimacy was supposed to be questioned in the first place. The confusion between public opinion and a need to control narratives was the cost that we all paid, and generated conflicts that go beyond the refusal to wash the dishes in the kitchen sink, and look a little more like a purple eye for rising numbers of women living with their partners, with little to no concern from the government on how to handle that situation, and a death toll among supporters and campaign staffers from the other side. We won, but blood was spilled, and that can’t be forgotten.
What I expect for Brazil is a scenario where technology is used to showcase the best in us. It’s hard to imagine people learning Portuguese, but if you’d excuse me, it’s actually very easy to think that the first person associated with Brazil would not be Neymar, the soccer player. The Brazilian icons like Milton Nascimento, Raul Seixas, Lenine, Djavan, Chico Buarque or Tim Maia, on a more or less traditional end, or even Legião Urbana, Titãs, Paralamas and other rock bands, they’re not mentioned. For the female singers, few people remember Marisa Monte, Daniela Mercury or even Ivete Sangalo. Among media personalities, nobody really knows who Pedro Bial is, or Marcelo Tas, or William Bonner. Like the cult to Larry King, few point to Antonio Abujamra’s interviews, and nobody knows who Ricardo Boechat was. In comedy, Fábio Forchat, Gregório Duvivier, Marcelo Adnet or even Hélio de la Peña are probably never going to get as much of an audience as a John Oliver or SNL. Anitta will not be Ariana. Apnea, a local band I like a lot, will not be the new Red Fang. So the role of Brazil is to reposition itself as a world player. We don’t necessarily need to look back to the past and show people what we’ve learned, but when people ask us, the references will be different. They’ll certainly ask about the elections. And so we can tell people that we witnessed the attempt to use technology with authority to control people’s actions, and not let them speak their minds unless protecting the government’s actions. These actions, it seems, reveal that the purpose of the internet, for them, was never to educate. Entertainment with criticism is a dogma for them. They don’t respect the LGBT, they don’t respect the Black and Indigenous, they don’t respect the poor. And they will keep expecting criticism from us that doesn’t generate any effects on their specters of influence. The difference is that we don’t care, because we won. And now it’s up to us to pave the way communications will happen in the next four years and the legacy to come after that.