Borka[i] has an excellent pronunciation in English, facilitated by her native language, made up of 35 phonemes. She speaks to me from her home in Sarajevo. I see at the bottom of the image the spines of books by Plato and other philosophers. When she talks about what journalism can do to transform society, her eyes shine. We are working on that, on journalism at the service of the people, ethical, responsible, informative journalism. Journalism open to the problems of society, journalism that fights against inequalities. This is also public health and, in fact, a very important aspect, because, as we are seeing today, the media have a determining role in the information that reaches people, I would say more, in how the population behaves, and even in how the population feels.
For a moment, I get goosebumps because I feel that I am part of this fight, no matter how far away it may seem right now. I fight every day to feel, even for just a few seconds, emotion, connection, reality. I listen carefully and, at times, I have the feeling that she speaks to me of an era in extinction, of a world that will no longer exist. The one I live in now, since months, years ago I would say, is characterized by the opposite: the increasingly justified awareness of being immersed in a magma of disinformation.
[i] Borka Rudić is the General Secretary of the BiH Journalists Association, a partner of medicusmundi mediterrània in Sarajevo, an organization with which we carry out projects that aim to put journalism at the service of the great causes of humanity, such as the fight for equality, equity and the eradication of violence against women.
Actually, manipulating information is an old story that new technologies have pushed to unimaginable heights. They say that Jack Dorsey, cofounder of the company that invented microblogging, sent the first tweet in history on March 21, 2006. However, by researching and going back a few more centuries, I found out that the technique of sending micro messages to the population and, in addition, doing it with a manipulative intention is much older. In the year 44 BC, Octavian minted a series of coins with defamatory messages in order to harm the reputation of the emperor Marco Antonio that helped the former to become the new Emperor of Rome. In the last decades, it seems to me that I am drowned in a sea of coins engraved with information that does not represent the world.
The pandemic and its consequences of lack of mobility have consolidated teleworking in a matter of months. Hours and hours in the same space, most of which we spend in front of a screen, whether a computer, tablet, phone or TV. In these moments, we are the perfect food, the prey that was once coveted and today surrenders without resistance. Now we offer ourselves bare-chested, even with a certain eagerness, without questioning anything about what is “really” happening in the world. We want more information to believe that we can have an opinion to launch in one of the video calls we make, and feel that we have something to say in this endless orgy of ignorance. In fact, we are living less and less in the reality of which we speak. As we become more still, as we have fewer first-person experiences, we are going to want to engulf more information. The question is what kind of information. In addition, perhaps, what level of attention do we pay to that information to have a critical approach? Against what can we contrast it?
Already in 2012, Hanwarned of the consequences of multitasking, of doing many things at the same time, without delving into any of them. He attributes it to an increase in workload and the need to manage time and attention in a different way in the era of the late-modern man. Added to this is the new information, or misinformation, age, in which hundreds of thousands of inputs reach us every second, via email, via the web, via WhatsApp, via Twitter, via Instagram, etc. Han warns us that “recent social developments and the change in the structure of care cause human society to get closer and closer to savagery.” Han and other thinkers defined that the beginning of the 21st century, at least in the so-called developed world, was a time marked by a pathological neural profile. This epidemiological profile includes diseases such as “depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), borderline personality disorder (BPD) or occupational burnout syndrome (OBS)”. Some think Han erred by not predicting that we were going to enter a viral age. Well, being a philosopher is not being a fortuneteller. In my opinion, Han was right. This viral era that we are living in is not only having an impact on the physical health of people and causing deaths, in reality, my feeling is that the pathological social neural profile is increasingly affected. Asian societies (especially Japan, South Korea, and some regions of China), distinguished by a clearly superior use of technology to the rest of the world, have developed pathologies such as anthropophobia, characterized by fear of interpersonal relationships, a pathological fear of people or human company. Some people, in order to “survive” without really overcoming this phobia, choose to use electronic means of communication exclusively to “inform themselves” and thus avoid social contact.
 The Burnout Society. Byung-Chul Han. 2012.
Borka repeats the word “frustration” throughout our telematic meeting. There is no way of knowing what is really happening, what impact our actions have, she tells me repeatedly. I feel fully identified. The feeling of remoteness is overwhelming. It is distressing to think that this model of working, I would say of living, is going to replace our past way of life progressively. I suppose that it is something evident in all sectors, but in mine, in the “cooperation” one, this screen through which I read, write, and tell feels like a thick layer of ice that slowly freezes fellowship.
I remember when I first set foot in the Balkans more than 22 years ago. I had soaked up information via books and the media. The reality of what I saw there was not much like what I had read. There the roots of what is now our cooperation in Sarajevo grew. Friendships, joint struggles, dreams with men and women from those lands that were the seed of what we are and do today. The same happened over time in Angola, in Mozambique, in Burkina, in the Sahara… When I returned from one of these destinations and spoke with people from here, I discovered that little was known about those realities and, many times, what was known was not in correspondence with what I had been able to see. Does it not terrify you to think that we are going to replicate like parrots what comes to our screens without being able to touch, smell, feel, sweat, tremble, fear or enjoy? Today we feel free without feeling that, prior to our reflection, we have already received thousands of news and inputs that condition us and make us change our behavior. Our opinion is not based on what we live. Without getting angry or questioning things, seduced by a technology that plays with our psyche, we believe we are free in a dictatorship of bits.
I am sorry for the missed opportunities thus far. I think that, in reality, without realizing it, those of us who have worked in this “cooperation” sector have had the privilege to see in first person that world that now seems so far away. I think about how, many times, we wrongly focused on telling what we were doing to funders and an audience, often partners, with a marked lack of criticism and realism. I also think about how the mass media have ignored us, or have contributed to expanding this naive vision of “cooperation”. Now that I feel so far away from the lands that educated me, it deeply saddens me not to have assumed the role that belonged to me and to have put on paper everything I saw to, in some way, contribute to counteract the misinformation that engulfs us.
I imagine what it would be like to end the meeting with Borka and Milica in Sarajevo. There would be coffee and some sirnicas on the table. In those minutes, they would tell me about their family, their dreams, and their lives. In those minutes, with that aroma, with that light, with that background music, a bond would be created that would make me never let a joint project fall. It is not in the meeting that the bond is created; it is in the hug, in the smile, in the look in the eyes with only air between us. I began to write these notebooks to tell in different words what we do, what I see, what I feel, the good and the bad things, the doubts and dreams, fears and illusions. In this notebook, I confess that this connection with people has been the engine of dozens of programs and projects, of hundreds of thousands of euros put at the service of the right to health.
Nobody knows for sure what the future will be like. For me, those of us who have stepped on other latitudes, and hopefully will continue treading on them, have a responsibility: to give birth to lines, stories and experiences that transport us to another place. Now more than ever, we have to count, without character limitations and without being slaves to the fleeting, not only what we do, but also what we see. Perhaps, in this time of isolation, civil society organizations are like those true journalists, correspondents who can shed some light and contribute to being somewhat freer.
Director of International Relations
Translate by: Frederique Vilter and Francesc Alvarez