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Pakui Hardware: Hesitant Hand

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Pakui Hardware: Hesitant Hand

  • Hello? Hello? Can you see me okay?
  • I can’t hear you!
  • Can you hear me now?
  • Yes, but your face is a little blurry.
  • OK, I’ll try to restart my internet. Hold a minute. (...)
  • Yes, that’s better now.
  • So, what is it that you’re complaining about? You wrote “renewed bladder infection” in your reason for a visit.
  • Yes, I’ve been in pain for several days now.
  • Describe your pain on a scale of one to ten?
  • Seven.
  • Seven. Most men would say eleven.
  • I also have a weird rash, right here on my neck.
  • Let me look closer. Can you put your camera closer to your neck?
  • (...)
  • God, the light is so bad, I can’t see much.

Tele-medicine. What a retro-futuristic name for the twenty-first century. I’m already picturing several science and theory men (and only men, of course!) reclining in their armchairs, with thick spectacles and even thicker hair, speculating about the far away future in their funky sixties interior. They forgot to take the malfunctioning Wi-Fi into consideration, and the ageing patients lost in a Zoom interface, and the tired faces and voices of doctors and nurses. Technology, being the mediator between the absent touch of a doctor and a failing body of a patient, cannot disguise the awkwardness of such encounters, the guilt in the voice of the caller for disturbing the overworked medical staff with their insignificant corporeal hiccups. Not to mention the video chat anxiety. Those few men in their soft armchairs could not in their wildest dreams imagine that a global pandemic would make this niche field of medicine into a prevailing way of visiting your GP. Awkwardness, frustration, anxiety on a daily basis. Or a relief, perhaps? No more “unnecessary” disturbance, no more guilt. The attentive look of the technological eye warmer than that of a nurse. Virtual care, digital yet real. We’re our own semi-doctors any way—tracking our steps, blood pressure, sleep, and heartbeats. Quantifying ourselves, translating fluids into digits, and showering them online. A chat with a chat box won’t do much harm.

As researcher Jeannette Pols in her study Care at a Distance: On the Closeness of Technology demonstrates, there is no clear division between the warm care of face-to-face interaction and cold technological attention. It is all about fitting—to the situation, the patient, the state of illness. “Caring is good when it seeks to fit the situation of the individual patient, as in ‘tailor-made care’. […] Good care needs both subjective and objective elements, mixed to different tastes and concerns, depending on the situation at hand,” writes Pols. Warm vs. cold, emotional vs. rational, empathetic vs. functional. Oppositions melt away when our body fails, when a sense of neglect creeps in and the only one who listens without an aura of fatigue is your phone, your laptop, your data transmitter. But do they really? Or is it just another marvelous evolutionary trick of our mind—finding attachments, finding solace in inanimate things? Domestication is a unique ability to tame an outsider. Technology is the ultimate domesticated Other. Or maybe it is we who are domesticated by technology? Or if human care doesn’t seem to work, why not get rid of clinicians all together? Maybe such was the concluding technocratic optimistic vision of the men in armchairs—no more tired faces, fully automated care, automated cure!

A tiny incision, precise gestures, no needless tissue damage. Robotic surgery—another form of care at a distance, cure at a distance. The hands of a surgeon remain clean from the hot mess on the stainless-steel table. The computer screen is the body, sensors are the scalpels. The human factor minimized. Who would at will choose to go under the scalpel of a charming surgeon named Steven who killed a patient with his drunk trembling hand. A cool robotic hand never trembles, never sweats, never hesitates while piercing through the soft bodily surface with elegant accuracy. How does it feel to lay there, on that cold sterile table, to be handled by several robotic hands? Like a dream, you’re in a deep sleep, under anesthetic. Yet the sense of neglect creeps in again, somewhere at the very back of your head: Where is the human figure of authority with warm latex gloves who generates trust, brings comfort? It’s a matter of trust in the end. How can one domesticate multi-handed robotic surgeons? After two years of hyper-mediated relationships, of absent touches, of screen overdose and quantified selves, who wants care at a distance? Yet Virtual Care is here, and it embraces you tight with its accurate digital eye. Who would’ve thought you’d miss that shadow of fatigue in your doctor’s face.

Neringa Černiauskaitė (Pakui Hardware)

Jeannette Pols, Care at a Distance: On the Closeness of Technology (Amsterdam, 2012), p. 34.

Yorgos Lanthimos, film Killing of the Sacred Deer, 2017.

Pakui Hardware (Neringa Černiauskaitė, *1984 and Ugnius Gelguda, *1977) is an artist duo based in Vilnius, Lithuania. Works by Pakui Hardware are presented in the exhibition Abstraction. Nature. Body (curated by Rainer Fuchs) as part of Enjoy – The mumok Collection in Change.