Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov runs through March 11 at The Old Globe in Balboa Park. It is a devastating story based on not having an iPhone.
You think I jest? I am as serious as a Russian winter. Go see Uncle Vanya and then try to complain about the loss of our hallowed agrarian past and how technology is ruining our ability to interact with each other. You’re assuming we were masters of interaction in the past. Chekhov says we weren’t, and I’m of a mind to agree with him.
Imagine your life surrounded by only a handful of people, some of whom you hate and some of whom return the favor. No problem. You have the internet. You can explore limitless amounts of interesting topics (cat videos) and make friends with people tens of thousands of miles away. You can even speak to them face to face.
Imagine your life surrounded by hateful people but now you have no tech to help you. That’s the plight of the characters in Uncle Vanya, and I have never been so happy to have a smartphone.
The 120 years since Chekhov wrote Uncle Vanya have been the most transformative in known human history. Vanya was set in the contemporary Russia of Chekhov, but it could have been set a thousand years earlier without changing a single word of the script. The lives of the characters would have been unchanged.
Bring the characters to our day and the internet would erase much of their dis-ease. The environmentalist doctor might be able to find a willing ear for his concerns regarding the deforestation of the district. The idle but attractive young bride of the aging professor could find some relevance as an Instagram influencer in the beauty field. Uncle Vanya himself would be an effective blogger with the handle @oldmanregretful.
Now we experience a play such as Vanya and can’t imagine people living in such circumstances. Their lives are almost unrecognizable, because they have no opportunity to change their context. In our culture there are infinite ways to escape one’s circumstances, and those options are supplied by technology, but we continue to villainize tech and “screen time.”
Yes, there is inane content on the internet, but better to have it stored there, in the cloud, than having an inane existence stored in your soul until the day you die.