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The virtual world is a wonderful place that can conform to any shape, size or context desired. In this reality, everything is possible. Computer-aided lenses can conjure experiences from distant places or challenge our understanding of the physical world and existence. However, a caveat to this wonder is that the virtual world is subject to external control and can focus, thereby influence, “facts” and resulting behavior. Separation between information presented in the virtual world and what is apparent, even obvious, outside computer screens is blurred by the lure of mental and emotional stimulation. This presents few problems for amusement and relaxation purposes, but when it interferes with rational and substantial decisions, such distortions can be misleading and harmful.

In the 1979 film, Being There, based on a 1970 novel by Jerzy Kosinski, Chance (played by Peter Sellers) is suddenly evicted from a secluded and sheltered existence as a gardener due to the death of his wealthy patron. Homeless and penniless, through a series of events, Chance is rescued by a Washington, D.C. mogul with connections to the President of the United States.

Fascinated by exposure to television and a world he has not experienced, Chance responds to complex issues and feelings in gardening terms with simplicity and candor. Interpreting gardening references such as stimulating growth and seasonal effects as political concerns, the president responds with national policies influenced by Chance’s observations. Closing with the theme that “Life is a state of mind,” the final scene shows Chance walking above the surface of a lake with no regard to, or for, reality.

The world of Chance is governed by his interpretation of gardening and nature, presented without nuance or qualification. Observations are governed by visual cues, not hindered or modified by consequences to others. How well that blends with complex societal issues is beyond Chance, but offers a comparison of two extremes often associated with politics and those that inhabit that world. The parody of Being There offers a reminder that while what is offered through a camera lens is valuable and may have merit, its message and how it is applied can be twisted. After all, the camera is limited by what a director or camera operator records.

The current epidemic has limited our exposure to many usual and typical personal interactions. In a climate of Covid restrictions, it is understandable that gatherings have been restricted and some meetings are held solely through virtual means. However, there is value to in-person meetings during which those vested with civic responsibilities and residents can not only converse, but observe collective responses in a common setting. Without personal contact and discussion, much of the tenor involved in important decisions can be lost.

Hayward City Council has moved to “hybrid” meetings that allow the council to gather for meetings including a limited in-person audience. Those who attend are restricted by covid protocols, but this is a step in the right direction. The same stress and estrangement that occurs when loved ones are sequestered by health concerns can also affect a community removed from interaction with its elected leaders.

As a greater percentage of the population is vaccinated and can reasonably mingle, it is also time for our governmental structure to cautiously, but determinedly regain its association with those governed. Our reality should not be confined to a computer screen, relying on recorded videos and internet connections. It is time to reopen council chambers and, with prudent precautions, resume in-person council meetings.

It’s time to Be There.