The Modern Hunter-Gatherer

How a digital native forages for food

I wake up and almost immediately begin thinking about food. My wife or the maids will tell me about various shortages. I grunt as I scan my brain — what is available, what is difficult, what’s just impossible. This was never my domain before, things just appeared. Now I must provide.

Around 10 AM the shops open and I scan through two delivery apps. I check these as fervently as the news, with less tragic results. Today there is bread, and an egg shop somewhat inexplicably selling face masks. There is, however, a distinct shortage of fruit. I should have chased the truck in the morning.

When you see prey you must strike, and in large quantities. You never know what tomorrow will bring. It’s feast or famine. My district has been under full curfew for a month now, without even access to supermarkets or pharmacies. You have to get what you can when you can, and more than enough.

So I place multiple orders and wait. There are still things I simply cannot find right now, but I’m always looking. Then there are the unexpected delicacies, like a kombucha that appeared, many scrolls down the digital plain. I watch every day in hope. I scan menus like a hunter would follow footprints.

After phone-herding the delivery rider down our street, the food is at our doorstep, trussed and bound. I put some bread in the freezer and fruit in the bowl. I’ll keep checking but I think we’re done for the day.

This is the life of a digital native during quarantine.

A life of privilege

Your bank account better look like this. Venus of Willendorf, 30,000 BCE.

This is, of course, a life of privilege. Humans have never hunted alone, and money gathers a tribe like no other.

The modern hunter-gatherer is not some lithe runner, striding across the plains, living by the sweat of their brow. They’re a fat chieftain, sitting on wampum, awaiting tribute.

My delivery accounts are connected to credit cards. Which are connected to bank accounts. Which are connected to cash. Direct deposits. Foreign currency. Fat, not muscle. We’re not living off labor, we’re living off reserves.

While there is some skill in the hunt, it’s a fundamentally idle pursuit, like English gentlemen hunting foxes. It’s a privilege not a prerequisite. The government sends vegetables down the street. But the modern gentlemen must have kombucha.

Same as it ever was, only worse

Thus the inequality is the same as it ever was, only worse. Whereas the rich wonder where their usual restaurants are, the poor wonder where’s their meal. Was it always like this? I guess.

I think of the Monkey Kingdom documentary. The toque macaques in Polonnaruwa are much the same as us. Some monkeys at the top of the tree eat the fruit. Those at the bottom eat whatever falls down. Since time immemorial it seems, judging from our country cousins.

I suppose there’s some skill to picking fruit, but more relevant is the class structure and violence that gives you a lofty perch in the first place.

So am I a modern hunter-gatherer? Sure. But more like the same old eternal asshole, with a handphone instead of a handaxe, a bank account instead of a tribal tattoo.

There is a great digital plain out there, full of food. I roam it every day, calling out signals and signs to my tribe, sharing currency in lieu of trust. And yet it is a virtual world, run on the old OS of capitalism and the even older hardware of class. It’s a game really, and the game is fixed. It works for me, but I can’t shake the feeling that something is still irredeemably broken.