Posted by: Yorgos | March 27, 2008

Text 11 – The New Reality

There is a new vodafone commercial out in Greece, advertising connectivity and the new digital age, on which vodafone is, bien sûr, an expert. The concept is pretty simple: what is reality? Is it the sad everyday life we want to escape from? Or is it the digital world where one can become whatever he or she wants, talk to friends from all over the world, play, laugh, enjoy and so on.

Of course the commercial claims that vodafone -and apparently any other ISP/mobile-phone-company/digital-technologies-company can offer a new kind of reality, a better one. Normally, I should protest, but I won’t. The commercial is partially right. There is a new kind of reality right now (I will avoid as much as I can the obsolete term ‘virtual reality’) and not only does it include the digital era, but it is shaped by it (otherwise it would not be ‘digital era‘ but something else, less strong). Being able to write a text in my home and it becoming available to millions of people in the world seconds later is as real as playing with the snow on a winter day. I am not going to get into an argument about the nature of Real. I am not philosophically competent for something like that. Let’s leave out for now all the -isms (idealism, solipsism, empiricism etc.) and let’s just accept that what we (simply and plainly) do and what we (think that we) experience is real. In that sense surfing the net or playing a video game is very real indeed. And in the end, there is nothing unreal. Nature would not allow it otherwise.

So, I see no problem in calling real the new digital world. If somebody feels that he is as much a level 70 druid elf as he is a human being, then it is fine by me. I think it is Pascal who asked this simple question: “Who is happier? The peasant who dreams that he is a king for 12 hours a day or the king who dreams that he is a peasant for 12 hours a day?”. There is no answer to that. The dream is as real as “reality” and the digital dream can claim to be so or even more so, since we live in the digital world more than we live in the world with no digital technologies. The problem appears when this reality tends to undermine what is human. Isn’t this isolation that is threatening us a step back? The frequently used metaphor of man being an island has now even more reasons to be said. We formed tribes, then villages, then cities, then countries and now we seem to go back to being alone. But there is a difference. We now need the existence of other human beings (that is how a connected world works), only we don’t want them bothering us.

I don’t want to take this too far. I have friends on the other side of this world and without all these technological miracles (but we already know there is no such thing as a miracle, right?) I would not be able to communicate with them. So, I do need this kind of reality.

All I wanted to say, when I started writing this post, is that this new kind of reality is not something to celebrate necessarily. Reality is not good or bad. It just is. We are not happier now, we just live differently and, frankly, there is no other way that western societies can live right now. Pynchon says there is a real conversion factor between information and lives. Taken out of context this can mean that the more information we get, the worse our lives become. This does not have to be true and it shouldn’t be true. But vodafone does not offer happiness when it offers the new reality, as it claims to be offering.

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