Monday, April 24, 2006

It's Almost Real

Technology has reached the point that, now, you don't have to be very bright to have a fantasy life.

There were always storytellers, and then there were books. Even radio still required our imaginations to take fire. With only the words, people still had to build the stuff in their heads to feel that they could experience it.

But, now, it's laid out for them.

And more people are indulging in this marvelous pastime. Because it is both marvelous and a pastime. From the wheel to the Apollo 11 moon landing, stuff had to be imagined before it could come into being.

But it also has to come into being.

The only explanation for the huge segment of the population that keeps the celebrity worshipping culture alive is that this has become their fantasy life. Don't have a mansion, personal assistance, and a helicopter on call? Let's play pretend.

Reality shows are self-explanatory. Video games now have the ability to pass for real at a distance. Movies have gone hyper-real with CG wizardry that can get shots impossible to create with actual actors and sets.

But it's only an illusion. All of it. It's not a substitute for real life, and it's not supposed to be. Yet I think that too many people use it that way. Because it's easy now. We no longer have to build it and populate it ourselves. Even Conan the Barbarian pulp stories had only the words and maybe a cover illustration to help one along. The rest had to take place in the imagination.

But now no one has to exercise even that. It's obsessively laid out to the tiniest detail, and some people just sit and dream. Not even aware that what they are experiencing is only a shadow show, because in their input stunted state, the fantasy seems as real as it gets.

There was an emergency room doctor who did a rotation in an inner city emergency room. He said the strangest thing was the people who came in after getting shot; and they were amazed that it hurt. Of course it hurts, he would say. But it didn't look like it in the movies, the victims explained, where the hero just wrapped his wound in a handkerchief and carried on.

That's a serious reality disconnect.

In legend, the Lotus Eaters lost touch with the reality where their body dwelt, and through neglecting that element, they died. We haven't reached the point (and I'm saying yet,) that fantasy can get so compelling it blots out the Real World. But what it has reached is worse in a way. The fantasy is compelling enough that some consumers forget that it is not real, and they can only assume experience and emotions that they do not actually have.

And we all know what happens when people assume.

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