Friday, October 9, 2015

VIRTUAL “REALITY”…REALLY? – How Nature Can Save Us From Ourselves

“When I listened to developers talk about their eagerness to “immerse” audiences in multisensory experiences, I thought I detected a less savory desire 
to imprison them in programming — to leave them with no sensory exit.”
VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN – Virtual Reality Fails Its Way to Success – New York Times Magazine, Nov. 14, 2014

A vacuous reality star has managed to sucker the American media and a lot of citizens into paying attention to him as a possible presidential candidate. The Real Housewives of Fill-In-the-Blank continue to garner astounding cable TV ratings. Our kids and grandkids, exposed to advertising on every surface from the ubiquitous glowing screens, to supermarket floors, to people’s bodies, can identify hundreds of corporate logos, but not the trees and animals living on their own block.

We're being lulled, surely but not so slowly, into a kind of consumer torpor. We're allowing corporations—some would say machines—to not only decide what we see and how and when we see it, but in a very real sense control our comings and goings, the very tempo of our lives.

     They lure us ever closer to the end-game…
     making us think it's all our idea.

One social scientist recently asserted that the sci-fi plot line of computers taking over the world isn't really so far beyond the realm of possibility. They lure us ever closer to the end-game, all the while making us think it's all our idea.

Okay, so maybe that outcome’s a bit over the top, but the steps we’ve already taken in that direction are troublesome. In too many cases, something more or less tangible we once knew and loved has been stolen and stripped of at least one aspect of its reality, replaced, in a kind of Faustian bargain, with another quality the trend-makers would like us to think we asked for.

Among their cynical promises: convenience and other creature comforts; saving time and money; a competitive edge; safety; control; “connectedness.” And what are we left with? More time glued to screens and buying stuff we don’t need—a surrender we’re promised will make us happy, but which ends up doing just the opposite.

  It’s not reality; it’s entertainment. And we’re 
  raising a generation of kids who will no longer 
  be able to tell the difference.

Whether it’s information, entertainment, connection or inspiration, they’ve taken reality, with all its color, depth and imperfection, all its challenges to reflect and ponder, and repackaged it under a different definition of “reality.” Thing is, the new version was never meant to serve human needs, but those of the corporations and czars who control all that “content.”

Sped up, dumbed own, flattened, sterilized, lowest-common-denominator-ized, what remains is simply an illusion. From vapid sitcoms to children’s programming, to the news, it’s not reality; it’s entertainment. And I’m afraid we’re raising a generation of kids who will no longer be able to tell the difference.

What’s the big deal, you ask? Well, like pushers of other addictions, the trend-setting, faux-reality machine is no dummy. Start ‘em on a few seemingly harmless free samples; get ‘em hooked; they’ll come back.

It’s not until you step back and look at the big picture that you see the scope of the deception. Everywhere you turn there are examples of things and experiences folks are passively choosing no longer to actually experience or control first-hand:
  • Fantasy football
  • Virtual reality headsets and games
  • Automatic bill-paying
  • “Crowd-sourced” information and opinion
  • The cloud
  • Twitter-speak (communication reduced from something that once had tone and color—a heart and soul if you will—to the equivalent of primitive grunts.)
  • Apps (For watching TV; ordering dinner—even when your wait person is within eye- and earshot; for dealing with your plumber…I could go on.)
  • On-line dating
  • Virtual medicine
  • Telecommuting
  • “Friending”
  • Twenty-four-seven “connectedness”
  • Seven-and-a-half hours a day on-screen* 
  • Self-driving cars (and a bourgeoning field of other robotics)
For these activities and many more, we are now completely at the mercy of our computers and their ability—or willingness—to continue operating at our beck and call. It would take only one thing for any of these pursuits to simply quit and leave us helpless: the corruption of the vehicle.

We’ve already seen, albeit on an as yet less-than-apocalyptic scale, the signs of such betrayal. Power outages, air traffic control breakdowns, stock market crashes, data security breaches, service denials and an untold number of other hacks & whacks happen all the time, yet somehow we fail to put two and two together. Are these just tests, one might ask, of how much we’re willing to give up for our end of that Faustian bargain?

       The more technology-driven our lives 
       become, the more vitamin N we need to 
       balance the virtual with the real.

Who are we? Where are the patience, the reflection, the curiosity, the heart and soul, the nuance, the character that have defined honest, self-aware, hard-working cultures for so many great generations? Where is the healthy tension between risk and reward?

In this age of Belviq and Botox, of Simbalta and Cialis, of more cures than there are maladies, there must be something we can take for this atrophy of mind, body and spirit that threatens to brainwash us. Right?

Turns out the remedy already exists. Always has, right under our noses. It is Nature. Or as Richard Louv so famously calls it in his best-selling book, The Nature Principle, vitamin N.

Louv never says—nor do I—that we should simply quit technology like a bad habit. What he does say is that the more technology-driven our lives become, the more vitamin N we need to balance the virtual with the real.

Nature is hard-wired into us from birth. So we can never turn off the fundamental connections between us, the earth and other living things, our need for our senses take it all in and be nurtured, taught and inspired by it. But we can and do forget how vital those influences are to our physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

For each excuse one might have for not turning off the incessant virtual-reality deceit and actually getting out there in Nature, the potential benefit outweighs manyfold our tendency—or should I say our conditioned response—not to. Because Nature does not exploit; Nature cares for and teaches human beings—especially little ones—in the most amazing ways:
  • By facing risk, we learn caution, creativity, patience…
  • By learning about our environment, we learn about ourselves.
  • By facing new experiences, we get in touch with the timeless.
  • By surrounding ourselves with the vast, the complex, we learn of our true place in it all, at the same time insignificant and scary-powerful.
  • By tackling challenges we didn’t think we could overcome, we learn about our capacity.
  • By learning how little control we have, we learn about letting go.
  • By escaping our culture’s complex, hurried, embattled, often alienating influences, we discover the timeless, boundless, totally-authentic original community to which every living organism on earth shares an equal claim.
Before we willingly concede yet more of our own reality to this media-mad, “connected,” “content” culture, let’s stop, take a deep breath and think deeply about what remains in our lives that still is real, and decide—before it’s decided for us—where we draw the line.

“The sensory cacophony (of virtual reality experiences like the Oculus Rift headset) is so uncanny and extraterrestrial to suggest to the organism a deadly threat.”

* Sources   /  BBC


Ruahines said...

Kia ora Jeff...great read and very thought provoking. Far too easy to create a virtual life that keeps us on the couch. Being back our walking has been a great gift now that my knee has come right. Cheers e hoa.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Thanks Robb -- I appreciate your taking thetime to read one of my longer posts. Glad you liked it!
I can imagine how you must be celebrating your new-found mobility!

jean said...

I have found a great way to limit my on-line time and that is I have elevated the computer so that I have to stand to use it! So after a long walk, I do NOT want to keep on standing! Works like a charm! :) I am really grateful that I did not even own a computer until about 6 years ago! So much more time in Nature and reading actual books! :)

Jeffrey Willius said...

That's a terrific idea, Jean. I've been thinking of a stand-up desk for some time -- but because it's supposed to be so much healthier. Just another bonus, right?

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