Saturday, April 20, 2024

IS IT REAL OR AB? – The Perils of Artificial Beauty

I’m noticing more and more symptoms of a troubling affliction spreading through our communication with one another—starting with the easy-come, easy-go milieu of social media.

I’m not talking about this chilling, cyber-war-style artificial intelligence that purports to catch one’s opponent lunching with Charles Manson or calling for the mercy killing of old folks. No, it’s a much subtler, more benign threat, but one not to be taken lightly—especially by this blogger, a guy who lives for small wonders.

I call this creeping blight artificial beauty (AB).

It could be the image of some amazing creature or landscape. Perhaps it’s the striking face or figure of a person from another culture. Or a dreamy, lavishly decorated room or dwelling.

The colors are over-saturated, the textures just a bit too intentional, the composition posed in a way that doesn’t quite look natural. Things that in the real world are beautiful in their imperfection are rendered perfectly. A flower, bird or butterfly that’s just over-the-top ornate; a woman’s face whose skin looks like it was grafted from the face of a toddler; maybe a surface that’s supposed to look weathered that’s just too perfectly weathered.

        At least with the romance   
        novel you know it’s fantasy.

So what’s wrong with a little digital “enhancement,” you may ask. Is there any more harm in folks’ admiring these idealized pictures than in, say, reading trashy romance novels? After all, during this deeply depressing era, shouldn’t we celebrate anyone’s finding simple beauty wherever they can?

What’s wrong is that it’s no longer simple beauty. Not when someone decides simple beauty is boring and starts messing with it. At least with the romance novel you know it’s fantasy. These doctored Facebook shares I’m seeing are offered—and apparently accepted, given all the compliments and heart emojis—as real.

Let’s look at the ruse in context.

You know how kids have been seduced by technology’s siren song of excess? By now, if it’s not bright, fast and, too often, violent it gets elbowed out of their impressionable consciousness by something that is.

If you’re a game or app developer or a creator of advertising you know this. That what you’re dealing is like a drug; it’s seductive, but quickly loses its kick. So you keep making it louder, faster, glitzier. If you don’t amaze them in the first few seconds, you’ve lost them.

          It’s an era in which the very concept
         of reality is being challenged.


But that’s our kids. We adults would never let ourselves get hooked on a drug that induces its own strain of ADD, right?

Sadly, many of us have. It seems reality, whether in the people we meet, events we experience, or the wonders of Nature, has started to bore us too. In fact, thanks to AI, it’s an era in which the very concept of reality is being challenged. Just a few years ago I saw this deception coming at us in little more than a trickle; it has now grown to a tsunami.

We see the hype in advertising, politics, journalism, entertainment…and now in our simple, everyday attempts at connecting with each other.

Even more troubling than the deceit is that it’s being generated by a relatively early form of the technology. This is only going to get worse.

             The real thing is perfectly beautiful  
             without your digital fiddling!

Through which lens do you see your world? The perfectly fine one you were born with, the one that loves the amazing, imperfect, asymmetrical, muted-color way Nature renders reality? Or the one whose PhotoShop feature can’t leave well enough alone?

If, like me, you find Nature perfect just the way it is, what can you do about the spreading infection of artificial beauty? What I’m doing, first off, is simply to call it out for what it is. When I see someone's posted a bogus image I Google the subject to see if I can find any reference or image suggesting that such a person, place or thing really exists.

If not, I click on the “pissed off” emoji and comment something like: “This is fake,” “Never happened,” or “The real thing is perfectly beautiful without your digital deceit!”

Maybe, just maybe, if enough of us do this it will serve as a line in the sand for just how much artificial beauty we’re willing to accept. For how much of our souls we'll surrender in this deal with the devil that is digital technology.