Plato imagined a cave of untruths, chained captives captivated by flickering shadows on the wall.
Marshall Mcculan said the medium is the message (or massage).
Jean Baudrillard wrote about the degrees of simulation and simulacrum and the desert of the real.
And William Gibson (along with the early cyberpunk writers) spoke of the consensual hallucination experienced by millions (now billions).
All these writers (and more) had interesting, relevant things to say about life in the various strata of the Mediacene (which is what we’re living in/through even as much of the rest of the living systems on earth are living through the Capitalocene). They all get things right about how it feels to live an increasing portion of my (our) life in representations of life (or representations of representations, or representations^3 and so on). From Orson Welles Martian Invasion radioplay, to outer limits shaping the way people would experience abduction/their encounters with the numinous, to myth and story in all its form, to my central understanding of human beings as primates who were domesticated by story; we’ve been in a media drive, media-ated world since we were ‘us’ to begin with.
But this is a unique moment, where much (most) of our (my) time is spent in screen world. The primary sources of my clade’s experiences are screen world experience and as Diana Walsh Pasulka argued in American Cosmic we don’t differentiate ‘real’ from ‘fake’ experience as we think we do. Even those experiences which are not screen world are often collected -like magpies looking for shiny things to adorn their nests, their true home- as raw material we hope to project into the screenworlds of others (most critically our friends and family) or into our own screenworld with which we understand ourselves.
I’ve never had such overwhelming ability to pick and choose what goes into my head, into my sense organs but of course, with limitations… the ways most screens can’t display certain colors, certain depths, the way most of our music is optimized for the limitations of compression technology, and various other senses are entirely redacted from the experience as well. But there is ever the ‘massage’ of the algorythmic black boxes selecting what is showed when. It reminds me of the Henry Ford quote that you can have a truck any color as long as it’s black, you can see whatever you want as long as it’s coming from the onyx rectangle, the palantir (in the Lord of the Ring sense, not the Peter Thiel sense).
Never before have the defaults been more pernicious, more difficult to wrest control for myself.
The defaults are those of the algorithm that is attempting to do its damndest to keep me in its mediated corner of screen world. Facebook tries its damndest to keep me in Facebook even if that’s driving me mad. Youtube tries its best to keep me in youtube. Netflix tries to keep me in Netflix. There are tools and hacks, but this is the current I’m swimming against.
The truth is, I don’t know what I want (we never have, as a rule). I am blessed with the powers of gods, with new possibilities of expression and creation but fatigued by optionalities I’m more than willing (most often) to relinquish sovereignty to whatever the box ‘thinks’ I should be watching/consuming/experiencing. Perhaps I wasn’t using my time/my eyes/my mind for much anyway…. So the systems of the world are more than happy to scoop it up (en masse with all those like me) to frack and extract value from my, from our collective dreaming.
The shocking part is, it does this (mostly) by being slightly more free of friction than the alternative. I could access & co-create independent media in all its blistering complication but that might take learning how to read ebooks slightly differently. And-as a rule- we do not seek to make ourselves as some inviolate individuated thing, we seek to consume mostly to establish and reinforce our social identities, how we want others to see us and who we want to communicate ‘in-tribe’ and ‘out-tribe’ to/with.
It seems like my people fantasize about apocalypse to help us get past the essential boredom of so much sameness masquerading as novelty.
With the help of the news reports in screenworld; we imagine problems so big that we can’t solve them or else we pretend the problems don’t exist until another species disappears until another 100 year storm happens for the tenth time this month, We do this in part to absolve ourselves of the burden of our own power… our divine birthrite to world, to create ourselves and our world anew each moment. We choose disquieting/distracting/confusing/lying/soothsaying visions (all rooted in screenworld) rather than what else we might build and dream.
The bias of the defaults are those of fast food; friction-less pleasure that teases at satisfaction it can never deliver; the scroll approached with the same high sticky low presence processing with which we approach a bag of dorritos.
For me and most of my peers -whatever we actually ‘do’- we spend the majority of our ‘working’ life staring at a screen owned by a company (or organization that acts like one), filled with the inputs of that company and reacting accordingly. When not there, the most popular past time is staring at a screen they themselves ‘own’ and choosing & reacting to their own inputs (selected from a vanishingly small menu of options provided by hyper-successful companies).
Screenworld is not the only world: though it feeds on and can overwhelm every world. Everyone’s screen worlds are different, ‘customized’ and we only get the sense of what’s happening on a different clades screenworld when it bubbles up into ours… ‘liberals’ in the United States didn’t appreciate the size of the ‘conservative’ screenworld till Donald Trump seized the presidency. I never heard about ‘pizzagate’ screenworld till a man with an assault rifle walked into a restaurant in DC.
Screenworld is neither real nor fake; the distinction isn’t a terribly meaningful one at this day and age. Instead, screenworld offers a nigh limitless optionality for (hobbled) experience though with strong biases that lead one way or another, ways of hyperactivating certain hungers while encourages a total numbing of others. Worst, screenworld obscures that there are actual human beings on the other side of the panopticon funhouse mirror of endless distortion; with a complicated richness of depth that will inevitably be flattened by screenworld. Screenworld is especially suited to activate anger, pity, fear, while impoverishing your tools to effectively (prudently) wield such states of consciousness to make the (other) world(s) a better place.
We are being hacked and hacking ourselves, same as we always have; we were wire-heading with the production of alchohol, with the invention of contraceptives. We always lived here, and we’ve never had so much of ourselves self scattered into memory, community, imaginal prostheses in the ‘cloud’ (which I should always auto-correct to mean ‘someone else’s computer’). But by the same token we’ve never before had such wan tools to try and interrogate and properly dance with the imaginal and the media; where once we saw in vision, now we see (in screenworld).
My screenworld can be almost anything I want. My screenworld can help me get nigh anywhere I want. And the more I bring it under my own personal control, the more I choose to get the value while avoiding the cost, and (most importantly) the more I remember I can walk away whenever I want (both in part or in whole) the better off I’ll be.
Even if I now see through a screen, darkly; I can always remember there’s other uses I can put my eyes towards. There are other sights than these. And in a lot of ways, all it takes is looking up.