Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Virtual Distractions

Could Zuckerberg Be Right?

A lot of people - including myself - have had a good time mocking Mark Zuckerberg and his "Meta" fixation.  He dreams of a virtual world that he will control - and he's betting the company on it.  His theory is that we will all want to live in a virtual secondary world instead of the real one.  And most folks think this is stupid.

Including me.  Until recently.

It struck me one night that maybe he is on to something.  We already live in secondary virtual worlds and seek escapism at every turn.  Whether it is though movies, television, books, music, drinking, drugs, video games, hobbies or whatever, we seek a secondary world removed from the realities of our own lives.  Even politics are just a big distraction from daily living - so many people know the names and positions of famous politicians, as well as the latest outrages, but cannot tell you the balance in their bank account.

I ran into a fellow while camping, and he was in wonderment as to how we could exist without television.  He bragged that he turned on the TeeVee as soon as he woke up in the morning and didn't turn it off until he fell asleep at night - the classic "talking lamp."    I could not fathom why someone would want this annoying thing constantly blaring in their lives, but it is an example of how people crave distraction.  Their lives are so boring and bland (or so they think) that they need the carnival of television to make life seem worthwhile and interesting.

A lot of people run down gaming - myself included - for various reasons. Like the cell phone, it is a perfect Skinner box - issuing fewer and fewer rewards for the increasing time spent on it.  And no, of course, it doesn't promote violence.   I mean, we know how neural networks are programmed through "training" so obviously, spending hundreds of hours playing a "first person shooter" game that rewards points for killing hookers couldn't have any impact on your psyche in "real life" - right?

But that's not why I dislike computer games - they are a time bandit of epic proportions.  But they are also an example of virtual reality already enabled in the world.  People spend hours in online game worlds, with gamer names and avatars.  Zuckerberg is, if anything, late to the game - if you'll pardon the pun.

We were at a (gay) campground and there were two guys walking around.  One had a t-shirt on that said "Gamer" on it and the other had a t-shirt on that had a Pac-Man "ghost" on it.  Both had stringy, dirty, greasy long hair and everyone was giving them a wide berth due to the smell.  It made me wonder why anyone would be proud of such behavior.  Well, at least the t-shirts were a warning.

But maybe Zuckerberg is on to something.  Maybe - as the comic above illustrates - it doesn't matter anymore if you win or lose in life, so long as you think you are winning.  So if your life is a trainwreck and the world is going to hell in a handbasket, you can retreat to your virtual world, where everything is sunshine and lollipops and life is but a dream.

A virtual dream.

So, no need to worry about global warming - in Bro-Pony land, it doesn't exist.  And your virtual investments in Bitcoin?  They're doing great!  Because in the virtual world, lies are truth and slavery is freedom - and ignorance is strength.

Of course, there is a downside to the virtual world - one than E.M. Forster predicted a century ago - and that is someone has to work in the real world to keep all the equipment running.  Maybe, as in The Matrix, the machines will tend to us like children or gardened plants - while we live out our virtual lives in peace.  But I doubt it.  I think instead, this retreat from reality will have severe negative consequences, over time.  It will cause a collapse in society as we become more and more disconnected from reality.  Maybe this has already begun.

It is rubber-band theory again.  The more your perceptions of reality deviate from actual reality, the worse it will hurt when the rubber-band snaps back.  And it always snaps back.  Reality cannot be denied for so long.  And no, it is not subjective or based on perception.  It actually exists and has finite parameters.

Distracting yourself from reality, whether it is through celebrity worship, media, the internet, or the bottom of a bottle, always will have negative consequences, once reality starts to slap you around. For many people, this results in a further retreat from reality - such is the nature of addiction.  Yes, I'm broke, lost my job, and was just evicted - but if I can score some Oxy, I can live in paradise for at least a few hours before I come down.

Problem is, eventually you have to come down and face the music.