Fear of the Future (A): 1999 in retrospect

You’re living in a dream world, Neo….

What can The Matrix tell us of the pre-millennial anxiety of the future? Enter Jean Baudrillard’s ‘desert of the real’ (Simulacra and Simulation [1988]), as poignantly referenced by Morpheus. Depicted on screen as a wasteland, the simulated world of the Matrix connotes Bauldrillard’s fall of empires, in this case the result of man’s battle against his own creation: machines. Technology surpassed its creators resulting with the destruction of civilisation; in turn humans are made subservient to machines, utilised as batteries to provide their source of power. Not unlike the energy we expend keeping up with newsfeeds, technology demands from us: from buying in to the hype for the latest smart device, to flitting between conversations and mobile alerts, we are driven to serve. Ultimately, the energy we input decreases our real world attention – we become slaves driven by the impulse to check, update, comment.

As users of technology and its various communication platforms, we adopt ‘hyperreality’ (sounds pretty sci-fi-cool, right?). However, this existence states that we have reached the point where the real and simulations/ representations of reality are indistinguishable. Take emotion invested into online dating as an example. With dating profiles one may accept an array of text and images as a true representation, despite having never met the person, only having their words to interpret their motives, and assuming that the photos are indeed their own. Drop ‘catfishing’ into Google, and nightmarish stories will demonstrate the ease in which one can blindly invest in something that merely appears true. Profiles simulate a version of reality, showing a carefully constructed representation, a simulacra, of the individual. Whether fact or fiction, cognitive and physical energy is expended when conveying thoughts into text, to source the most flattering images of self; like the psychic representations of self in the Matrix, our profiles are merely virtual constructions. It’s not necessarily a conscious choice, but one can all too easily blindly accept simulation as real.

Hear that, Mr Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability…

And yet, as we increase the time we spend in our virtual spaces, online relationships are inevitably formed, nurtured and valued. Ultimately, the value placed on a cyber network of individuals increases in line with the time dedicated to interacting, ‘liking’, tending, ‘following’, ‘friending’, commenting, ‘retweeting’ (et cetera). Communications online are representative; we do not see the person typing out their status, nor watch as they snap another photograph for their Instagram. Everyday banality is published as a choice (unlike the private, secret hours we spend at work, meetings we have to attend, tedious commutes, housework – the boring requirements of life).

Rather than feeding energy into technology’s manifestations (Facebook, Twitter, Instragram – to name but three), remember the image depicted in The Matrix – ‘the desert of the real’. By forgetting the difference of simulated/real, online/offline, human connection/technology we are designing our downfall. Hyperreality is the world in which we no can no longer distinguish meaning from representation, connection from social media, people from selfies. Not quite so sci-fi-cool after all….

 

 

 

 

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