A few years ago I was introduced to the works of Jean Baudrillard, a French philosopher who wrote fervently about postmodernism before his death in 2007. He believed our society had become so reliant on maps and models—copies of the world it aims to represent—that reality itself was merely imitating the model.
To understand this concept, let’s think about soup.
Mass production gives us the ability to create a seemingly limitless amount of replicas from the true source. For Campbell’s Soup Company, this meant feeding thousands and turning a profit by replicating one can of soup. The authentic and diverse styles of homemade soup were being manufactured and synthesized into an all encompassing food for the masses. Over time, one forgets what mother’s chicken noodle soup tastes like…it tastes like Campbell’s.
In 1962 Andy Warhol used the classic Campbell’s soup can in his art. Once a staple item in almost every kitchen in America, the red and white can was now pop art. Today you can get Warhol’s iconic Soup Cans printed on a paper wallet. And you can follow that link to move further from the real source. Let’s look at a few more examples.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a book that combines Jane Austin’s classic novel with modern zombie fiction (and it’s in development to be a movie). The Nike Fuel band is a wristband that tracks your daily movement and displays a numerical representation of those movements, even syncing them to a cloud service so you can track yourself on your smartphone. Facebook is an online social sharing network that does nothing but represent a ‘version’ of who you are based on your online activity (i.e. input into its system through posts and photo uploads). It’s likely that within a hundred years, our own bodies will be coupled with technology—such that they, too, are further removed from their original essence.
As we move forward in life—augmenting our bodies with bionic limbs, replicating ourselves with online personas, quantifying our actions with digital products—do we lose sense of our truth? As we re-tell our stories, mixing in other ideas, do they lose their meaning? Have we copied and re-copied so much that we’ve lost sight of what’s real?
One day, in the seemingly distant future, we may trade-in mother’s chicken noodle soup for a government issued food pill and forget Andy Warhol all together. We may download our memories into machines and leave our bodies to join the robot society we helped create. Or we may go outside to breath the fresh air, see the beauty in our natural surroundings and feel whole again with the world we live in, only to touch the plastic bark of a synthetic tree and wonder why anyone made such a silly thing.