We are long past the days when the Big Gulp, containing a full day’s supply of vitamins and nutrients, was the defining beverage of an generation. Reality was so easily avoided when we had something sweet to distract us. Sipping our manufactured bliss, we didn’t have to be angry that our education didn’t prepare us for the real world. Besides, doing actual work sucked. We barely had enough energy to lift our giant waxed paper cups. So slack we did, especially when questions about our future came up and our response would be, “I don’t know!”
Nearly a generation later, we avoid sugar like the devil and escape the cruel harsh world through tiny electronic devices flush with happy moments and pictures of someone else’s lunch. It sure was lucky that someone invented the internet because otherwise, boredom would just start to get too boring. Things sure have changed.
We used to spend long siestas on vintage couches watching happy sitcoms with predictable outcomes. Now, because of our newish socially friendly devices, we can even talk back. It’s so much more efficient than just sitting there watching a show. Plus we can even broadcast our own stories, and with a little bit of editing and manipulation, we can transform our otherwise mundane life into an exciting glimpse through a proverbial looking glass. Reality, in our now manufactured world, doesn’t bite. Even cooler is that these recorded moments are out there forever, even after we’re dead, and they’re easily accessed with the quick swipe of a screen. Move over sliced bread.
But what happens if there’s too much of a good thing. What happens if everyone else’s lives seem so gosh darned happy. Some of us like this sort of thing. Some of us just sulk and sink into a muddy puddle of envy. And envy really stinks. Sometimes our dearest friends even become people that annoy us. I mean, who really wants to see a picture of your baby? That puddle, it just keeps getting deeper, even past our knees sometimes.
It was much easier when we could just seek and destroy the enemy and be done with it. Winona cracked the code. I am generally annoyed by her, but when little Winona popped into Saks, cut the tags out of perfectly good pieces of clothing and stashed them in her bag, glancing casually at the camera, she gave what I think was one of her best performances. Obviously, as a woman of ample means, she was not motivated by gain. Instead, she ravaged though those $4760 worth of hideous blouses and accessories making them unwearable. Cynicism is so cool, because reality can’t bite if it doesn’t exist.
And this is exactly what our new silicone playthings would like to prevent us from figuring out. Living in a perpetual suspension of disbelief, we can become whomever we would like, we can airbrush our pimples, angle the phone so we don’t look fat, and meet and interact with people all over the world in the palm of our hands.
My husband is quite content with his internet life, constantly glued to his phone, reacting to every buzz in his pocket, looking, searching, laughing out loud. He looks down at his phone sometimes in the middle of a sentence. His screen life is as real to him as our life together, and it seems he can easily jump between the two worlds with effortless agility. Despite my prodding to the contrary, he continues to assert his satisfaction with his life in the clouds. He continues to insist that the internet brings him closer to his friends and it makes him happy. He sometimes even says the virtual world is inspiring. And while I might claim to respect that, I still feel a little bit suspicious.
Outside our RV right now, a giant motor coach has pulled up with a “SimmsFishing.com” logo on it, plus all sorts of graphic images of people fishing. About every hour, a guy steps out of the coach, assembles a rod and starts “fly-fishing” right here in the RV park. There is no water. There are no fish. The internet, when it sneaks into the real world, is pretty tricky, but I’m not so easily fooled. I know it’s just an advertorial, and the dude just wants to sell his rod, and maybe meet a few cool people who want to get into fishing.
But for me, connections over the internet hardly ever happen, and when I take a step back and realize that all I have done all day is scroll and like other people’s happy moments I just feel like I’m missing something, but I don’t know what it is. And during those times when I do make a contribution, I sometimes get this feeling like I’m sprinkling out my ideas like water from a hose, but instead of soaking into the ground, they just roll off the dry soil and drip into the street. I sometimes feel sad, just standing there with the hose. #helpless.
However, it’s not all tears. I do believe it is possible that a life viewed through the lens of media can be as compelling as the Truman Show. With the internet, we can write, edit and rewrite the script of our lives. We can make friends anywhere, anytime, anyplace. We can sit on the toilet thumbing through the lives of people we barely like and maybe even crack a smile. We can live in that tiny sliver of the broadcast-able moment, hoping the truth is out there.
But that addiction, that quest for a different outcome from the same behavior, it just keeps ticking along. We keep checking our phones for signs of life, especially when someone else’s phone goes off. No wonder anxiety is on the rise, because the quick fix is right there in our pocket.
And so we live more, we do more, we share more. We are #blessed. Fueled by doubt and uncertainty, the greedy engine fueling social media networks churns on and on ad infinitum. And we are #cursed. Our biggest fear is missing out, or even worse, not being able to share every precious moment that we enjoy because our memory card is full, or we weren’t able to grab our phone fast enough.
Gary Hill once said “If I recorded every moment in my life, I would never be able to watch it.”
Certainly now it is quite easy to photo-broadcast a version of our lives into the clouds. The evidence that we are doing just this, the huge data centers of content, are out there. And at their epicenter is our strong human desire to make our lives more real, to prove that we exist. It’s so easy even a kid can do it.
So we fill our cups with all the flavors of soda at the fountain and make a giant suicide, swamp water or whatever. And we drown through the madness of a never empty cup. Perhaps some oversized editing machine cutting through the surplus would help to make the babble of selfies seem more real. It might. I often do crave the slow sultry sip of a single flavor that would last all day.
Ever since Lascaux, humans have been scribbling abstract versions of our lives in some form or another: first caves, then canvases, and now clouds. Maybe our start was even earlier, when we drew a line in the sand that would last for a moment and then blow away in the wind. Recapturing those grains of sand and reassembling them into a line becomes incredibly difficult especially if you aim to be truthful about your quest.
For sure, the question about why we are so dead set on avoiding reality seems to be more complicated than I initially thought, and I do believe that the answer is still out there, perhaps buried somewhere in what is happening with the food industry, the manufacturing, and the tourism industry. Without a doubt, the US is going through a major paradigm shift and that does warrant further exploration which I hope to cover in part two. Until then, let’s keep it real ;