Screening Out Reality
And the march of the machines
The virtual world
Sitting in a busy carriage on the London underground I glance across at the row of commuters opposite. Each one is entranced, thumbing expertly their various iphones. One man's is wired via his earplugs and with his free hand he is munching from a bag of crisps. I am trying to speak to a friend sitting on my left, but sitting on my right someone is very loudly shouting into their mobile phone. 'Hello, it's me', he says, 'I'm on the underground!' (did anyone every say 'hello, it's not me'). I tap him on the shoulder and politely ask him if he would mind toning it down (I refrain from pointing out I know he is on the underground)? He does not appear to hear me. More accurately, he does not appear to be aware of my existence. He goes on shouting. I leave the underground and as I walk along crowded Oxford Street I hear a friendly voice just behind me shouting 'Hello, how are you?' I turn round smiling to greet the speaker and see that he is shouting into a mobile phone. I'm not sure I can take much more of this.
What is happening to the world? Everyone seems to want to be somewhere else rather than where they are. Virtual reality has become more attractive than real reality. We spend the day in tower-block offices staring at computer screens and drive home staring at 'the world out there' through our car wind screens to spend the evening 'switching off' and staring at our TV screens. Facebook has acquired the 'Oculus' goggles system entailing the 3D experience of the virtual world via two screens, one for each eye! We are screening out reality.
Screening out reality
Were people ever more effectively screened from reality? On the TV screen, likely as not, we will be viewing a quiz show; an 'entertainment' in which a virtue is made out of being able to fill our brains with a meaningless conglomeration of disconnected 'facts'. A popular alternative is a soap opera. This entails watching imaginary people enacting imaginary scenarios characterised by conflict, typically between the sexes and lubricated by conspicuous alcohol consumption. Fictitious drama on TV is awash with murder, rape, and violence. It is not, of course, the real murder, rape and violence actually occurring in our various on-going wars; wars which are the natural currency of power elites and corporations ever covetous of the resources of others. We are well screened from all that.
The 'entertainment' is interspersed with what are called 'news' bulletins, 'news' generally being something unpleasant that happens to someone else. Subliminal messages get through of exploding nuclear power stations, politicians of 'the great powers' dicing with the possibility of global nuclear war, the vast approaching-irreversible rush to global disaster from climate change. But, not to worry, our attention is easily distracted by endless speculation about some celebrity misdemeanour or a penny on, or off, the price of beer. News is carefully tailored not to upset our cosy armchair comforts. No depleted uranium is coming our way soon. All those deformed babies in Iraq won't end up in our hospitals. It's all exaggerated anyway. Rioting in the streets? Not to worry it's just a few malcontent thugs quickly knocked into shape by the forces of law and order.
At the same time the inexorable cycle of 'work -- earn -- buy -- discard -- buy more -- work more' is constantly energised by the vast, ever-inventive and ubiquitous industry devoted to the manufacture of envy and discontent. You thought you didn't have smelly feet -- think again. And what about that under-arm odour that your girl friend doesn't like to mention? And, shock, horror, you didn't realise your lips are cracking and need constant 'moisturising'. Is your car really big enough for your needs and what do your neighbours think about it anyway? Can it outrun an avalanche? Are you sure you're up to date with the latest fashion and are your kids loosing face at school by not having the latest video game? The western world is more wealthy than any society in world history yet there are 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK today. That is 27 per cent of children1. In the US there are 100 million people below the poverty line2. That is over 30% of the population. Well, those wars and aircraft carriers don't come cheap; somebody has to pay.