There has been a lot of talk lately about virtual reality. I don’t mean people who wear headsets or Google Glass, but that reality itself as a field of experience is somehow in doubt. The term “post-truth” has been called the word of the year for 2016 by Oxford Dictionaries. It reflects a society that is inundated with opinions, interpretation, punditry, about what “feels like the truth,” with the result being this feeling, this virtual space, has liquidated actual Truth, if that even has meaning any more.
Untruths like conspiracy theories have been given traction, and with the instruments of mass media, taken flight, come into the mainstream, and have given a sense of an unstable reality. What otherwise might have been theories form the fringe such as global warming denial, the birth origins of a president, beliefs that vaccines cause autism, that Oklahoma may be susceptible to sharia law, or nativist anxieties, or jihadism itself, or even people that think the Illuminati have taken over the world, or and the moon landing was faked by Stanley Kubrick – have gotten surprisingly popular. At its worst, this extreme relativism has lent itself to a world that has become paralyzed by fear.
The fabric of postmodern social reality has grown so relative and unstable, that it seems that plain truths have no traction. There is nothing left to test reality, no difference between real or imagined threats. People then resort to little enclaves of the world in social media, and just like decorating their living room, surround themselves with their version of reality echoed with the spectacle of omnipresent mass media and those who can reflect back their ever shrinking world.
Concomitant with this shrinking social reality are individuals set adrift in a world of untruths and uncertainty. It poses a serious challenge to some profound questions such as what does it mean to develop into a mature human being, to both adapt to a changing world beset by the vicissitudes of violence and alienation, and how might individuals, in short, keep their sanity? Is there a salvo for this unreality?
In the mid twentieth century, W.H. Auden wrote his book of poetry The Age of Anxiety reflecting on the human condition in an Industrial Age. Beset by the mechanizations of industrialization, urbanization, modernization and bureaucratization, humanity is seized by systems. But it seems this anxiety has been kicked up another notch altogether, elevated to a kind of delusional extent where the reality gap between the Times and the National Enquirer has closed.
The aim of this blog is to wrestle with some of these problems – to give a critical eye to virtual reality, to offer an interpretation of these confusing phenomena of communication and simulation in a post-truth world. It also seeks to help ground ourselves in the real world, with the belief that there remains anything that is real, and give us tools with which we can use. Call them coping skills for the brave new world, to comfort the afflicted despite toxic, confusing fabric of social reality. Think of it as a kind of inoculation from the virtual virus, a workshop of social and communicative resistance with which to endure the future and preserve a fragile dignity.