Nothing hurts any more
March 2, 2017 9:39 AM   Subscribe

Screened-out by George Monboit:
We are separated from the world by a layer of glass. Climate change, distant wars, the erosion of democracy, the resurgence of fascism – in our temperature-controlled enclosures, all can be reduced to abstractions.
Yuval Harari (Homo Deus, 2016) reminds that reducing the world to abstractions is not a new thing. Religion was the first virtual reality."Providing people with meaning by imposing imaginary rules on an objective reality."

While virtual reality continues to be the future, we're already deep into augmented reality. AR went big in 2016, from the small screen with Black Mirror (Nosedive) to the big screen with Nerve – a science fiction film showing a violent and dangerous herd mentality of teenage social media users. Today, millennial AR tech darling Snap hit the stock market at $33B. "About the size of Marriot and Target." Augmented reality instantly more valuable than reality's decaying titans.

That $33B comes from the fact that digital devices create addiction-like behaviours in teenagers. Not only hard on the eyes, screen time is hard on the brain. Neural scans show decreased grey-matter density in heavy device users. Lower grey matter density leads to greater feelings of patriotism.

Last month, we read about the dark rise of 4Chan from memes to racist attacks. Negative social effects of heavy screen time compound with age. From 16, heavy users show different personality traits. Their online activity mirrors that of gamblers, impulsive and reward-seeking.

Last year's mildly controversial Glow Kids by Nicholas Kardaras frames screen addiction as 'digital heroin'. While digital heroin is debatable, other peoples' responses to the social media we share shape our brains. In a cycle similar to that of addiction, the more one uses the internet, the more one is likely to use the internet. Rather than learning information, we now learn where to find information.

The most valuable companies in the world deal in data – or do they sell drugs? We aren't so much using the Internet, as becoming a part of it. We are our data. But in the end, the internet "just reflects the world we live in".

And the world we live in increasingly reflects the internet, where all can be reduced to abstractions.
posted by nickrussell (23 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Religion was the first virtual reality."Providing people with meaning by imposing imaginary rules on an objective reality."

MMRPG IRL OMG LOL

I don't know. If we're contrasting "objective reality" with narrative value structures that people inhabit meaningfully, then I think human consciousness itself has to be given the prize of first virtual reality (and even that's presuming other consciousness doesn't predate it).

And while most elements of the various religious cosmologies don't turn out to be scientific statements, it's not clear to me that imaginary is the best term, except insofar as it's meant to evoke some kind of image that can corresponds (at some resolution) with reality. Some of the rules even more so.
posted by wildblueyonder at 9:59 AM on March 2, 2017 [9 favorites]


Augh, this is so very annoying. There are interesting bits in the Monbiot piece, all undermined by horseshit such as, "For those who still see the rainbow arcing over the town while everyone else is buried in their phones, life in the real world can feel lonely."

I say this as a gen-xer who benefitted from a free-range childhood.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 10:16 AM on March 2, 2017 [6 favorites]


The Laurie Penny piece he links to is a good read, though.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 10:18 AM on March 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


Yuval Harari tells us that humanity now has the capability to end war, famine and plague. If true, it follows that the only horseman of the apocalypse still to be defeated is the antichrist.

Well, back to reading the American politics thread.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:31 AM on March 2, 2017 [4 favorites]


I'd really like everyone to stop using these three words for a year: objective, subjective, and reality.
posted by thelonius at 10:41 AM on March 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


An irritating read in places, but I think the point about how far we've abstracted the world is a good one. And this isn't solely the fault/responsibility of the online world and our devices; it is also the fault of the media, who have reduced politics to an abstraction - policies are discussed in terms of how they affect voter perceptions, not as real, concrete things that impact people lives. The connection between the reality of our lives and what happens in the political sphere has been abstracted away; people are completely unaware of many of the policies and programs that benefit or harm them, or indeed, exactly how they do so.

I am reminded again of Vonnegut's quote about Mother Night - "we are that which we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be." We can spend a lot of time in pretend virtual worlds right now, and what are we pretending to be while we are there?

If true, it follows that the only horseman of the apocalypse still to be defeated is the antichrist.

Death is the fourth horseman; the antichrist is something altogether different. A long time ago I had an idea about writing a story about the Four Horsemen, who were waiting for their Fifth member to lead the charge - Apathy.
posted by nubs at 10:46 AM on March 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


Death, famine, disease, war. These haven't been defeated, and will never be, though it seems like we're gonna try, come what may for worse knock on effects.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 10:54 AM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


The core idea, that terrible things happen when the consequences of our speech and actions are mediated or abstracted, is an important one. It's a shame to veil that in a bunch of luddite nostalgia, not least because we've been grappling with problems of mediation and abstraction for much, much longer than we've had iPhones.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 10:56 AM on March 2, 2017 [6 favorites]


A long time ago I had an idea about writing a story about the Four Horsemen, who were waiting for their Fifth member to lead the charge - Apathy.

Don't forget Stupidity, riding in on a hobby horse, wearing a green foam cowboy hat.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:12 AM on March 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


This whole post sounds like a prologue to the founding of Mercerism.
posted by FJT at 11:15 AM on March 2, 2017 [5 favorites]


> I'd really like everyone to stop using these three words for a year: objective, subjective, and reality.

okay but can we keep "intersubjectivity"? also is it acceptable to have arguments over whether there exist objects in themselves outside of our perception of them?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:45 AM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


also is it acceptable to have arguments over whether there exist objects in themselves outside of our perception of them?

No we Kant have those. /ancientjoke
posted by Pyrogenesis at 11:57 AM on March 2, 2017 [3 favorites]


We need to reduce the world to abstractions to survive. It's the choice of abstraction that matters, not the process of abstraction.
posted by smidgen at 12:07 PM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


Today, millennial AR tech darling Snap hit the stock market at $33B. "About the size of Marriot and Target." Augmented reality instantly more valuable than reality's decaying titans.

I don't understand why one would use the stock market as an objective measure of the tension between objective and virtual reality, considering that the markets are themselves fundamentally unreal, being that they're created and run by people who routinely allow their eyes get bigger than their stomachs.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:49 PM on March 2, 2017 [5 favorites]


The final few lines of Monbiot's piece:
In a fiendishly complex world, the only hope we have of assessing competing claims is often to draw on our own experience. Without experience, we are lost.

This is more fundamental even than filter bubbles and values ratchets. This is about what it is to be human, what it is to lose that essential element of our existence: our contact with the real world. The political, social and environmental consequences are currently beyond reckoning.
chime horribly with thoughts from Mefi's own cstross, who published a blog post that scared the living shit out of me when I read it a couple of weeks back - Some notes on the worst-case scenario, viz:
Never say Nazis don't learn the lessons of history. This time round, the Final Solution to Anthropogenic Climate change will be entirely deniable! There are no gas chambers or Einsatzgruppen involved: any bullets will be fired by autonomous robots, without a human finger on the trigger, and will be an automatic reaction to an attempted border crossing, so not the fault of the perpetrators. The victims will have only themselves to blame, for being born in the wrong place, in the wrong century, and for failing to adapt, and for starving themselves, and for inviting the attention of the border patrol drones. It will be a slow-motion atrocity on a scale that dwarfs the Holocaust. And it is the logical conclusion of the policies our new fascist international overlords appear to be working towards implementing.

Please can you explain to me why I'm wrong to fear this outcome?

I can quite imagine 4Channers making Pepe image macros from the comfort of suburban bedrooms of autonomous border drone shootings. And we won't even be shocked anymore.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:52 PM on March 2, 2017 [4 favorites]


That Laurie Penny piece was great. Thanks for posting.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 12:52 PM on March 2, 2017


I'm wary of attributing addiction-like behavior of people using computers to "looking at a screen" or "looking at the internet" rather than things like the way that social media websites or games are designed. Facebook, Twitter, and the like are all very carefully tuned to keep people coming back for 5 minutes, scrolling down, refreshing, leaving, coming back, rinse-repeat.

It seems shortsighted to me to view this as a fundamental property of communicating with people via the internet or looking at a screen, rather than something that is intentionally imposed by people who design websites with the intent of making money off of ads.
posted by cwill at 1:05 PM on March 2, 2017 [3 favorites]



okay but can we keep "intersubjectivity"? also is it acceptable to have arguments over whether there exist objects in themselves outside of our perception of them?


As long as you don't call your experience your "reality" you can knock yourself out!
posted by thelonius at 1:26 PM on March 2, 2017


It's the exploitation of normal human behavior meaning Facebook takes its particular shape precisely because of known exploits in human design. For whatever reason, they are allowed to own hordes of free labor. This is easy to fix - it takes only a bit of will.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 1:38 PM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


Religion was the first virtual reality."Providing people with meaning by imposing imaginary rules on an objective reality."

I'm a gen-Xer and can't be bothered to watch a video. Transcript or GTFO.

Also, providing people with meaning by determining the abstracted rules that govern the objective reality is more commonly known as science!
posted by heatherlogan at 1:41 PM on March 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


Don't forget Stupidity, riding in on a hobby horse, wearing a green foam cowboy hat.
“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!”
posted by Sangermaine at 3:18 PM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


harari is right, i think, in the big picture. the same way industrialization alienated societies from rural life and self-reliance, and the services economy alienated people from themselves by transforming us into consumers above all, so will the information age alienate us from and commodify our own minds. that isn't necessarily apocalyptic. technological power will not just be exercised top-down. but it will be crazy as hell.
posted by wibari at 11:14 PM on March 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


Harari was also recently interviewed by Ezra Klein, who was skeptical, as am I, of his thoughts on AI.
posted by eclectist at 8:02 AM on March 3, 2017


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