"Forget Reality- that's the slogan of our new affluent society" John Galbraith
"People can only handle so much reality" T.S Eliot
People have always wanted to escape from reality. The many reasons are obvious and well known, boredom, curiosity, the need to be different, the taste for newness or a desire for a sense of otherness, the need to commune with like-minded souls who are different from members of your family or community etc. Traditionally, Religion, the Arts, Sport, Cinema, even Science have been some of the different forms of "structured escape" from reality in the past. All of these types of escape usually involved some type of shared cultural beliefs among those whose were members, like those who belong to certain churches, or, those who support and follow certain football teams for example. Also, membership implicitly implied that the members of such social groupings would be high knowledgeable about their form of escape, and, often even their language would take on a different dialect and become highly nuanced when members would be together.
Recently, I was at a public discussion held in my own city about the new possibilities for reality and society arising from the social media revolution. At the meeting there were the usual academics, members from various IT companies, Government officials and of course ordinary members of the public (usually under 30) who were daily users of Twitter and Facebook. The level of the discussion despite the grandiose title was decidedly parochial, but, largely most speakers seemed to be overwhelmingly positive in their general acceptance and enthusiasm about almost every facet of data that the social media has to offer society. What struck my mind forcefully at the discussion was the plain fact that the social media revolution dose not actually offer anything really novel in terms of its stated objectives. The form may have changed for our age, but Facebook is essentially nothing more than a collective pen-friend club, and, Twitter despite it claim to be producing a more inclusive and "clued in" society actually diminishes real debate and discussion by allowing users to anonymous make whatever crude or stupid remark comes into their skulls. I don't believe that the social media represents a great creative force akin to the forms of structured escape society had in the past, as essentially due to the lack of structure and shared beliefs that informs the whole social media fabric there is no real community out there in the first place!. You cannot escape reality and create something more real then the everyday world by positing a realm which is simply a running and often banal commentary on the latest general trends and opinions formed by society itself. There can be no transmutation of the mere facts of life by simply getting users to comment ad-nausea on the mere facts once more, and, pretending that this somehow equates to creative insight and discussion. The traditional forms of escape allow for it members to undergo real states of change, whether this is through their football team winning, from going to a music gig, to writing a short story, all of these activities are based on certain beliefs that allow certain anticipations to arise in the imagination, and this is how they become creative activities. At the discussion, it unnerved me how blind, naive and uncritical many members of the younger generation are regarding the role of technology in society. It struck me at a psychological level that there's a tendency for people, especially, younger people to accept technology as it seems to equate to successful technique in their minds, and knowing how to successfully use an IT app is to be, up-to-date and "ahead of the game" in their world.
Afterwards I reflected more and I came to the conclusion that unlike the older forms of escape the social media does not represent reality in the first instance, rather it is carefully constructed form of collective ideology called Hyper-Reality. Hyper-Reality is a collective form of a-historical, abstract, laxity that at best just induces users to be nothing than "informed" about the latest trends and stories and to be become "creatively" involved in the story by adding their own text or tweet. Just like internet porn, it represents a kind of profound negation of our own unique creative potential by serving up what was once genuinely subversive, different and taboo as just another way to join in and loss yourself in the The Lonely Crowd.