Home > Uncategorized > The Real World. Now With More Artificial Ingredients.

The Real World. Now With More Artificial Ingredients.

Prompted by my recent reading of Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, Mort’s observation about a generation of our society lacking “real” experiences, and probably a few other random unrelated thoughts, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about fictional worlds and the real world.

More specifically, I’ve been thinking about how all of them are the same thing.

In House of Leaves, Danielewski creates an elaborate alternate history for one family and characters who come in contact with that family, then magnifies a “haunted house” experience into a cultural touchpoint in the world of the book. However you may feel about the book personally (and I’m still not sure how I feel), it’s a rather amazing piece of work.

Until you consider that, really, all of us–and by all of us, I don’t just mean writers–create the artificial worlds we live in each day. Yes, I mean that on some high falutin’ philosophical level, but I also mean it at the everyday, gritty-sand-in-your-shoes level. Because the world we live in lets us, and encourages us, to surround ourselves with unreality.

Computers, the internet, technology. Yes, they open lines of communication with people we’d otherwise not interact with–but the technology itself is an intermediary. A bit of that artifice to hide behind. None of us, online, is the same person we are in person. This was an arc begun on a large scale by the radio, television and telephone. All of these technologies opened new methods of communicating/interacting/participating with new communities of people, but each also introduced a new intermediary between us and the community to be reached. (Yes, we can say books are intermediaries, as well. But books are always much more personal, don’t you think? The written word is a reflection of ourselves much more than we realize.)

Today, those very same intermediary tools have introduced successive levels of removal from the one-on-one community. Cell phones are no longer used for direct, one-on-one communication; instead, there’s texting and voice mail. Computers don’t simply let us interact with each other via email; we create alternate identities on Second Life and live as the person we imagine ourselves to be. You get the idea. Artifice is now an accepted, even expected, part of our daily lives.

When I was a young buck, I used to watch Georgia Championship Wrestling on television with my grandfather. I knew it was fake, my grandfather knew it was fake, but that was okay. We enjoyed it because it was delivered to us with a bit of a knowing wink. Today, our entertainment is filled with numerous incarnations of Georgia Championship Wrestling…but the knowing wink is gone. People no longer recognize the illusions as illusion; it’s now become another part of what’s real. On TV, we’ve even created a new genre we call “Reality Television,” which, when you think about it, is certainly one of the oxyest of all morons. Even our news organizations are spilling out scripted stories fed to them by publicists, while ninety bazillion online blogs–all of them politically motivated from every side of every aisle–manufacture and debate what’s “true.”

The result? Well, we as a society are more artificial. I’d say we’re more comfortable interacting with brands than we are interacting with each other. And consider those implications.

I didn’t mean for this to turn into a long rant, and I realize I may be teetering into Ted Kaczynski territory with my seeming anti-technology babble. I’m not anti-tech at all. What I’m saying is this: for years we’ve been told the written word is dying. We’ve been told people don’t read, aren’t as interested in the tales we tell.

Instead, the world around us is adopting our techniques, creating fiction everywhere we turn. In this Brave New World, like it or not, everyone is a storyteller.

And maybe, just maybe, the best way to stand out is to be real in some way. Because if people are surrounded by so much that’s artificial, any shred of something real and sincere will be as welcome as a glass of cold water in the middle of the Mohave.

So what’s real in your story?

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  1. David Niall Wilson
    March 10th, 2007 at 23:17 | #1

    TL – first wanted to say not to worry over the lack of replies. The weekends are traditionally dead spots for this..except for those of us here most often…

    I think there’s a chink in your armor. I don’t think all of the technology has made a whit of difference. Previously everyone was cordoned off by the lack of communication in tiny worlds of their own making – now the walls are thinner and we can hear more people next door…but the history has always been rewritten by the wealthy and political / socially motivated…people have always presented the false as the true with a price tag on it…

    In a way, we’re actually all closer together now than we ever were…

    welcome to the machine…

    DNW

  2. Janet Berliner
    March 11th, 2007 at 01:44 | #2

    “In a way, we’re actually all closer together now than we ever were…”

    Wish I could fully believe that, Dave, but I can’t. XO and “Hugs” are no substitute for the real thing. We can stay in contact more readily, that’s true, but there’s a reason it used to be called “keeping in touch. In my opinion, emails and voicemail, faxes and phones, have made it easier for us to avoid social interaction. Reading between the lines causes more mischief than a puppy in a closet full of slippers.

    Technology is a wonderful thing, but I fear it’s too soon to balance the good and the bad results.

    Or maybe I just have spring fever. :)

    Janet

  3. wilsonwriter
    March 11th, 2007 at 03:48 | #3

    You hit it on the head for me, Tony. I don’t mind being swept away, entertained, and all that. But my favorite fiction–whether in film, books, or TV–is that which touches on the real issues in the human heart.

    It doesn’t have to be pretty. It doesn’t have to come up with cutesy answers. It just has to be real. Maybe that’s why I liked “Little Miss Sunshine” when many others did not.

    **And yes, I think technology has given us the gift of immediate connection, but it certainly hasn’t made that “connection” any more real.

  4. David Niall Wilson
    March 11th, 2007 at 08:26 | #4

    But Janet,

    In the old days, the scope was different. I know hundreds of people I wouldn’t even know if it weren’t for the Internet, for instance…people whose work I might have read, but who I would never have associated with more than a dustjacket flap.

    I would (for instance) still not have the money or a situation that allows me to travel with the kids, job, etc. without the net…so my world would revolve around a couple of cities in NC – the telephone, and WRITTEN letters if it were not for the net, and a lot less friends.

    DNW

  5. TL Hines
    March 11th, 2007 at 11:32 | #5

    Hey, David – I can see your point. The technology has given us a wider net (no pun intended), and puts us in contact with more people, sure. But back in the good old days, people relied on one-to-one interaction so much more. You actually spent time in a gathering place with one or more people. You had back-and-forth communication. More often than not nowadays, we spend our time in a room by ourselves, interacting with other people in rooms by themselves. Case in point: me, as I write this comment.

    But more than that, I’m just struck/amazed at how comfortable we are at being personal with the impersonal–my comment about us interacting with brands more than interacting with each other. So yes, I agree with you: welcome to the machine. We are becoming cogs in it.

    But I’d rather we shine on like crazy diamonds.

  6. Frank Wydra
    March 11th, 2007 at 14:11 | #6

    This takes me back a bit to when the latest buzz in management circles was “Situational leadership.” People’s leadership style, they said, changed to fit the situation. Back then I thought that limiting the idea to leadership was short sighted. People behave differently in different situations. The drudge on the assembly line was the captain of the bowling team and the outspoken critic at the PTA meeting. Which personality showed up all depended on the situation. The only thing necessary was that the audiences be separated so that the inconsistencies were not evident.

    I don’t think it’s much different, now. Sure, technology has added situations to the mix and allowed people to see alternative options to self. In part, I guess, it’s the price we pay–or benefit we reap–for the transformation from a small-town to urban society. The creativity was always there, but few had opportunity to explore the different situations in which it could manifest itself.

    Good thought piece.

    Frank

  7. Janet Berliner
    March 11th, 2007 at 14:55 | #7

    Maybe what I was really struggling to say was
    that our current modes of communication lack
    both intimacy. There’s something about a hard-
    to-read, smudged, blue-black ink that resonates
    in a way that can’t happen when a machine is the intermediary. Or maybe I’m just old. :) –Janet

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