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September 28th, 2009 1 comment

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The Real World. Now With More Artificial Ingredients.

March 10th, 2007 7 comments

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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