Get real

It may be an indication of our advancing age if we grumble about what has been lost. Personally I think the second half of the Twentieth Century abandoned the concept of Quality. Just one aspect of that huge concept is genuineness. We moved into a fast-paced disposable superficial age of insincerity.

It may be a bit hard to obtain in the USA (order direct on the Web) and it is a bit too Australian at times for all but Skippies, but I commend to you The Triumph of the Airheads by Shelley Gare as a brilliant book which just nails one of the main issues of the age: the airheads are in control.

The Twentieth Century ended with

  • Enron, the fake power company
  • a dot-com bubble where the internet changed the fundamentals of commerce
  • people who believe there are aliens imprisoned in Roswell, the moon walks happened in a studio and 9/11 was faked
  • silicon breasts, spray tans and chest-hair implants
  • journalism that owes more to Hollywood than Fleet Street
  • opinions respected because the speaker appears in movies or writes pop songs
  • and a Texan cowboy President who grew up in Connecticut and went to Harvard.

How did we get from Marilyn Monroe to Brittney Spears in only four decades? From Jack Kennedy to Hillary Clinton? (or from a graceful princess marrying a noble Greek prince to a daft prince marrying an anorexic tart?).

Not only is nothing real but people no longer expect it to be real. Survivor, Big Brother, The Batchelor and the Osbornes are “reality”. Passing through New Zealand’s glow-worm caves, an American tourist asked a tour guide when they were constructed. He replied “about 30 million years ago”. God’s theme park.

The internet is pouring petrol on this fire.

Whole companies exist only in the digisphere: the only presence is a website, the money is transacted by PayPal, the goods are drop-shipped, and the servers are hosted.

The diary of a lonely teenager turns out to be played by an actress.

The Snopes fight a losing battle against gullibility that believes a little boy in Montana wants your emails to fight leukaemia, antiperspirants give you Alzheimer’s, in Thailand they steal your kidneys, and a Nigerian bank wants to give you a million dollars.

People who lead nobody-lives in the real world are a warrior princess, ladies’ man or millionaire in their second lives, hunched at screens across the planet.

My son has “buddies” he’s never heard of on Club Penguin sending him “postcards”: I picture them being from a truckie in Omaha sitting in his underwear in a motel room.

Gen X, Y and Z build whole social lives around people they’ve never met. In a past age one chose friends and trusted colleagues based on how they treated their family, their peers, their staff; on how we saw them react to situations over a period of years; on how we felt in our gut when we met them, saw their clothes, grasped their hand, looked them in the eye. Now we base relationships on what people write on a webpage; how they twitter-on in forums; portraits they have self-selected and edited.
People I don’t know, or worse still I know but don’t particularly like, want to be my “friend” on facebook or a trusted link on LinkedIn. Just what is the etiquette for turning down such invitations? Ignore them? Reply saying “who the **** are you?” or “not while I’m alive”? Mostly I politely accept and lose another shred of my already tattered integrity.

There is a new breadth of social contact where we can seek out those with a common interest wherever they may live, but it troubles me greatly when we call these contacts friends and colleagues.

There is a compensation for those whose lives haven’t attained their dreams to be able to live out those dreams on the internet, but one wonders what they might still achieve if they got up and went outside.

The internet is the greatest knowledge resource in the history of mankind, buried within the most monstrous mountain of intellectual dross ever created. The unreality and ignorance of the majority of its readers mean anyone can have an opinion no matter how credible (or distasteful) and declining numbers have the skills to tell the difference between value and pap.

Read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 for a vision of a world where people are pacified by staring at screens of pure content-free color and sound, synthesised to keep them away from the reality of their corrupted world. Ray wrote long before the internet, when he saw television as the threat. I wonder what he would have made of The Sims.

Somewhere somehow I hope the world will scream “stop!” and rediscover integrity and reality and quality; that fresh air, exertion and physical contact will count for something. Mastering the subtleties of the physical world will meet with more respect than cracking the simple rules of illusion, and good things will take time to build. What we create will be something that can be passed to our descendants, and can be dug up in millennia to come, not ephemeral bits and bytes. We will leave a trace of something real.