Wednesday, July 29, 2015

How Much Virtuality Can We Stand?

How "virtual" can we stand for our world to become?

Is there an effect on the collective human psyche as we move farther and farther away from real things we can touch and hold? We know how important tactile learning is for kids -- they need to push and pull and feel with their hands. It helps them learn the dynamics of the physical world. Clicks and bells and textures inform their minds and their senses about cause and effect and any other number of things.

As adults, we seem to be trying to prove that is all a waste of time. If we buy music, we get no CD or record to hold in our hands, we get a purposefully -- stealthily -- diluted sound file.

Books are getting digitized, so no more smell and feel of the paper; no more gold-leafed or rough-cut page ends; no more ink. We read news on lighted screens, no longer on crackling newsprint.

Philadelphia; Thirtieth Street Station
columns and a modern building, beyond.
More and more, we compute on glass-faced devices with only virtual buttons to "push." Nothing at our fingertips but cold glass and illusions of texture...

Buildings have gone from cut stone and wood adorned with the detailed work of artisans -- work that rises in relief from the heart of the media; work we could run our hands over and feel as much as see -- to towers of glass that disappear into the sky around them, as if ethereal but feeling ephemeral.

Epic films that were already a kind of virtual reality themselves at least used to be populated by casts of thousands of real people on horseback are now "populated" by computer generated forms. When we watched John Wayne jump from the stagecoach and onto the wooden rail between the running draft horses, we watched John Wayne jump from the stagecoach and onto the wooden rail between the running draft horses. Tricks and safety measures were used, for sure, but the danger was that much closer to real. Now, we know, from brain to heart, that we are watching fleshless scenes of absurd extreme indiscriminate calamity...

We once had a purse of coins that were forged from precious metals with which we would purchase things, but this was dangerous -- because of thieves -- so we put the precious metals in vaults and printed money to represent it, but, then, we made plastic cards to represent the cash that represented the gold and silver and now we rarely touch our own wealth -- we just grant permission for it to be moved from one place to another. It's safer that way...the bank or the government will hold onto the real wealth for us. Of course, if there is a problem, they might have to keep us from accessing's safer that way...

Teachers are told not to touch children, ever -- even the little ones with scraped knees and bumped heads. No hugs for a crying baby for fear of a lawsuit. No hand on the shoulder of a student the teacher is helping in class; no pat on the back for a play well-executed. It is wrong to touch. People refuse each other handshakes during cold season, even though hand sanitizer exists...

Kids play with their friends long-distance, through microphones and headsets. They build Minecraft forts in Minecraft woods and they rarely feel the bark of trees under their fingers...

Each of these has its reasons, whether good or bad, but each of these is a step away from reality; from flesh and stone and wood and from cause and effect; each of these is a step away from ownership of real and solid things.

We've come from a world of wool, leather, loam and leaf into a time of synthesis, digitization, virtual reality and illusion. We're either evolving toward total transcendence or coming loose from our earthly moorings. Maybe they are the same thing?

At any rate, don't think less of me for saying that I am glad that I will only be here another forty or so years. We're so careful; we're so sanitized; we're so alone in the virtual crowd and it is getting worse every day.

Is it far-fetched to think that some day lovemaking without prior permission forms and the proper medical and psychological screenings might be illegal? It can be dangerous, you know. Maybe it can all be replaced with Woody Allen's orgasmatron. That used to seem so far-fetched.


  1. You could easily have overheard my husband and I griping about all these things, only you've said it better. And poor, unlucky you, here for another forty years; I'm sure I have less than thirty to put up with these horrors and whatever the future brings.

    1. Hi, Joan -- Well, let's not hope to be toolucky...haha. But I suppose getting older is the same in all times, just with different things to start to feel alienated about. I used to love to lie on my back, reading album credits while I listened. I'm sure kids today will be griping about the things they miss in forty years... At any rate, I will remove the listening devices from behind your kitchen cabinets right away!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.