Heads down, focused on the screen.
People have always had divergent attentions but it’s never been so common society as it is with cell phones. They may be walking or talking but they are not really there, not present in their bodies. After they are done sending a text or email, finished scrolling and swiping, their heads pop up. As they inhale, and look around it is as if their senses are powering back up, the body is filling with consciousness again. They go from the body, to the phone, then back in the body.
It’s not a new phenomenon, we’ve all heard of people having their heads “buried in a book or zoned out in the boob tube, but never before did the media have the ability to add to, or completely circumvent the world we inhabit.
Reality as we know it is up for grabs.
Right now, tech companies are scrambling to build programs and devices that blur the line between the digital and analog worlds through visors, glasses, or other screens. These companies want to become the full time middleman between you and everything you can touch, smell, see, and hear. As computer experiences become more immersive and robust, we gain more access to deeper sensations in the world of ones and zeros. We also train our brains to respond to these world’s as if they are real. The track, “Facebook” on Frank Ocean’s Blonde album features a story about an IRL (in real life) relationship that is suffering because one member will not accept the other’s friend request on the world’s most popular social media platform. We routinely hear “It is not real unless it is public”, but what is public, increasingly means what is published.
When it is discovered that friends do not follow each other it can lead to arguments and this has nothing to do with 360° goggles or face filters. Our reality has already been augmented by the fact that we have to opt in to our relationships. If we are not publicly internet friends it is not 100 percent real. On the same token we have bonds that exist only online that feel deeper and more connected than the ones we maintain in the physical world. The emotions are genuine, the reactions have impact, but all the engagement occurs in a digital space.
How much more of a virtual reality can there be? We already living in a world where the mind has been trained to respond to rings, busses, and flashes with the same kind of urgency as a police siren. Now we are teaching our senses to trust the things we see on the screen the way we trust we see with our eyes. These encroaching technologies eat away at the number of hours we spend in our bodies, they cause is to prioritize the care of people in a gadget over the care of people in front of us. All this because the brain only does the interpretation of the reality we give it. It can can not sense it self, nor can it discern the authenticity of an environment without another one to reference against it. There is no difference between the virtual world and the real one. The images may be artificial, but their effects on us are natural.
This is why we need to approach these technologies with caution. Without coming up for air every now and then, getting back in our bodies, we run the risk of forgetting there is a difference. The digital worlds of augmented and virtual reality give us opportunities to experience things with our mind that our bodies may never know. It is so much like the dream realm that if we are asleep too long we may find it impossible to know when we are awake. Already we have begun to switch back and forth between digital reality and the natural one. We spend more and more time each year on devices though. With augmented reality we are able to blend the two worlds but as virtual reality becomes more prominent, our brains may prefer the digital world in a few years. All these technologies give us untold potential to create express, learn, and experience. We are gaining the ability to do things we never could as humans.