I was listening to NPR as I was driving home from work today and had tuned into an already begun conversation. Apparently, the NPR journalist was interviewing someone representing the New York Times. The person was describing to the journalist a new media for reporting the news. I just caught the tail end of the conversation but it appears that the Times has produced a program, via this new media, that reports events in virtual reality. The viewer will be able to turn 360 degrees within the news story and see and hear about this event from a virtual perspective. I didn’t get if this would be in real time or if it would be a simulation of the event, but its claim to fame was that it put the viewer “in” the story.
Hmmm, I thought, would I really want that? At first it sounded very seductive. I mean we all need “more”, right? More sensation, more information, more ability to plan and control our future by seeing what is going on all around us all over the world. We should have that, right? More! I mean, if I have more, I will know as much as the next person. I will be knowledgeable in conversation; I will be on the cutting edge of technological advancement. I will be cool. I will have created the illusion of control. But do I really need that?
I’ve been reading an amazing book by Mark Edmundson called, Self And Soul, A Defense of Ideals. In it he gives historical references to how cultures have developed defined by the things that satisfies or stimulates people. He moves through the Ancient Ideals of Homer (courage), Socrates (truth), Plato (thinking); the Ideals in the Modern World moving through Shakespeare (Self), Blake (compassion), Freud (hopelessness). And his conclusion is:
“The answer that arises here is that current popular culture (as much adored now by the elite as it is by the populace in general) is largely a culture that simulates Soul. What passes for current-day culture is often the fabrication of the Soul States. An enormous complex, and stunning technological force, which might be put to use to feed the world or to rid it of disease, is instead devoted to something else. It is devoted to entertainment – to delivering experiences that fabricate States of the Soul . . . .
. . . The primary appetite of the Soul – or of one most often suppressed by current life and so in need of feeding – is not hard to guess from the state of current culture. The shape of that culture may suggest to us that Homer (as equivocal as he may occasionally have been) and his warriors were right: human beings are desperate to enter the State of the Soul defined by courage.”
For me, what follows is this: To the degree that I participate in the enormous entertainment industry (and here I am including all news shows and “corporately mediated” sports events, for they are as commercial as everything else and “sell” a product designed to give me sensation and motivate me to buy, vote, hate, etc.), I am:
- Participating in the fabrication of Soul states in my own life; and
- Denying myself the opportunity to develop authentic Soul states, via the expression of ideals through Spiritual practices, art, poetry, being with loved ones, meditating, enjoying nature, being of service to others etc.; and
- The whole time supporting, with my participation in this simulation by being absorbed in it, the commercial growth of this already enormous behemoth that is replacing culture with sensation.
Back to the New York Times news report about their new product: I think I’ll pass. As a matter of fact, I think I will cancel my subscription to cable television altogether. I have already been DVR-ing all the shows I want to watch so I can skip the commercials but why do I need The Voice anyway? Right! Because it is very hard for me to sit quietly. I have become addicted to the stuff that takes me out of authentic experience. Sometimes my authentic experience is uncomfortable and its easier to turn on the TV than to grapple with finding the courage or faith or truth that is mine to discover. The Times, like all corporate entities that simulate Soul states, is like a dealer. They’re coming up with better dope for us all the time. As a society, do we really want our culture to continue to devolve into a total Soul-less nation . . . or, are we already there?