Reality Hunger #1

Posted on 22/10/2010


Here’s something I made earlier: an unfinished article that I forgot about. I’ve tried to piece it together, but to complicate things it’s only resulted generating more ideas from a completely different perspective. TBH, I’ve really no idea what I was on about…

(photo courtesy)

What I wrote:

Earlier this year David Shield published Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, arguing for less plot and more raw, unfiltered reality in Fiction. From what I’ve picked up in The Guardian’s review of it, he looks at how reality hunger defines our age: hunger for news, opinions, facts and ideas about the world.

At the risk of imploding in a philosophical rant (which, if you’re keen, you can do at SpaceCollective) I find it fascinating that any culture can claim to be more interested in “reality” than previous generations. I’m pretty confident the Roman’s were keen on reality too, but it was a different place, different time and, no, they didn’t use Twitter back then.

We’re not living in at a time that’s more real than any other, especially with so much virtual activity taking place. Hours spent at glowing screens IS part of our reality, and it looks set to continue like that. The more virtual our lives become, the more real the time spent in the virtual world will be.

So as digital technology becomes even more integrated with out world, there could come a time when the two merge, outright. There will be no “offline”, and our children will struggle to imagine how we ever saw the digital and analogue worlds as separate entities.

The next step to consider shows how tricky the whole idea of reality is. By meshing the “real” and “unreal” you make both the real less real, and the unreal more real. Put another way: while reality loses ground and importance to the virtual (becoming less real), the unreal, virtual environment is elevated in status. So much so, that you could argue it actually exists. And surely if it exists, it’s real..

Poorly explained I know, so let’s try using different terms:

  • Digital: This is everything that we might consider virtual/ not real: television, the internet, computer games, the “online” world.
  • Non-digital: everything that exists and existed before the age of television, computers and the internet. Non-digital describes objects, solid or physical entities (houses, trees and water).

So to reiterate: as the two environments merge, the digital is gaining a higher status while the non-digital is losing some status because it can no longer be clearly distinguished from the other. Bear with me on this, I do have examples:

In 2006, a Chinese student was convicted of murdering a fellow World of Warcraft (WoW) player after he sold a sword he’d lent him (the sword, btw, wasn’t real and only existed on WoW)… He took what I only see as a computer game and brought its events into the real world (the non digital). In this case, the digital/ virtual had serious consequences that were actually felt in people’s (non-digital) lives, least of all the student who was murdered.

Another example of the two overlapping is digital commerce. Over the last 20 years, businesses which offer virtual services have suddenly appeared and are now among the world’s biggest financial players. (I obviously don’t need to mention Google, Apple or Microsoft, but I just have.)

Like it or not, our reality is becoming a little bit less real. But, on the bright side, as virtual things and activities become more important to us, there’s endless possibility for what we could do with this:

  • Support networks for people online. People feel more isolated and lonely now than 30 years ago, which to me seems to stem from being more connected. We’re more conscious of what others are doing, and less able to cope with being alone. But if it need’s solving, why not a global online support network? People around the world who could offer that personal immediate support you need covering anything from depression, to advice, to cookery instructions, all in real-time.
  • Augmented reality could deliver virtual artworks in public places. I’ve already seen Virtual graffiti; why not create virtual exteriors/ designs for buildings?? Saves painting them…
  • If we’re more connected, we can also respond more. Referendums could become more frequent, more immediate and a greater degree of democracy might actually become achievable.