Once upon a time we all lived together,
and then lived separate lives;
Now we’re connected more than ever,
but miles and minds apart.
It’s the irony of technology, the grand price of the grand prix: how we live some more yet die a little; or come together yet make no more than a superficial connection.
Find it in the themes of recent doomsday and futuristic movies. Even in tearjerkers set in the oh-so-familiar present, with their many-angled takes on the classic carpe diem (Latin, “seize the day”).
They all warn: the price of our progress is the pending harm not only of our planet, but more tragically, of ourselves.
This warning unfolds in the Bruce Willis action film “Surrogates”. In its very-near-future setting, society looks, acts, and feels like our own. But no one’s really there. Instead, it’s virtual reality come alive.
The catch? Almost everyone you see is a physically perfect robotic stand-in (read: surrogate) controlled by the real person lying at home. A situation that can deceive.
In that age, the practice is accepted for its benefits. If your surrogate turns road-kill, relax. You’re unscathed. Just remove the headset and buy a new robot. By that time, getting one is a must and even affordable.
But you lose touch with reality, because everything is a fantasy come true with few consequences. While you can do and be anything you want, you enjoy it all in isolation. Touch is merely an electric s(t)imulation. And tears are only shed at home.
Social interaction changes. When conversation turns sour, just “freeze” and log off. Get the hang of it, and no one will know the real you.
Only when it all shuts down do you blink and realize what you’ve missed all along.
In the utra-futuristic animated movie WALL-E, people in a space colony had grown fat and stagnant through centuries of zero gravity, movement, and genuine human contact.
It had to take robots to disrupt and reanimate life too relied on the artificial.
The contrast was too apparent: a love story centered on robots Wall-E and EVE. None more emotional scene than the janitorial robot who mixed concern and curiosity with his mechanical work. All in talkless scenes nearly half the film.
Some do say the Internet–and the routine, monotonous life it feeds–is mainly making us lose it. In fact, the original graphic novel “Surrogates” stems from that premise: People detaching from life as they’re absorbed into the alternative, more accepting world of cyberspace.
Undeniably, the change comes with new forms of media. Take it from media patron saint Marshall McLuhan.
To him, media are extensions of ourselves. But even as we use them to experience our world, they too change us. With each new medium, we people either come together or move apart.
And he thought that decades before Web 1.0.
Since media, amusement parks, and malls simulate more ideal, more exciting realms, people “flee” everyday life for those experiences.
Any solution? Maybe a reconnection to what’s real and important. Like relationships, love, and experiencing life with others.
None can escape the pull of the virtual. It is, after all, human nature to aim for and experience what seems impossible.
But so is it to stick together.
Let WALL-E’s Stanton have the final word:
“The greatest commandment Christ gives us is to love, but that’s not always our priority…[In the movie] irrational love defeats the world’s programming. You’ve got these two robots that are trying to go above their basest directives, literally their programming, to experience love.
“…Our programming is the routines and habits that distract us to the point that we’re not really making connections to the people next to us. We’re not engaging in relationships, which are the point of living—relationship with God and relationship with other people.”
*With apologies to this band I know of the same name.