Charles Eisenstein: On generations, screens, and screen-“life”

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I cannot tell you how much I appreciate Charles Eisenstein’s ruminations on the generational gulf between him and his son, since I encounter it myself with my dear grandson Drew, seen here, above, last February, when I visited them in Massachusetts.

His mom Sue and I plot various ways to get him off the couch and interested in actually using his body to do stuff. (I keep fantasizing about enrolling him in a NOLS course . . .) A couple of days ago she told me he’s now got him playing, I think she said basketball, though I can’t remember which team sport, actually — mea culpa! — but that he isn’t exactly inspired. We both think that he needs to be in theater, drama, since he’s highly imaginative, loves an audience, and can mimic absolutely anything. Does this facility connect to his incessant game-playing with friends on-line? I have no idea. But his sister Kiera told me last summer when they visited here that he’s “number two in the world” I think she said, in some game played globally. Geez!

I appreciate the way Eisenstein playfully fudges and merges dimensions in his extended riff on what this accelerating screen “life” — or is it (“real”) life; might it be hyper-life, not just virtual life? or, what Wittgenstein would have called, a brand new “form of life”? — might ultimately mean for humanity as we blindly and relentlessly forge a future that probably, none of us, even these current whiz kids, can actually imagine.

Imagine a 3-D World

December 24, 2014

by Charles Eisenstein

thenewandancientstory, via realitysandwich

On our way to see the latest installment of The Hobbit, I asked my 10-year-old Philip and his two friends, “Don’t you wish that the real world were 3-D just like the movies?”

“Yeah!” they said with relish. “That would be so awesome!”

The joke was on me, it seemed. A minute later I tried to explain: “Guys, you realize that reality already is 3-D, don’t you? I was making a joke.”

“But it isn’t like the movies,” said the 11-year-old sitting next to me, “where stuff comes right at you.”

“Yes it is,” I said, pretending to swat him in the face.

The conversation soon turned toward other topics, and I was left with an abiding sadness over that boy’s words. Essentially, he was saying that reality is boring compared to its simulation on screen. I can see why: film, television, and video games pack in as much fast-paced, loud, intense action in a minute as real life does in a week. The nervous system, conditioned to such intense stimuli, becomes uncomfortable in the presence of the slow, the quiet, and the natural. As Lao-tau said, “Colors blind the eyes, sounds deafen the ears, flavors spoil the palate.”

All the more enticing the simulated world is when the real world is increasingly barren and controlled, a realm of fences, safety, and rules. Absent the freedom to roam, what alternative is there to the on-line adventure? Over-protected from the opportunities to make painful mistakes, what choice do children have but to press the “replay” button again and again, losing their virtual “lives,” sustaining painless “damage,” and recording inconsequential accomplishments?

And yet there I was, taking them to the movies. I have tried to limit my children’s exposure to electronic media to little avail. It was possible when they were young, but now my teenagers spend most of their free time on screens. I’m not even sure if I was right to limit them. Perhaps their brains are making evolutionary adaptations to electronics that lead somewhere beautiful. After all, my eldest uses computers to compose music and make films.

Yet I am disturbed by the decline of the outdoor world of imaginative child’s play. Nothing will convince me that hours in front of the screen are an appropriate substitute for that. But sometimes I grow tired of resisting it. Maybe something is happening that I do not understand. It might be significant that 3-D is also a synonym in certain New Age discourses for the Newtonian world of linear force-based causality. Perhaps virtual 3-D is conditioning us to see material 3-D reality as a kind of illusion as well, whose laws are constructs springing from a deeper intentionality and intelligence. I am reluctant to glorify technology like this or to cast it into the role of savior that it has occupied in the imperial imaginations for three centuries now. Yet, on the other hand, I will not exclude any expression of our unique human gifts, including technology, from its role in the metamorphosis of our planet.

If 3-D simulations are meant to be some kind of conditioning to the idea that reality too is a construct atop something deeper, at least let us not infer that what happens in the world is like what happens on a screen, its consequences limited to the confines of the theater or game console, and that, therefore, humanity’s destiny is to transcend the “third dimension” and enter, as that New Age discourse puts it, the fifth. If we are in a dimensional transition (and I believe the metaphor is fruitful) then it won’t be an escape from materiality, but a plunge deeper into it. The fifth dimension is not outside the third; it is within it.
Significantly, 3-D films simulate only certain aspects of reality – vision and sound – but not the kinesthetic, not the kinetic.

They leave out the impact of a force upon a mass, the visceral and the embodied. In parallel fashion, our civilization neglects its impacts, hiding the damage to the body of Gaia behind wall after wall of ideological and physical insulation. Even when we are shown images of bleached coral and stripmined mountains, they are after all but images, confined just as films are within the boundaries of a screen. But for the stories we tell about them, they do not hurt – not any more than we allow them, in our climate controlled environments where a less disturbing scene is a mouse-click away. Such is the illusion of control that we have assumed in the phantasmagoria we mistake for reality.

Of course, such an illusion cannot persist forever. We are embodied beings bound to the Gaian body, and when we accelerate to crash velocity no amount of virtual obfuscation can prevent a collision.

Where the conditioning of virtual reality might be useful, though, is if it encourages us to doubt the artificial reality that we live in, to question what is given to us as “normal,” and to see the constructs that bind us – the rituals of money, law, medicine, dominance, and so on – as mere agreements, mere stories that bear no more permanence, no more solidity, than the pixels on a screen – however three-dimensional they may seem. Much of what we take as real can, like a video game, be reset. Much of what we take for the rules of life can be reprogrammed. A deeper reality is revealed in its two aspects: the kinetic world of the physical, the living, and the sensuous, and the immanent intelligence of that physicality that orients events toward an emergent purpose. The first is revealed through impact: the bumping up against reality. The second is revealed as synchronicity: the meaningful coincidences that beckon to us when the veil of normal routines and beliefs is torn aside.

Such is the nature of the transition before us: not only a transcendence to the fifth dimension, but a homecoming back to the third.

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