Digital Content & Reality: Living Vicariously vs. Living

With digital experiences getting so rich and engaging, are we settling for less than we should in life?

The Lines are Blurring

We consume lots of digital content. Its increasing richness drives our thirst for it and vice versa. As content gets better, it engages us more, which drives us to keep improving it. It’s a virtuous or vicious circle, depending whom you ask…

Virtual reality is virtual

One factor is the content itself. We’re getting better at telling stories, creating worlds with which people can emotionally connect. The other factor is how the content is delivered. Big-screen ambi-light televisions, IMAX cinemas, mixed (virtual & augmented) reality, and brain stimulation all deliver this great content with ever-higher fidelity, closer to reality than ever.

The point is that we, as a society, have become increasingly satisfied to experience things vicariously through digital content. Video games, movies, & TV shows let us be race car drivers, superheroes, soldiers, supermodels, lovers, or athletes.

So, What is Real?

Digital content gets richer and more engaging every day, but in most ways, it remains a representation of external reality. Playing Call of Duty is not fighting in a war, and watching Midnight in Paris is not visiting France and falling in love.

However, vicarious reality can be helpful. We can learn things we wouldn’t otherwise learn by being exposed to situations and cultures to which we otherwise wouldn’t be exposed. For example, people who are physically or financially unable to travel the world can do so from their living rooms with National Geographic.

Where Does it Go Wrong?

High-quality simulations make it easy for us to settle for them, rather than going for the real thing.

People who might want to travel the world might be content with experience it through digital content. People who might want to lead more interesting lives might be seduced by the safety and ease of digital content to experience their dream lives through a screen, rather than doing it for real.

Just to Be Clear

Please understand, this is not to say that digital content is evil, nor it is to say that making it more engaging is a bad thing. What is “bad” or “good” is how we use it and how we allow it to affect our lives.

The relationship I see between digital content and external reality comes from my own worldview, which comes from my own experiences and relationship to technology. Children growing up now, for example, have a completely different relationship to technology and digital content than I do. People growing up in developing economies like Africa or India also differ in those relationships.

So, What Are You Gonna Do About It?

Touching History in Jerusalem

I am a total fiction junkie in that I love books, TV shows, movies, video games, online articles, and anything else that let me live vicariously. Digital content has affected my life by me allowing it to make me complacent and lazy.

No more! I want to live!

I will spend less time watching TV shows online and more time traveling on weekends. I will spend less time watching people in movies and start acting again. Instead of experiencing beauty and art at home alone, behind a computer, I will go experience it outside with friends.

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

I want to learn crafts and languages, play with children, meet new people, make new friends, and fall in love. I want to explore new places, fly, sail, dive, swim, and run. I want to create, build, destroy, and rebuild. Sometimes, I’ll catch a movie, watch my favorite TV shows, and play silly games on my mobile phone…

That’s just for myself though; what is your relationship digital content, and how do you want it to be in your life?

 

* Updated 13 November 2017 with special thanks to my wife, Hester Bruikman-Pagán

2 Comments

  1. Damir said:

    Man I really connected with this article and know where you’re coming from. Technology is meant to empower and enrich our lives, but the further we go the more it feels like its the opposite. We (as humans) are enriching and empowering the computers.

    BTW I write this post whilst sailing on a boat passing the Sydney Opera House.

    31 July 2012
    • Brian said:

      Thank you! Enjoy that boat trip; I am officially jealous 🙂

      31 July 2012

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