Up until relatively recently in history, most people could agree on what constituted a common sense objective reality. Subjective reality was something else, and certainly each individual permitted to a degree the projection of the sensations and perceptions of his subjective reality to spill over into the mutually accepted objective reality of the people around him. Subjective reality was filled with the flowing blendable continual stimuli of emotions, which, in turn, influenced the way the world was sensed and perceived. Certainly objective reality also had plenty of flowing blendable continual stimuli in the form of the blurry melting sensations from nature (so beautifully captured by the French Impressionists), but there were also a lot more defined discrete stimuli that gave the world the firm outlines and boundaries needed to operate within its spaces, and, in particular, needed by individuals to operate in such a way as to maintain the maximum functionality while working with all the other different people living within the world’s confines.
Since the advent of modern technology, several new kinds of reality have been created, and, as a result, the very way we look at the whole notion of reality in general has changed. I am thinking here of screen reality, with its sub-categories of movies, television, video games, computers, tablets and smartphones, as well as augmented reality and virtual reality. Screen reality refers to those versions of reality that have been developed by modern technology to be presented on flat two-dimensional surfaces. In some manifestations of screen reality, three-dimensional external world reality is compressed onto two-dimensional surfaces. This is the result of ethereal vacuum stimuli, which are used in screen reality to replace all the space-occupying substance and mass that are found in phenomena in external world objective reality. This vacuumizing of phenomena gives them almost a ghost-like quality that makes our experience of them very different from the way we experience phenomena in the everyday objective world in which we live and operate. For one thing, there is just not the same organic bonding with vacuumized phenomena in an electronic picture. But, in particular, there is this other-worldly quality that comes from an electronic picture. Like a person could never really cross paths with a screen reality phenomenon. So screen reality creates a subtle reconfiguration of the way he experiences the world in his field of experience. Screen reality blurs with external world reality and a generalized detachment of the user occurs as a result of the sensation of flattening and isolating of the world from all the vacuum stimuli that spill out of the screen reality into the external world reality.
The sense of flattening gets lost in virtual reality but not the sense of isolation. One is still using seeing as the primary sense of encounter within commercial applications of virtual reality today. There is still no touching, grasping or holding within these applications of virtual reality, even though phenomena seem more real than they do in screen reality. But even when researchers discover how to make touch a part of the virtual reality package, it won’t be the same as natural touch, because it will be based on defined discrete digital stimuli rather than flowing blendable continual organic stimuli. It won’t feel the same. It won’t be bonding to something with substance and mass. And because one is surrounded by a vacuumized field of experience in virtual reality, one doesn’t have an objective external world reality around the edges of its boundaries to act as a comparison, as with screen reality, and to give a person a substantive organic anchor in that way.
Augmented reality is a reality that combines elements of external world reality and screen reality. Screen reality sounds, graphics and data are superimposed on top of the direct experience of the external world. The screen reality aspect is meant to increase one’s understanding and appreciation of the naked external world. It is as if modern humans are incapable of imparting sufficient meaning themselves to the experience of the external world.
So here we have all these new kinds of reality to add to objective external world reality and subjective reality. And it is interesting to see how these different kinds of old and new reality can be mixed together in different ways. And this is likely to happen because all of these realities except objective external world reality are not common sense realities. They are not sensorily grounded realities. So now we get ungrounded not only through our emotions and intimate sensations in subjective reality, but in our very perceptions of the external world in screen, augmented and virtual realities. And I would submit that not only do ungrounded emotions and intimate sensations influence the way we experience our perceptions, but also perceptions that are ungrounded by modern technological realities can, in turn, unground our internal thought processes that are based on our connection to our objective external world reality. The sensory distortion that these modern realities create because of the way that they vacuumize our fields of experience makes us not only ungrounded, but unbalanced, less rational, a little crazier.
Along comes Donald Trump, who is a master of dealing with modern realities. He had his own reality show – The Apprentice – which was really a blurring of Trump’s subjective reality, objective external world reality and screen reality. In other words, it was a Trump reality that played with people’s minds. And nowadays, there are Trump’s tweets which combine his subjective reality with the screen reality of a twitter account. And somehow Trump feels (and many of his followers feel) that his internal subjective reality is given a greater gravity, a greater grounding as a result of its fusion with the externalized screen reality of Twitter. To the point where the externalized screen reality of Twitter is imparted with the gravity, the grounding of an objective external world reality. What Trump says is supposedly fact even when it is pure lies or fantasy. In other words, the screen reality of Twitter acts as a bridge by which Trump’s subjective reality becomes an objective external world reality.
And people today, with their extensive experience with different screen realities and with their developing experience with both augmented reality and particularly virtual reality are very open to blurring the boundaries between different realms of reality. They are increasingly predisposed to becoming ungrounded from objective external world reality and bouncing around many different realms of technological reality. And they are increasingly open to a man like Trump who imposes his subjective reality on other people’s objective external world reality through the bridge of different modes of technological reality. Trump has become a model for how an authoritarian regime can be established in a democratic country. Perhaps the novel 1984 was just a few decades off in what it depicted. Unless the American people can find ways to resist the reality-bending visions that he creates.
© 2017 Laurence Mesirow