Friday, October 14, 2016

Becoming A Ghost Of Oneself Through Technology

            One of the newest technological rages today is Pokemon-Go.  Young people use the GPS on their smartphones to go out into the external world to find virtual creatures called Pokemon that they capture, train and then send to battle the Pokemon of other trainers.  It would appear that it is the modern world’s answer to an exciting adventure in a living environment that is making life increasingly routinized for the vast majority of people.   Routine from pre-kindergarten to college and graduate school is primarily what gets people good jobs.  Yes, it is nice for a student to have an unusual hobby or a year abroad in college, as long as the hobby and the time abroad don’t represent too significant a chunk of the student’s time, energy, or state of mind.

            A Pokemon represents adventure without risk.  The trainer himself is not in battle nor is an animal he cherishes.  Rather, it is a virtual entity that exists but doesn’t really exist.  There is no possible organic perishability if something happens that the Pokemon loses in battle.  There is no organic perishability, and, by the same token, there are no organic imprints made and preserved on the surfaces of the person’s field of experience in the external world.  The whole narrative of the Pokemon adventure is a ghostly vacuumized adventure that numbs the person as he participates, because he is immersed in virtual reality.  This is different from a true adventure in external world reality, which causes a person to feel vibrantly alive and leads to meaningful organic imprints which can be preserved in the memories of the people that surround the adventurer or even sometimes in artifacts like documents and books.

            To the extent that a person gets pulled into a vacuumized adventure with Pokemon, to that extent the person gradually and subtly becomes vacuumized himself.  There is already another technology-generated situation where a person becomes a vacuumized entity.  This is when a person translates himself into an avatar for purposes of getting involved with computer games or Internet forums.  The avatar is the computer user’s virtual representation for purposes of his participation in different cyber-processes.  But as the computer user uses his avatar, he subtly becomes influence by it as he would by any complex behavioral entity.  The avatar mirrors him and becomes a model for him, and slowly but surely the person becomes avatarized.   He becomes vacuumized, which means he becomes very susceptible to the influence of entropic disintegration, which, in turn, is a natural force that exists in a vacuum.

            Even though the user is operating openly without an avatar when he plays Pokemon-Go, an avatar-like presence becomes more and more implicit in his persona, as he starts getting more and more involved with the capturing and training of Pokemon and with the battles that come afterwards.

            So here is another symbolic model of technological transformation that is somewhat distinct from that of robotic transformation.  Experientially, a robot is an overly defined figure made of hard unyielding metal or synthetic materials that definitely has a strong critical mass in external world reality.  As a machine, a robot is incapable of bonding with other robots or with humans, for that matter.  It behaves by following a series of defined discrete processes, but these processes are not directed by a coherent sense of self or a coherent consciousness.  A robot does not make, receive, or preserve organic imprints that are recorded as meaningful impresses on the external world in such a way that they become a part of other people’s memories.  It does however leave discrete marks on the world, marks that are not recorded in memories as purposeful preserved imprints, because they are not the products of coherent senses of self or coherent consciousnesses.  The only possible exception here is the meaningful impress of a robot or a machine winning a sophisticated game like chess against a human.  And here, the robot does not receive an imprint of winning the game as something to be happy about.  It is more like the victory of the robot or machine winning is something that disrupts the flow of meaningful imprints among humans.

            Now an avatar is also a defined discrete figure, but one that not only lacks grounding, but also substance and mass as well.  An avatar is a vacuumized figure that exists in screen reality and virtual reality but has no existence in the external world reality in which humans normally inhabit.  To the extent that a human becomes avatarized, he psychologically begins to lose his connection to external world reality.  It is as if he starts to die to external world reality.

            Becoming avatarized does not require actually using an avatar in screen reality on the computer or in virtual reality.  One can become psychologically a vacuumized figure, by simply dwelling in screen reality or virtual reality for too much of one’s waking time.

            So how does avatarization manifest itself in human behavior.  In general, it means being pulled more and more into a vacuum state psychologically and being subject to the entropic forces that are an essential part of any vacuum.  In the physical world, entropy means the random distribution of atoms in a vacuum.  In the mental world, entropy means the disintegration of one’s sense of self.  It means crumbling apart into nothingness.  There are many different ways that this entropy-influenced behavior displays itself.  It is not uncommon today for a worker in a wage-based job to suddenly not come into his job and to disappear.  Actually, people disappear from many different situations today.  Two people have been dating for a while, and suddenly one of them disappears from the relationship.  Or one day, a husband or wife, father or mother leaves the house and doesn’t come home.  In spite of family responsibilities, the person simply vanishes.  Some entropy-influenced behavior can result in the people around the agent of the behavior being affected more directly by the entropy as well.  The victims of the modern mass murderers. These murderers commit their crimes out of their numbness and usually die at the hands of police or soldiers, assuming that they don’t die from suicide bombs.

            People try to control their numbness, their disappearing into nothingness, by smoking pot and doing yoga and meditation.  All these are activities that cause a temporary but controlled diminishing of one’s sense of self.  By doing this, people are basically using a means to control the rate of crumbling from entropy, when one feels oneself blurring into the images of screen reality and increasingly now virtual reality and becoming what would now be described as an avatar.

            In general, to develop the lightness of being that comes with becoming an avatar leads to floating away from connection to situations through commitments.  It is as if a person literally loses touch with the world, as he becomes vacuumized and numb.  The person loses his sense of substance, of mass, of gravity.  This isn’t something that happens all at once.  But the situations I described are indicators of the changes that are taking place as a result of gradual human identification with a mass-less, substance-less entity.  This is why interacting so much with Pokemon is such a stealthily dangerous enterprise.  We gradually become avatar-like in order to truly enter the world of Pokemon and to take them seriously.  And this is so relatively easy, because the boundaries between virtual reality and external world reality are so totally blurred in dealing with Pokemon.  In developing an avatar mentality, we practically slide into virtual reality from our external world reality.  And then we become like the entities that we use and manipulate.  And, in the process, we lose some of our humanity.

© 2016 Laurence Mesirow 

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