As more and more of our lives are increasingly being led online, our collective definition of reality keeps changing and shifting based on the amount of technology we come in contact with. This idea really comes into focus when discussing the idea of social media and exactly where reality begins and the simulation ends. Social networks such as Facebook and even Twitter can be interpreted as loose versions of our own reality and when you combine these avatars with the real world, the reality / simulation line becomes even blurrier. As technology and virtual networks progress, even more of our reality becomes a part of this simulation, and sometimes being able to decipher one from the other is an entire task unto itself, which brings about an entirely new set of questions about ourselves that might not even have answers
One aspect of this concept can be delved into right on your very own Facebook wall or even Twitter feed. Besides actually meeting these people in real life, how can anyone say for sure that they’re interacting with the actual person assumed to be in the profile? Anonymity was always a massive part of Internet culture and as time went on, a real visceral human element started to emerge. You would interact with people online, maybe make somewhat of a connection through small talk or media exchanges, and then eventually meet up with them in real life to see how much of your virtual interaction really pans out, but what if you never actually meet them? How would you know that person is who they say they are? A cultural element that grew out of the web’s omniscient anonymity was anyone can become anyone else. You could literally study someone’s wall posts, right click and save all their pictures, maybe discern some sort of realistic location / vocation, and voila, you’ve become someone else; and the better you are at losing yourself translates into becoming a more realistic someone else. The entire plot of the “documentary” Catfish was about this very issue, and depending who you talk you with varying levels of believability, but the idea behind this concept is completely realistic, and keeps becoming easier to pull off.
A few weeks ago we reported on the 14-year experimental music prodigy Glass Popcorn and his meteoric rise to prominence literally from his suburban bedroom. In an article Ryder Ripps wrote about his meeting and early interactions with Glass Popcorn for Dis Magazine, he discusses the aspect of people thinking that Ryder is actually Glass Popcorn, which really isn’t that far fetched of an idea. You have this almost tween who’s aesthetic and creative output is light years ahead of his peers, which definitely would make someone question the idea much more so then if he was randomly pedestrian at his music / vantage points as a suburban teen might be. If you take a look at his Facebook wall, his music, and how he interacts it seems completely normal and not out of the ordinary, but while perusing it there was definitely that concept in the back of my head; this quasi-tween is making music that might incorporate a bastardization of 20 micro-genres in a matter of 3 minutes, and it makes you think, could this possibly be someone’s extremely elaborate and persuasive senior MFA thesis? One aspect that made me ponder this idea more then normal was Ryder Ripps’ association with art world phenom Ryan Trecartin.
Trecartin’s creative output and cultural allusions incorporate some the best discussions about identity in the new-web era of virtual worlds and simulations. A major thematic aspect of his seminal 2007 film I-Be Area is the idea of online avatars and the blurring between our real selves, our imagined selves, and the final product of these two worlds merging. It’s definitely one of the best summations of what it feels like to be stuck between these 2 polar opposite ideas that actually end up merging into an entirely new world that only somewhat resembles the sum of its parts. I think this minor connection between Ripps and Trecartn was what really made me question of the concept of what or who is Glass Popcorn?
That’s really where this discussion becomes so confusing; its cultural and conceptual territory that we’re navigating literally as it evolves. I don’t think people before the internet existed could have prepared for the idea that there’s going to be a place where anyone can become anything. That’s another reason so much experimentation within the definition of identity taken place on the Internet, and especially within the confines of the web 2.0 culture of ingest everything so quickly you never have time or a want to ask questions.
These simulations are also permeating other aspects of our reality. In 2007 Yamaha and Sega teamed up to launch the first Japanese virtual pop star Hatsune Miku. Her voice is a combination of synthesizer software and Japanese voice actress Saki Fujita, but her likeness within reality is entirely a hologram. When she performs “concerts” she is literally made up of millions of light particles projected onto the stage with a backing band of actual humans behind her. As far as technology in Japan goes this concept isn’t really that surprising, but the popularity of her persona and character is absolutely spellbinding. She’s had number one albums in Japan and has performed to sold out crowds around the world; but remember, “she” is computer software rendered through algorithms. Obviously we can “see” her because of the way our retina processes light, but there really isn’t anything to see; she’s literally a hologram. This is just another aspect of simulations seamlessly becoming part of our reality and further blurring the line until the two are nearly indistinguishable from each other.
These concepts are even becoming pervasive on television. In the last decade the rise of reality shows have definitely created a new echelon of a reality gray area that had never really existed before. From producers staging faux-events under the guise of actually happening, or seeing a romance organically unfolding before our very eyes, our perception of reality on these shows to say the least is extremely skewed; but what about if one of the characters on these shows actually pulled a double-ruse on the producers within the contrived reality of the show?
That’s exactly what happened on the perplexing 2010 VH1 reality show Frank the Entertainer in a Basement Affair. It was another camp-induced raunchy sleazefest where 20 different archetypes try to win over Frank in the awesome environment of his parent’s basement, hence the title of the show. The formulaic aspects aside what was really interesting about it was the “character” of Ann Hirsch. Hirsch is a NYC based artist who successfully went on the show as a form of performance art, and she repeatedly stunned the other caricatures with her subtle but nuanced attempts at winning Frank’s heart. What’s so interesting about this idea is the multiple levels of reality existing within this scenario. While the producers are perpetually carving out their own version of Frank’s televised saunter, Hirsch was actually devising her own spin on how to alter the reality within the unreality of the show. It’s a concept that’s so theoretically complex and meta you would really need a flowchart or venn diagram to fully grasp it.
That’s why the world of the internet, reality shows, entertainment, and how we perceive our own reality within these concepts has become so hard to decipher. When all of these worlds meld together, and we’re at the center of their rapidly evolving nature, how do we prepare or ascertain our own perceptions if the reality itself is in a constant state of flux? The only thing we can really do is try to determine some sort of vantage point and to keep in mind that our perception will probably become as blurry as these new constantly shifting simulations.