“Gridlife” was a vision, a real vision. Not a fiction, not a fairy tale, a glimpse of the future. Today, twenty years later, the apocalypse it foresaw is nearer. But, whatever you read in the newspapers, we still don’t have any alternative reality. It’s all games now: all lies and deceit. What happened to the truth? What happened to the dream? What happened to all that lovely hippie shit?
Pete Townshend, “English Boy (Reprise)”
“Psychoderelict” is an album by Pete Townshend (guitarist of The Who) that was released in 1993. There’s not much point in trying to explain all of it, because it’s pretty deep and I might have a nervous breakdown trying to explain it.
This quote is from the final song of the album, “English Boy (Reprise)” and the words are spoken by Ray High, the main character of the rock opera. I listened to the album in its entirety tonight, something that people don’t usually do now with that “shuffle” button being so accessible, and I realized at the end that what he said has changed.
We have alternate reality and it’s existed for quite some time. No, I’m not going to tell you about this machine that you put on your head that lets you live out entire lifetimes in it. You can’t put it on and fight ninjas and jump tall buildings.
But there is another reality that lets you do this. You can fall in love, become a superstar, live on a tropical island, get a new wife, solve a murder, visit any country in the world, enter a beauty pageant, escape from a car sinking in a lake, lick chocolate off a naked model’s body, and work for Donald Trump.
What do we define “alternate reality” as? Personally I see it as something that appears to be real, but really isn’t. And what is “reality television”? I rest my case.
In the title, I said that this “alternate reality” is “accessible”. And it’s true; anyone can go on “Fear Factor” or “Big Brother” or what have you. Of course, like the “alternate reality” most people think of, you have to be rich to afford it. In Hollywood, being rich can get you places, as does being pretty, smart, or entertaining. This “reality” isn’t entirely accessible to everyone, just like the headware gizmo. But eventually, it will be. As the contraption goes down in price, more and more people will become instant stars.
And the “reality” does end when the show is over. These people become mini-celebrities and enjoy the “reality” of California, going to parties and making friends. Friends that appear to be real, but leave when things go wrong.
I always figured that reality TV would be a fad, and it would stop at “Survivor” and “Big Brother” and eventually just be over with. But it doesn’t show any sign of stopping.
And how could we go back? How could we go back to “‘Three’s Company’ [being] filmed in front of a studio audience” with no participation from the audience? People will lose interest. You aren’t involving them anymore, so they won’t like it. The programming isn’t being geared towards them.
Whoa, “programming”? Sound familiar? Isn’t that what “Lifehouse” and the Grid was? We’re there. Television and reality TV is our Grid.
And as for being geared towards us? Ever heard of the PVR? Can’t watch “Lost” right now? Tape it and watch it tomorrow. Or catch it online. We’re there.
Don’t like what’s on the local radio station? Get satellite radio and choose from hundreds of other stations. We’re there.
Pete Townshend predicted full body suits that would feed these things to us, our music, or TV, our reality. We’re not quite there. Are we going that way? I don’t know, I hope not.
One thing that Pete got wrong was the censorship. Sure, it still exists, but the Internet is not the Grid. It’s not owned by a sad, blue-eyed man who wants to ban rock music. If he does, I’ll just get it from The Pirate Bay. No one controls the Internet and it’s quite hard to police.
That’s not to say we aren’t in danger from Jumbo. In this version of life, Jumbo could very well be a collective named Google. There are a lot of people out there who refuse to use Google because they think it’s getting too big. They could buy up a lot of the littler (or bigger) companies (ever heard of YouTube?) and gain a monopoly on the internet. I don’t quite know what constitutes a monopoly, but I’m pretty sure they have one on search. Might we one day be changing all our hotmail accounts to gmail, too?
As I’ve written about many times before, people are so often unnecessarily afraid of technology. When we hear about the Grid or SkyNet or whatever some big (albeit fake) corporation is making, we get scared. No no no, I don’t want computers controlling everything. They can make mistakes. And you never know when they will become sentient!
Is what we have now something to be afraid of? Should we be worried about Richard Hatch and Will Kirby and Kelly Clarkson living out fake realities? (And can you tell I don’t watch much current reality TV?) Should we be worried that some internet company has bought yet another internet company? Is there really an enemy here, or are we creating one?
I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s anything to worry about as long as we can keep it under control. Unfortunately, I think we’ve already started to let it get out of hand. And it’s hard. No one wants to be the one to tell Britney “you need help” and if she hears it, she won’t listen. That’s gotten out of hand.
And when there’s money at stake, people aren’t going to say “no” to being bought out by a multi-billion dollar corporation. Yes, our love of money has gotten out of hand.
But that doesn’t mean start over, abolish reality TV and the internet completely. Shutting it down for five years will not do any good, Elton. The internet itself is not the enemy. It is code. It is not sentient, and it will never become sentient until someone codes in a becomeSentient() function (and that would take quite awhile to debug, methinks).
Technology cannot do anything evil without humans to tell it to do so. We don’t need to fix the technology. If you think there’s something wrong with the internet, you need to fix the people.
I’ve reached this point so many times in my thinking. I never plan on ending up here, but I always do. I wonder if there’s somewhere further I’m supposed to go? I always get here and think that’s the end. Maybe not. I’ll need to ponder on this longer, but I start university tomorrow, and school is no place to think.