Your realities are being separated today. In social media, you have the option of being offered in the newsfeed over public news. What you read and what you write are on two different planes. You read what is being fed and you write about who you are. The focus has shifted from the public to you. You can now broadcast your own self. You can write your own opinion editorial, and also choose your readers. You can sing and also choose your preferred audience. There's nothing barring you from self-projection. In the mean time, the world has become a split version of the real and the sub/hyper real. Either you are part of a grand scheme of an entrapment to fame or you are lessened to be who you would not like to be. “Virtuality” is viral and “virtualism” is addictive.
Therefore, you sit in a room, texting the next person, your family or friend, instead of a real conversation in real time. Therefore, your “real” moment has become “sub-real” and instead of mentally clicking the magical moment that you share with the one sitting next to you, you click in your camera, save it to your virtual album and post it online. You can't help but brag about your real moment, which actually becomes a sub-real one the minute you look away from real life and post your life online. In the meantime, your daughter and son have become your virtual sub-buddies, your mentor your virtual sub-leader and your life has taken a nosedive into the “sub” and has rock-bottomed to a sub-life.
And while you hit the bottom, you realise that you need to float in an "imaginal" world and enhance it with virtuality. So, suddenly, a virtual dragon pops up from nowhere and becomes your play pal. A snowman dances on your office table and you remind yourself of Christmas. You watch episodes of the sci-fi “Black Mirror” and predict what follows next. Really, what is being screened tomorrow in the theatres of prediction? A hyper, a sub or a "Real" life?
A quick link to a Galaxy chocolate advertisement featuring the dead Audrey Hepburn proves the point of attempting to resort to the past in the absence of a quality present. Galaxy chocolate needed a classy image to use for its commercial, and used Audrey Hepburn, an iconic figure from the past. It recreated Audrey's face using computer graphics at an amazing close-up scale, turning into a photorealistic 100 percent CG human catering to the ultimate need of visual effects (VFX). A digital recovery of every micro-millimetre of her face was achieved, a body-double with a 20-inch waist and another with the closest facial resemblance with Audrey were shot in order to have the footage augmented with graphics. The face-double with the closest resemblance was scanned with Facial Action Coding System (FACS), while original Audrey's subtleties were carefully studied in order to bring it to the point of robotic perfection. What may come next is the use of posthumous rights while the world watches more dead Michael Jacksons coming alive through holograms. What may also come next is the extended use of cryonics for celebrity humans to be kept suspended in the no-man's land, till the final cure of their ailments is found and they are treated and revived to, yet again, live a sub-life.
In another scale, highly realistic videos of celebrities are being created from their past recordings. Lips are synced, audio files are transformed into realistic mouth shapes, then grafted onto and merged with the head of the same person from another video. As a result, last year we had Obama being synthesised and appearing to be saying one thing through four videos, through machines learning from his weekly addresses. Stanford University's Face2Face puppeteering videos of Bush, Putin and Trump by simply synthesising voices are smart enough to fool humans and even voice biometric security systems. These morphing techniques can erode our trust in a real life and real heroes.
On a simpler scale, while we indulge in viral audio, video clippings, and form our own virtual discussion panels, broadcast our own content, publish our own lines, offer our own products that exist or actually come with bare minimum promises of ever being produced, we are playing with our very own AR (Augmented Reality) dragons instead of pulling out our old snakes and ladder boards from under our beds…Life is leaving us behind.
And while we do this all, our data is being used in this robotic age as we, our habits, our moments, our lives are all being tracked, only to tempt us all with trades and trade-offs.
Maybe, virtuality needs to be tempered by human indifference to temptations of projection and broadcast; maybe life could be just life, instead of being subjected to a sub-level of living where we capture the moment and then lose the next one to virtuality, where we forget to optimise our waking hours and instead focus on digital archives and galleries.
Maybe, just maybe, for once a week, we could all schedule a break from the digital immersion and just read from pages of the newspapers, sing from our own chords, escape into our own family spaces to spend the next minute, the next hour with people we love to live Life, and not subject it to the possibility of living below or over it.
And…let's get real. So far we haven't been able to beat Death. A simple, distant virtual click cannot still save an aircraft from crashing, or suspend the aircraft up in the air instead of letting it fall to the ground, or postpone oblivion. So far, there hasn't been any God Pill, which allows aging to stop and death to take a U-turn. No longevity lab, no life extension company, no bio-tech breakthrough has been able to yet solve the death puzzle. Maybe the likes of Goldie Hawn and the tech billionaires like Sergey Brin (co-founder of Google) have not yet humanly aligned themselves with the mythical Tithonus, who lived with Eos, the goddess of Dawn and craved immortality, but finally begged for life to end. For Tithonus believed, “men that have the power to die” are happy and fortunate. He urged for a disconnect from immortality:
“Release me, and restore me to the ground;
Thou seest all things, thou wilt see my grave:
Thou wilt renew thy beauty morn by morn;
I earth in earth forget these empty courts,
And thee returning on thy silver wheels.”
(Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Tithonus)
Both Life and Death are precious. Obituaries are necessary. Grief is critical.
Let's all remember that we value victories as we compare them with losses.
Death eternalises Life. Therefore, let's all perfect our possible departures by living life by the right codes. Only then we leave legacies behind for generations to continue and base their lives on grounds of realism, instead of augmentation or hyper projection.
Let our lives and theirs be Real and not Hyper or Sub.
Rubana Huq is the managing director of Mohammadi Group.