Hyperreality – You are living in a strange, strange world.
“THIS WAS THE CRAZIEST THING WE HAVE EVER DONE LOL” is what you find written under one ominous Youtube video. Posted on 22 November 2018, it has garnered over 167 million views.
Let that sink in. Since it was put online, this single video has been watched more times than the number of people who watched the Apollo moon landing. Or any of the Super Bowls.
Granted, some of these views were made by people who watched it multiple times, but still. Millions of people have seen it.
In the video, a slightly chubby guy calling himself Mr. Beast fills up a pool with Orbeez. Three million Orbeez to be exact. That’s not all. He trashes the rest of his friend’s backyard with 97 million more of them.
Mr. Beast is one of the most popular “creators” on Youtube. He is followed by over a hundred million subscribers. That’s more than the entire population of Egypt. Or Turkey. Or Germany.
We are living in a hyperreality
In his book “Simulation and Simulacra”, French post-modernist philosopher Jean Baudrillard compares the current age to a desert. Only the last vestiges of actual reality persist here or there.
Rather, it’s as if the world were stuck in a simulation, with actual facts, logic, or reason being left out of it. We have gotten so out of whack with reality that there is no longer any reference point we can hold onto. Baudrillard calls this state of affairs a “hyperreality”.
“Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or substance. It is a generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.” — Jean Baudrillard
The real world has died, to be replaced by images, noise, and likes. Whereas in the old days, most people would spend their time outdoors, now they are stuck all day staring at a screen.
Think about it. What does your everyday life look like? What is your reality? Are you more likely to pass by a bunch of advertisement boards on the street, or go into the forest? Are you more likely to go out and talk to strangers, or do you rather spend your time watching “Love Island” on TV? Living? Or watching influencers on Youtube?
Media, or rather “media”, is all around us. It surrounds us, and penetrates us, and binds everything together. Sounds a bit like the description of the Force that Obi Wan Kenobi gave to Luke Skywalker back in the original “Star Wars”, doesn’t it?
The triumph of stupid shit
Mr. Beast is the epitome of this hyperreality. What he does is utterly pointless. It’s wasteful. And stupid.
Yet, it’s what people watch. This watching is what people do. Rather than playing or running, they sit, and watch. And then they talk about it. When they do actually get together, the topic of discussion is usually not the natural world, or stuff pertaining to it. Rather, it’s actors, movies, or the latest Mr. Beast Youtube video.
Your average person can recite the entire biography of Justin Bieber to the tiniest of details, or memorize the shoe size of Cristiano Ronaldo, but not be able to locate their neighboring country on a map, or actually have kicked a soccer ball around. The notion of what is important has shifted.
Even when people do decide to go back to reality, and actually work on themselves, this hyperreality influences their actions. How many times have you tried to do the latest superhero workout, or Bella Hadid’s super-butt routine?
This fake world has invaded our real world. In your day to day life, references to images or memes coming out of this hyperreality pervade what you do. In your daily life, at play, and at work.
During the Donald Trump impeachment hearing, US congressman Hakeem Jeffries ended his long speech by a quote coming not out of law or politics, but the rap world.
“And if you don’t know, now you know.” — Christopher Wallace, the Notorious B.I.G.
The fact that most people have no clue what he actually talked about, but do remember this little bit, is quite telling. Music, movies, or the internet, which are meant to be simulations, have become so pervasive that people can’t tell what is real and what isn’t. Fake has become “real”.
The emotional impact of all this on the soul
Perhaps Jean Baudrillard put it best when he summarized the current human condition:
“People no longer look at each other, but there are institutes for that. They no longer touch each other, but there is contactotherapy.” — Jean Baudrillard
Tinder, Instagram, Youtube. Life is now an experience that passes through numerous filters. No touching. Fast. Easy. Meaningless.
People don’t want to do. That’s too painful. They want to be entertained. If shit is boring, then they click to the next channel. Boring of course is defined here as something which doesn’t produce an instant hit of dopamine.
Yet, this type of a mindset is quite damaging in the long-term. It kills your soul. Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman observed that society has shifted from being comprised of producers, to one made up of consumers. This in his view is one of the principal signs of “post-modernity”.
In his book “Consuming Life”, he notes how this current post-modern life can lead to perpetual unhappiness.
“If the privilege of ‘never being bored’ is the measure of a successful life, of happiness and even of human decency, and if intense consumer activity is the prime, royal road to victory over boredom, then the lid has been taken off human desires; no amount of gratifying acquisitions and enticing sensations is likely ever to bring satisfaction.” — Zygmunt Bauman
His analysis on the shift from a society of producers to one of consumers gives clues to where the roots of this general depression lie. In this world you are defined less by what you do. Rather, it’s what you want that matters.
And here lies the problem.
This type of a shift has a huge impact on the moral values one holds. It’s the superficial things that count. Your face. How you make me feel. Right now. Fast. Easy. Stupid.
It’s everything the ancient sages warned us against.
The ultimate lessons here is that the pursuit of superficiality, materialism, and easy pleasure has real world consequences on your well-being. It makes you feel like shit.
Why is that?
Psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl noticed that finding meaning is what allowed people to survive through the most difficult of circumstances, including those of the concentration camps. This he posited as one of the ultimate drives of human existence.
And this is where post-modernity fails. People search for meaning, but there is no meaning in a pool full of Orbeez. It’s just stupid.
How do you derive meaning? One way is by doing and making things. Working hard for things gives you a sense of pride and satisfaction. In our current world, you rarely do that anymore.
Researchers have shown that even the simple act of assembling IKEA furniture can make you happier than just buying it off the rack. How do you think you feel when you don’t make anything yourself, but rather watch others do stuff on your screen?
Yup. That’s right. Not very good.
And this is the essence of why post-modernity is messing you up.
And if you didn’t know. Now you know.
An earlier version of this article was originally published on “Medium” here.