J.R. Saul suggests, “A civilization unable to differentiate between illusion & reality is usually believed to be at the tail end of its existence.” A civilization is the sum of its parts; the parts in this case being human beings and the societal constructs they create. We, therefore, could suggest that a person unable to differentiate between illusion and reality is in similar peril of disintegration.
T.S. Eliot made the famous quote, “Humankind cannot handle too much reality.” As a result, we invite distraction and lose ourselves in these distractions. We have become a culture of distraction and diversion. Blaise Pascal puts it succinctly,
The only good thing for men (and women) therefore is to be diverted from thinking of what they are, either by some occupation which takes their mind off it, or by some novel and agreeable passion which keeps them busy, like gambling, hunting, some absorbing show, in short by what is called diversion.
Reality is trumped by the “absorbing show.” In the past, this show was left to the professionals; however, the new star of the show is YOU! There is no show more absorbing than the personal one we create and modern technology makes this possible. Everyone can be a “star” on You tube. Facebook and other social media sites allow you to be anyone you wish to project. On Twitter, you are your own paparazzi. We’ve all become stars and self-promoters. The growing challenge in our technological culture is the blurring taking place between this star illusion and reality. This blurring is not without personal consequence and may even lead to self-destruction. In fact some suggest our e-personality is already fostering an increasing discrepancy with our real life persona. In worse case scenarios, some are opting for virtual life over real life (check out Virtually You by Elias Aboujaoude). And why is this the case? We enjoy our illusion over reality because it is our social construction in which we are front and center. We derive our personal sense of worth and significance from these illusions. In fact, we are coming to believe that our illusion is reality.
Word of caution: The extension of the human persona is finite and cannot be extended indefinitely. Is it possible the stretching of a person beyond physical limitations such as proximity and face to face interaction is fostering an unhealthy sense of self? or more specifically, contributing to self-absorption and societal disintegration? The elevation of the “I” above the “other” has terrible consequences both in the life of an individual and the community of which he or she is apart. The elevation of the “I” over and above “the other” inevitably leads to a dystopia…or social misery for all involved.
The answer: There are no easy answers, although awareness is a good first step. Technology is not a passive medium. Our personal devices are as much teachers as tools. Our technologies impose values and new ways of doing life on its user. They re-enforce habits and ethical behavior. Technological advance is here to stay. The parameters of human personhood will continue to be stretched into the future for good and for bad. Unfortunately, this over extension of personhood may further contribute to the deprivation of the soul amongst its users. We are being shaped by the very tools we employ for better and for worse. And most importantly, the heart (the human’s core) is easily misguided and seduced for “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)