Marc van Meel

Marc van Meel

Hi I’m Marc!

I speak and write about the intersections of technology, society and philosophy.

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Why We Need More Smartphones At Concerts

Cameras in Paris

As the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve 2023, thousands of individuals excitingly filmed the breathtaking fireworks in Paris using their smartphones. The Champs Elysées became engulfed in a sea of screens. While undoubtedly a spectacular moment, it also sparked numerous online discussions. Many argued[1][2] that filming distracts and takes away from fully living in the moment. Similar to criticisms of phone usage during concerts, and the habit of taking a photo of food before indulging (camera eats first). Today, some are even advocating for a Digital Detox, proposing designated periods when individuals should refrain from using digital devices altogether.

However, are we genuinely trapped within a cage of screens?

I posit the contrary. Those who criticize others as being slaves to their smartphones, fail to recognize the existing virtual aspects of our reality. The more perspectives captured through various lenses, the richer reality becomes. Let’s explore together, why we need a Digital Overdose instead.

Pics or It Didn’t Happen

Reality is Already Virtual

Undoubtedly, digital devices have gotten smaller, occupying less space in the external world, yet exerting a growing influence on our internal worlds. Some say we are valuating the digital world more than the real one. What we might not realize is that that numerous aspects of our reality are already virtual. To understand this better, let’s look at two examples from philosopher Slavoj Žižek.

First, we already abstract from others when we interact with them. We focus on the parts of others we like and ignore the things that are awkward or uncomfortable, like the fact that people emit odors or have biological needs. We create an idealized version of the other and act as if certain things about them don’t exist. So, we’re not really dealing with the ‘real’ other; we interact with a virtualized image of the other. Paradoxically, this virtual image holds a heightened sense of reality compared to the tangible other, as this image shapes and structures our interactions. For more on this topic, you can also check out my blog about why your virtual self is the most real.

Next, let’s take the concept of authority. For authority to have a real impact, it needs to be virtual. When a leader or person in power loses their cool, their authority crumbles in the process. The potency of authority hinges on it not being actualized, making it a virtual force. Similarly, many of our beliefs are virtual. For instance, the belief in Santa Claus – hardly anyone truly believes in Santa, yet parents keep up the belief for their kids, who in turn play along to get the presents. Many of our beliefs can be attributed to others, but not sincerely held by anyone. Take religious practices, for example. Conversely, taking a belief too seriously, making it too concrete, is self-destructive for the belief. People who take their religious or political views too seriously, like extremists, do their ideologies more harm than good..

Interestingly, the most real things are those we cannot easily explain, like parallel universes or quantum physics. That’s why we resort to metaphors, like folding a paper and sticking a pen through it, to help grasp these concepts.

What will you do?

Pokémon Are Real

Pokémon Go is an allegory for how we interact with the world. In the game, Pokémon materialize on your phone screen through a camera lens. It’s an augmented reality (AR) experience in which we interact with the world through a filter. This is like our everyday life, which is also influenced by filters we are not always consciously aware of. By unknown knowns. By personal ideas about the world which are shaped from lots of things, like how we were raised, our religion, job, and gender, making each of us see the world uniquely. Without an a priori belief system, we can’t make sense of what we experience. Immanuel Kant posited that nature is only accessible through culture. Thomas Kuhn added that because we all see reality differently, we kind of live in our own worlds. For more on this topic, you can also check out my blog about why culture precedes nature.

Think of our experience with reality as like playing Pokémon Go. Reality seems objective and neutral, but transforms as seen through a virtual frame. A frame that we each personally superimpose. This virtual framing, colored by our subjective interpretations and fantasies, enhances the authenticity of our experience, turning reality into a more vivid and tangible entity. It is through our subjective fantasies – the personalized lens through which we perceive the world – that reality gains substance. Hence, instead of reality creating fantasy, it is fantasy that breathes life into reality. The ultimate fantasy lies in the notion of a neutral reality that can be objectively determined, devoid of any influence from how we personally see things.

Those saying that using cameras disconnects us from reality are echoing Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. They think the real world is out there, and we’re somehow missing out on ‘the moment’. But here’s the thing: we’re never in touch with objective reality. The idea of absolute truth is itself the ultimate illusion.

Digital Overdose

Advocates for a ‘Digital Detox’ are overlooking that all our reality is virtual. Reality becomes more real because we see it through our own personal lens, whether it’s our eyes or our camera phones. This selectivity in our perception is crucial for shaping and enhancing our experiences.

When people criticize others of being ‘out of touch with reality’ or ‘NPC’s‘, they fail to see the parallels between their own ideological presuppositions shaping their judgment, and the camera which acts as a conduit to facilitate experiences. Be cautious when someone tells you to leave Plato’s Cave and embrace ‘real reality’ or ‘live in the moment’ – those ideas are strongly influenced by personal beliefs. Objectifying others and imposing our fantasies on them is counterproductive to achieving unity. Your political opponent isn’t necessarily foolish or malicious. He or she just literally sees the world differently from you.

Instead, let’s embrace different perspectives and fantasies. Learning from various viewpoints enhances our understanding of one another. At the same time, we need to investigate the manner through which our own subjective interpretation informs our experience of reality. Let’s find the commonalities in our fantasies. Less polarization and more mutual respect towards each other as fellow human beings.

I wish you a fantastic 2024, filled with delightful moments, and may you capture many delicious food photos!

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2 Responses

  1. This is the most bullshit article I read in years. The author seems so high to forget what’s virtual and what’s reality.

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