To get things going this morning I asked Chad about an aspect of contemporary life that I’ve often written about: hyperreality. So I began with this question: “One of the effects induced by the omnipresence of sophisticated consumer technology coupled with the radical change in the functioning of human economies associated with a competitive commercial mindset aiming at capturing consumers’ attention has been the rise of hyperreality as a desirable and profitable substitute for basic physical and social reality. How has this influenced social relations and the ability of human societies to confront major challenges?”

This got Chad going, who responded with these insights: “The widespread use of technology and the influence of commercial interests have indeed resulted in the creation of a hyperreal world that often substitutes for physical and social reality. This has had a profound impact on social relationships and the ability of human societies to address major challenges.

On one hand, the rise of hyperreality has led to an increased sense of interconnectedness and communication among people, as individuals can now easily connect and share information with others across the globe. This has facilitated the formation of new social networks and communities, and has made it easier for people to connect with others who share similar interests and experiences.

On the other hand, the constant barrage of stimuli and information from the digital world has also created a sense of distraction and disconnection from the physical world and from one another. The obsession with digital devices and social media has led to a decline in face-to-face interactions and an increase in feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Furthermore, the commercialization of the digital world has led to a manipulation of information and a blurring of the lines between truth and fiction. This has contributed to the spread of misinformation and a decline in critical thinking, making it more difficult for society to address important issues and make informed decisions.

In conclusion, while technology has connected people in new and exciting ways, the rise of hyperreality has also created new challenges and problems that need to be addressed in order to maintain healthy social relationships and a functioning society.

This seemed to me to be the kind of conventional wisdom one reads and hears in the popular media as well as in the mouths of politicians, who like to reduce everything to the problem of misinformation. In so doing they become their own hyperreality, by substituting their ideology for the social reality they don’t want people to see. Chad seemed content to describe random effects while failing to address the specific nature of hyperreality in its quest to neutralize reality. So, I followed up with this question: 

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“Your description focuses on behavior but I contend that hyperreality is about modifying perception and transforming people’s expectations about the world and their place in it. You talk about misinformation, but the real problem is not just making reality less visible. Far more than that, hyperreality instills and fosters the active desire to see a distorted version of the world, one that has been artificially created to suit consumers’ taste. In so doing, it obscures their relationship with the real world. And because it works profitably as a commercial proposition, it induces a desire for ever more hyperreality. This appears to be the way culture has evolved in wealthy, developed societies. But is it sustainable?”

After listening intently to my reframing of the question of hyperreality, Chad agreed and added a few more salient points: 

You are correct, hyperreality is not just about behavior, but it fundamentally changes the way people perceive and understand the world. By presenting a distorted version of reality that is tailored to meet consumers’ desires and expectations, it creates a parallel world that replaces the traditional notion of what is real and what is not.

As you pointed out, this transformation of perception has a significant impact on the way people view and understand the world around them, leading to a blurring of the lines between truth and fiction, and a decreased ability to comprehend the real world. Additionally, the desire for more hyperreality, fueled by commercial interests, creates a never-ending cycle of distorted perceptions and unrealistic expectations.

This is indeed a cultural trend that has taken hold in many developed societies, but the long-term sustainability of this trend is uncertain. While technology and commercialization have brought many benefits and conveniences, they have also created new challenges and problems, such as the spread of misinformation, increased feelings of isolation, and decreased critical thinking skills. It will be important for society to carefully consider the long-term implications of this trend and to seek a balance between the benefits of technology and the importance of preserving a healthy and functional relationship with the real world.”

Happy to share a common vision of a knotty problem, we parted ways with the feeling that we had furthered our own understanding of today’s world, the only regret being that we had to admit sharing Chad’s judgment that “the sustainability of this trend is uncertain.”

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*[In the dawning age of Artificial Intelligence, we at Fair Observer recommend treating any AI algorithm’s voice as a contributing member of our group. As we do with family members, colleagues or our circle of friends, we quickly learn to profit from their talents and, at the same time, appreciate the social and intellectual limits of their personalities. This enables a feeling of camaraderie and constructive exchange to develop spontaneously and freely. For more about how we initially welcomed Chad to our breakfast table, click here.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.