Whose Reality is it, Anyway?

Life really has become The Truman Show.

The idea of someone scripting your entire life as a spectacle being followed by millions, billions around the planet is a little grandiose and maybe narcissistic. Maybe even reason for paranoia.

But the ending, in which we see beyond the studio walls — like the ending of The Muppet Movie, where the stage and theater give way and roof lifts off — gives a brilliant perspective on what it feels like, after we suddenly realize how constricted our lives may be.

There are probably other examples where, like the Wizard taking off in his helium balloon to head off beyond Oz, we can suddenly imagine being lifted beyond limits we’ve always assumed exist in this finite world, and that those hard-and-fast definitions have been figments of our imagination. The infinity beyond is the vast dimension we've ignore.

Perhaps those heavy frames that our minds impose aren't entirely figments of our imaginations. Limits have been imposed upon us by societal norms. And yes, by ever-expanding technological ones.

Every time I use the phone and am greeted by a recording that tells me to "listen carefully, as our menu options have changed ... or anytime my own phone rings and my eyes dart to check Caller ID as I begin screening the call, I know that I've been programmed. Anytime I instantly click "agree" to the advisory that appears on my screen about "cookies" being collected by my visit, I know I'm being molded to conform to the expectations of lawyers and programmers.

To wit, I've been dehumanized.

Forgot your password again? Move through 150 steps to update it, with at least eight characters -- capitals, small letters, numerals and signs, and not one you've used in the past 18 months. And anything you might search for will be duly noted and an offer made to sell it to you -- even if it's merely a concept, nothing more.


A particular frustration I’ve always had with Disney and much of the other programming aimed at children is that it’s been infused with the message, “Let your imagination soar!” Yet because it’s a key part of mass-marketing aimed at a passive audience, the "soar" message inherently encourages young people to stay in your seat. Keep your seat belt fastened and satisfy yourself as a consumer of creative expression rather than as a gifted creator.

In that way, it’s not much different from the creative media we consume so constantly that we’re largely unaware of its insidious power.

As the graphic artist Barry Moser told me years ago as I was writing a series articles about creativity, even though media convey a “be yourself” message, they simultaneously set slick standards in the minds of their increasingly passive audience.

Playwright Jean-Claude van Itallie, interviewed for the same series, expressed that the voice of the established norms makes it increasingly difficult to feel the possibilities of your own creative ideas.
“Because of the internet and everything else that’s fulfilling Marshall McLuhan’s predictions about the world when he asserted that ‘the medium is the message,’ everything is bigger, so it’s harder for a person or group of people to be anti-establishment in their artistry.”

Part of the reason I find meditation so empowering is that it allows us to envision or place in our infinite surroundings in the moment, and also beyond the moment. The definitions imposed by society, the media and ourselves all disappear, and we are left with an utter redefinition of everything.

I’m reminded of the era in which studying in university meant opening oneself up to the liberal arts and the limitless world it allowed, before the era when students were pressured to choose a practical and specific life’s path and begin plotting exactly which courses were required to maximize each moment of their “educational career” as though it actually were a career.

It’s only by exploring the questions beyond the assumptions, and the assumptions beyond the questions, that we begin to deconstruct the premises on which we build our lives.

We live in an era when those premises are in the form of algorithms designed pigeonhole us for so-called artificial intelligence to convince us that our needs are being met.

The automated responses to which our every impulse is met serves to corral us further in an expectation that we’re in control and that our desires are being met. Instead, we’re constantly being conditioned in what to expect. And it’s really to meet the needs of corporate IT and marketing departments.

If this blog had any commercial value or motivation, you could expect that as soon as you finished reading it you’d receive a message in your inbox asking for your reaction. Or you’d be immediately sent a request to hit “Like,” so that your profile could be pigeonholed and sold to some high bidders who’d be tracking your every movement on the Internet.

With your "like," your click, your every move, You've become a mere data point.

So how do we get out of this box? How do we assert who we truly are, or more fundamentally, figure out who we truly are, rather than allow ourselves to continue riding on the conveyor belt toward oblivion.

The time to hop off is now.

Step outside for a silent walk.

Have a genuine conversation with an actual human. Listen deeply.

Go to a silent place, close your eyes, listen to the silence, feel your breath, your pulse until you’re meditating.

Sit down to a blank page and begin writing whatever comes to you.

Turn off every device around you and turn on your self.

Begin ad libbing a dictation into a recorder: how do you feel at this moment? What bothers you? What delights you?

From the moment we began watching a television program because “that’s what’s on,” from the day we had someone’s radio voice in the background sending us subliminal messages,” from the instant that we began reading an online article as an enticing advertisement gently teased our peripheral vision, we began yielding our true selves and becoming subservient to an imposed reality so that a robot can take over our space in the universe.

It’s time for the ceiling and roof to give way to the open sky. For fake walls and cyberwalls to disappear. For virtual reality to give way to true reality. If we still remember what that was.

It’s time to close this blog, to turn off the computer, to close your eyes and truly imagine, for your self.


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Check out my books, Inner Landscapes and Good Will & Ice Cream