I was recently reading an introduction to the psychologist and linguist Jacques Lacan. Much of his work involved making sense of how we understand and conceptualise our reality into language. Essentially Lacan argues that
our internal world is made up of memories of objects from the physical world (called signifiers) on which we identify and base our labels of those objects on, using language. If we take a mundane object – Train, for example – our signifier will be a visual object from the past that lives in our imagined internal memory on which will base our signified label, or the word train on.
This enables us to correctly identify the differences in worldly objects and make sense of the world while also allowing us to express ourselves to others. I know this is an extremely basic explanation of Lacan’s life work but it gives a brief basis of what I want to discuss in the article; essentially how our minds are being warped by unrealistic expectations of objects and a world view which we cannot hope to replicate without technological existence.
Michael Wolf says that: “The digital world exists on metaphors of the actual world. These metaphors are Trojan horses by which the new digital enterprisers slip into reality” (GQ the future of books and publishing).
In essence what Michael is saying is that the digital world offers a new way of relating but is still based on Lacan’s theory of signifiers and the signified (that the digital world is based on our lived physical experience).
However let us pause at the notions of the “Trojan horses by which new digital enterprisers slip into reality.” This quote is taken from a piece of the future of books and publishing but I think it gives us an insight into the way the digital world is shaping our interpretation on the physical world.
I want us to think about the wealth of new technological evolution into our lives. Over the Christmas break I watched a lot of TV and films in different formats – HD SD, 3D – So much choice of which I relish, and yet something became present while I was watching; the highlighting of certain images, the quality of the picture (I could make out an actor’s pours right in front of me) the colour of the 3D fish cartoon. It was overly real, overly rich. I was enthralled in the visual imagery, lost in its 4k better than real life, hyper realness.
Let us pause here for a moment and think about the statements, ‘better than real life’, ‘4k’ or any other imagery marketing speak that is cooked up by technology makers. Looking back to Lacan, many are using the visual objects from the better than real life digital reality to create signifiers which we use in our SD physical world. I have focused on TV and film but this type of hyper imagery is all around us, on are smart phones, on the internet, while looking for a flat, buying a car, we are creating unrealistic imagery of worldly objects by experiencing them first via the digital reality, before experiencing them in the physical world.
This always reminds me of the way grass looks on a football pitch (Soccer) when watching a game in HD for the first time. I remember vividly looking at the grass and being in awe by the look of it. Real grass doesn’t look that good and I have forever called it ‘HD grass’. Yet this ‘better than real life’ is not real, it’s a man-made glorified rendered HD visual representation of a real object, an object that many of us expect and indeed seek and pine for and yet is unobtainable in the real world.
Now this is not the same as old school advertising. Advertising plays on the object’s physicality in the real world, maybe with unrealistic, real world circumstances on which we can relate to in the real world. This new representation however, is based on a man-made, better than real life visual representation of real world objects, which are unattainable in the physical world (you will never look at grass and think it looks the same as HD grass).
This exacerbates our want and need to live in our deluded but more pleasing virtual world, in the comfort of social media and HD grass; where our signifiers can be actualised. Our physical selves and physical world seems a bit… humdrum; The dating app Tinder slogan “like real life, but better” springs to mind.
It seems then that many are searching for something in the physical world which was created and can only exist in that world and yet has transition into our physical expectations.
No wonder many of us feel lost without technology, as if living in the physical world seems lacking in comparison and doesn’t seem ‘real enough. Just think of the colour one could experience if this was in HD! But alas, we are trapped in the physical, destined to look at our HD smart phone screens or our 4K television sets in order to live in this hyper reality.
Unless someone like Google could make some Technology that sits over the eyes and can provide a digital HD filter on our physical SD world. Oh wait, we now have Google Glass.