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Katie Holmes Is Dating Jake Gyllenhaal

January 2, 2013

I have a picture in my mind, a rather vivid one. It is drawn from memory and colored in with imagination. I see my grandpa sitting at the kitchen table, a half empty cup of coffee that has gone cold beside an empty plate obscured from his field of vision by the newspaper he is holding. He is quiet, contemplative, like a bear reading “No Exit”. He started at the front and worked his way through. It is somewhere around A15 that he sees a headline “Katie Holmes Is Dating Jake Gyllenhaal Now”. The names sound vaguely familiar but judging by the accompanying photograph, their sparkling faces close together in a gesture of intimacy, they are people who live in the world of entertainment. Grandpa skips it and moves on to the next article. He works his way through the day’s news, reading one dispiriting article after another. It is when he reaches the final page of the A section, A26, that he spies the following headline: “Katie Holmes Not Dating Jake Gyllenhaal”. He blinks with confusion and lays the paper down. He drinks the last half of his cold coffee and starts his day. Were this scenario true, I am sure he would never read that paper again. I’m pretty sure that this is why my grandparents have never embraced Digital Culture, why to this day they have never owned a computer. What use is a source of information that says everything all at once, even statements that contradict each other?

We live on a planet with two worlds: the Internet and the “real world”. Astonishingly, in the last twenty years the Internet has gained increasing control over the “real world”. We plunged into the World Wide Web with all the cautiousness of a moth approaching an open flame. Only the flimsiest of excuses was needed to convince people. “You will be better connected to people you love and the like-minded.” It is the dream of the CB radio enthusiast manifest in glowing reality.

And so it was that we began to spend more and more time away from the “real world” and living out fantasy lives on the Internet, both figuratively and literally. The technology advanced rapidly as companies realized how much money there was to be had. Banking in the modern age makes banking even just fifty years ago look like cavemen counting pebbles. The structure in place made it possible to conduct business and transactions with atomic quickness, opening new doors to increasingly complex financial stratagems.

It is a truly global effort that has sucked in people from nearly all walks of life all over the globe. It is from us and for us. It is the fabled library of Alexandria multiplied a thousand times over. We have access to more information now than any other time in history. It is not limited by class either, all are welcome. But it is not the “real world”. Many of things that happen on the Internet may affect things in reality, but it does not make them real. It’s continued existence and importance depends solely on our will, our engaging.

I used to have a debate with Matt about “Star Trek”. He said that he thought most people, if given the chance, would choose to live in a holodeck. I said I disagreed. My argument being that there would be no risk, no sense of belonging, no love in a holodeck. He said he thought I probably didn’t understand people as well as I thought I did. I called him cynical. We left it there, but every so often he brings it up again and lately it is beginning to seem like he may be right. Everywhere I go I see people with their faces staring at screens. They are driving beside me, they are in line front of me at the grocery store, they are at the pub sitting around tables not talking to each other and taking pictures of their food.

It seemed to have happened gradually. You don’t say you are moving on to the holodeck. It’s like a drug. You say you are going to try it once. Then after a few times, you start telling people you are a drug enthusiast, and they get you gift cards to head shops for your birthday. Before you know it, you are pale and shriveled and sitting in empty apartment alone without a thing to eat or a friend to call, but it doesn’t matter because you have your drug.

The disconnectedness is enticing. It is a world of your choosing, the Internet. You can be whoever you want to be. While the world may think of you as a middle-aged office drone, online you can be whatever you want. You can pretend to be your favorite celebrity by creating a fake Twitter account. You can inhabit the role of an orc in an MMORPG. You can unleash the violent misogynist you’ve been hiding inside, but it doesn’t matter, it’s only online. It’s not the real world.

But, whether we want to believe it or not, the Internet is not Vegas. Or it is a HyperVegas, whatever happens in HyperVegas stays in HyperVegas forever. Whatever goes in will come out… eventually. It is a massive reflecting pool and we, humanity, cannot look away, delighted by our own beautiful and hideous visage. We like best that which best resembles ourselves. Over the last twenty years, aided by the Internet and its accessories, we have coagulated and hardened. We have found those with whom we agree and reduced chances of encountering opposition by huddling in familiar shoals together and denying the existence of any other reality. Confidence is replaced by arrogance and wisdom is replaced by knowledge. The “real world”, in which we are forced to interact with strangers who may have a different point of view, is now beginning to become a reflection of what happens on the Internet. The hate, the vitriol, the violence, the hyperbole is magnified through that lens. We are becoming a reflection of a reflection, a degraded society with fraying connections to each other. We have chosen the Internet over the “real world” to the point that we can no longer agree what constitutes reality.

While the rest of the world’s reality has shifted dramatically over the last twenty years, my grandpa’s has stayed essentially the same. One is tempted to tell him that he doesn’t know what he’s missing by eschewing the wonders of the Digital World. He would say he’s not missing anything, the same answer you would give a drug addict trying to convince you to join in. While the global change may have affected the size and quality of his newspaper, my grandpa still has both feet on the ground firmly planted in reality with friends and family who love him dearly. He keeps busy and likes a good walk at the end of the day with the love of his life, my grandma. He’s not missing anything.

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