One of the first really big ideas we had at Adbusters 25 years ago, and the reason we dubbed our magazine “The Journal of the Mental Environment,” was the notion that we humans are entering a scary new phase in our evolution … that a few million years ago we crawled out of the ocean and learned how to live on land … and now we are on the cusp of making another great evolutionary leap, leaving behind real life in the physical world for a virtual one.
For many years it was a bit of a joke … ha ha … how crazy to spend your life staring at screens, having virtual friends, enjoying virtual sex? And anyway, the technology was clunky … we spent more time dialling up, logging in, fighting viruses and troubleshooting than actually enjoying the wonders of the virtual world.
But after passing so quickly through 8-tracks, beta, VHS, VCRs, TV antennas, commodore 64s, cathode ray tube televisions, floppy discs, DVDs, desktops, iPhones and Google Glass eye-ware, we suddenly realize that living digitally is no joke at all and that our glance into the horizon twenty five years ago was if anything too modest … that the Moore’s Law driven digital revolution is now enveloping us in ways none of us ever thought possible.
As virtual worlds become more elaborate, more complex, more beautiful, more pristine and real … the natural world around us has become more polluted, more lonely, more devastated, more bleak.
We are surrounded by flashy screens and glance at them every few minutes of our waking life. The average student from grade five to grade twelve in America will spend more time online than in the classroom. In South Korea, the most wired nation on earth, the suicide rate is one of the highest in the world.
Gripped by the virtual gaze, we seem incapable of standing back far enough to take stock of the evolutionary migration now well under way: a migration that is unique in that it has no return grounds and the final destination is a permanent one.
Our last great evolutionary leap from ocean onto land was stunningly successful, but we have to be careful … the leap we are currently making into virtuality may well turn out to be a dead end.