Now that we have so many different expressions of modern technology in our world, one of the next steps seems to be the combination of different expressions in order to have them reinforce each other, in order to improve the potency and efficiency of each one. An excellent example of this is virtual robots. When I first heard about them, I thought that it sounded a little like avatars. But avatars are computer representations of us, the human users. Virtual robots serve a very different purpose. First of all, they exist in virtual reality, not the screen reality of avatars. Secondly, they are created in order to maximize the development of new practical applications for robots. Supposedly, it costs less and takes less time to develop an application using virtual robots, than it does with real robots in the real world. The application is developed through programming the virtual robot. To the extent that this robotic simulation accelerates the development of new applications, it expands the pervasiveness of robots in more and more areas of our lives. To the extent that this development of new robotic applications requires humans spending more time in virtual reality, it reinforces the reality of virtual reality in our daily lives.
These two expressions of modern technology, in being combined for the purposes of robotic simulation, provide for a double layer of experiential immersion in mediated experience for the person involved. A double layer of separating the person involved in this technological research from the real external world of primary experience. The manipulation of mediated figures, namely robots, within the mediated pretend grounding, which is really a vacuum based in virtual reality, provides for a compelling immersive life experience that distances a person more by far than the involvement in any simpler technological expression. Together, these layers of mediated experience block out participation in any layer of primary experience in external world reality.
Developing robotic applications in the real world, where the force and the motion of the robot would be experienced as a kind of external world friction, a person could be recovering at least some kind of friction that would keep him somewhat connected to the external world. This is because a real robot is a phenomenon that performs actions that separate people from direct performance in the real world, but whose physical presence is sensorily received as a primary experience.
So on a subjective level, what is it that happens to these people who get involved in robotic simulation in virtual reality? In getting swallowed up by these two distinct layers of mediated experience, they become much more separated from the primary experience external world than if they were separated from the external world by just one of these layers. And the separation also extends to the primary experience of one’s internal mental world. So much sensory mediation ultimately leads to becoming numb to oneself. And we start to experience ourselves as a mediated experience. Not that the external mediated experiences connected to virtual robots are the only external mediated experiences today that can transform our experience of ourselves into that of a more distant mediated experience. Look at the metaphors we use for our minds today. We think of our minds as computers that are wired for this or wired for that. Granted that some scientists are moving aware from this notion, but it is still a very common metaphor. And layered mediated experiences can only reinforce this metaphor which ultimately becomes conducive to our thinking of ourselves as machines, as robots.
Because if we are to continue functioning in our daily lives as a numb entity in a layered mediated living environment, we have to become a complex behavioral entity that is capable of functioning in an experiential vacuum. And the one kind of complex behavioral entity that thrives in such an environment is that of a machine or, in particular, a robot. But it is functioning in a very special sense that we are talking about here. It doesn’t mean functioning in the sense of feeling fully alive, having rich vibrant experiences. It doesn’t mean functioning in terms of making, receiving and preserving organic imprints. It doesn’t mean creating a personal surrogate immortality through bundling together preserved organic imprints. It doesn’t mean building a flowing blendable continual life narrative. In other words, people pay a price for immersing themselves in the experiential vacuum of virtual reality trying to manipulate virtual robots in order to create applications for robots in the world of primary experience, robots that are being created to drop into the narratives of ordinary humans and replace chunks of these narratives. And more and more people are getting involved in robotic simulation, to create apps for the robots that are ultimately going to push humans out of different aspects of the flow of human life. Such people are going to have increasingly truncated empty lives.
The notion of having layers of mediation ultimately threatens to lift people permanently out of a traditional primary experience life, both physically and mentally. Will there come a time when virtual reality and the mediated figures of robots become our constant companions? Will there come a time when we can no longer distinguish virtual reality from primary experience external world reality and we live our lives in our minds without really touching anything directly in the external world. This might sound like a crazy idea, but many people are finding ways to limit their contact with the external world. Think of all the people who order practically all of their consumer goods on line, so that they don’t have to continue a primary experience narrative of shopping at stores. More and more people do much of their library work on their computers. Many people, rather than thinking of something interesting to do themselves, spend their time watching other people’s life narratives – real or imagined – on a movie screen, on television, on a computer, on a smartphone, or on a tablet. So people are already starting to fill up their lives with many individual layers of mediated experiences. It’s just that now we are finding ways of deepening the disconnections from primary experience through increasing immersion in layered mediated experiences.
In this article, we talked about the combination of two layers of mediated experience to create a deep immersive living environment. But soon we may be able to find ways to combine three or more layers. At that point, we may decide to stay permanently in mediated experience – probably something that utilizes virtual reality. Then the only reason we may absolutely have to return to primary experience will be to eat, drink, go to the bathroom and sleep. And sleep is not a time when we are actually conscious of our connection to the primary experience world. And I almost forgot that many video game players wear diapers so that they don’t have to temporarily break away from their game playing. So for many people involved in machine-based mediated experience, the only sure outlet for primary experience in the external world will be consumption either of solids or liquids. Perhaps someday, if a way is found to keep the human mind, spirit or soul alive after the body decays and dies, even eating and drinking won’t be around to tie people to primary experience and the external world. And then life will be entirely a mediated experience. We will be like ghosts living in a dream world. A human living in a permanent living death.
© 2018 Laurence Mesirow