Originally published as ‘The Hyperreal’ by Amjad Masad
It’s normal to get excited by social media likes. Some say social media is “fake.” But to the receiver of the like, they feel appreciated and heard, and to them, that’s real. It’s perhaps more real than going out into the world and saying interesting things and receiving real-world “likes” and praise. The activity is reduced to its essence and delivers intense satisfaction. Likes are hyperreal.
For something to be fake, it can’t produce the intended result. It should be counterfeit. But hyperreal is the opposite. To make a hyperreal object from a real one, take only the details that excite the mind — like getting praise — intensify them, and drop everything else. When you reduce food to its most intense elements — sweet & salt — you get hyperreal (junk) food. That is the formula for hyperreality.
Hyperreality is exciting, but too much of it is destructive to humans. It takes us out of our natural flow and makes us into addicts. Now you might object with something like “everything in moderation,” which is trite and true. But be prepared to fight the modern technological system optimized to produce hyperreality.
You might blame “capitalism” for working against our better angels. It is, after all, very efficient at producing hyperreality. But you’d be wrong because humans have been making hyperreality since cave drawings.
Communism produces hyperreality too. It is hyperreality. It takes a naturally occurring thing — family and community — and intensifies its most attractive elements. It’s an intoxicating hyperreal vision.
Are we doomed to eternal hyperreality addiction? It is a potential answer to Fermi’s Paradox. Intelligent life evolves until all it does is produce and consume hyperreality at the expense of exploring the stars.
I don’t think we’re doomed though. And I don’t think regulation is the answer either. Religions have dealt with the destructive nature of hyperreality. Why do you think you can’t draw pictures of people or animals in Islam? A restriction that generated an art culture rooted in abstract (unreal) shapes.
The secular West is especially vulnerable to hyperrealism because societal norms that could protect us are considered oppressive. I love the West’s renegade aspect. It resulted in innovative art, science, and technology. But it left us unprotected against hyperreality.
Whatever comes next — may be a techno-futurist religion — needs to address this issue.