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We Are Living in a Screenworld -- Reality Isn't in the Real World Anymore

Has our new definition of "life experience" rendered tangible interactions irrelevant?

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When a Blackberry brings the workplace with you wherever you go, where you are becomes less itself, less important as itself: the sense of a place loses its specificity, its particularity, its own complete reality. When you shop online, your community becomes less real; you don't need it as you once did: you don't need the bookstore; you don't need the music store. Losing their reality, such places disappear—literally. You walk down the street talking on your cell, and the observable world becomes a mere backdrop—unless you see something to video on your phone, when the world becomes your movie-set, gauged for its value as entertainment, not engagement. With an iPhone on your belt and an iPod in your ear, solitude is no longer solitary, while you hear not the sounds of the world, but your programmed soundtrack. The very idea of privacy is close to becoming alien, especially to the young, for whom to be "out of touch" is unthinkable, while calling and texting are seemingly constant. A place inaccessible to Screenworld is called a "dead zone"—which kind of says it all about Screenworld.

Isn't there something peculiarly disembodied about it? Human beings evolved to take in an enormous amount of information through our bodies. That's what "body language" is all about, not only gestures and postures, but physical inflections so subtle we aren't aware of making them in. Consider something as uncomfortably intimate as standing with strangers in an elevator: there are strict rules of elevator etiquette—never stare at anyone, keep your eyes front and slightly downward—precisely to protect ourselves from how forcefully bodies speak to one another, even unintentionally. Or consider the subtle signals that pass through a simple handshake. That entire realm of reality is absent from Screenworld, where one need never deal with the bodily strangeness of strangers—for even face-to-face on a web-cam, one responds to the image of a body, not a body, and that image rarely conveys skin-tone, not to mention scent.Is this bad? Is it good? I'm not making those judgments. I'm simply pointing out that Screenworld is another order of reality, one that has overwhelmingly instituted itself amid what we used to call reality, changing the givens, the rules, the environment. As animals, we're built to live in a physical world; in Screenworld, we're living in something else. In our overlay of cyberspace and physical space, bodily reality is devalued, while the adage that "the unexamined life is not worth living" gets distorted into "what the screen does not record or project is not really happening."

Without anyone's intending it, the Ÿber-reality of Screenworld tends to frame as inferior or minor that which is beyond its concern or reach, for that's the fundamental and unstated assumption that it enforces, and it's Screenworld's most dangerous illusion—or, more accurately, its delusion, a delusion that should interest the entire field of psychotherapy, a delusion that what's untranslatable through Screenworld, or of no interest to it, has no urgency, no vitality.

That very delusion bestows upon Screenworld its power—the notion, especially in the young, that not to pay close attention to all these screens is to be less than fully engaged.

The dilemma is: how does one find or grow a sense of centeredness amid this continually shifting screenscape?

That isn't a question Screenworld encourages or entertains, and isn't a question I'll attempt to answer here, but it's an issue that psychotherapy must investigate—because, for many, Screenworld is the only world. Psychotherapy is uniquely positioned for such an investigation, because it's one of the few endeavors that Screenworld doesn't rule. Therapy as Counterculture