Commentary on political and social hypocrisy and stupidity in a world with too much of both
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The Difference Between Reality And Virtual Reality

I was watching the tweets flow by on my Twitter timeline for a bit last night; probably because it was either that or watch the Academy Awards with Maggie and I’d rather poke out my eye with a sharp pointed stick than suffer through that much insincere sincerity.

I have a few followers and sometimes – well all of the time, actually – there are just too many tweets flying by to catch them all but one small series did catch my notice. It was a conversation between three people about a tweet made at the Oscars. They didn’t approve of it and were expressing their criticism which is fine by me. I consider it my duty to criticize something every day so I feel a certain kinship with others equally as committed.

They were discussing what should be done about the person behind the offending tweet. They agreed that they didn’t want to see the person “go to prison or anything like that” which I thought was quite magnanimous of them considering they were discussing a tweet they didn’t like, not an armed robbery or a terrorist plot.

One person suggested that they should ban live tweeting from the Oscars. My first thought was that person must work for the government.

Banning, restricting, regulating, preventing and just generally interfering with something is always the approach taken by government once they’ve established they can’t tax it.

And that’s when one particular tweet really grabbed my attention.

He wrote, “Do you really want to impose restriction on the last bastion of freedom we have?”

The last bastion of freedom?

It was a statement so absurd it literally took my breath away. I almost reached for my sharp pointed stick to jab in my eye just to prevent myself from reading more. This tweet wasn’t made by someone living in North Korea, it was made by an American; a citizen of one of the freest societies on the planet.

social mediaSomehow, somewhere along the line, we have evolved this idea that we are oppressed in real life and only free in virtual reality. It makes me wonder just how small the lives of some people really are and how limited their perception or even grip on reality must be. I think too many confuse self-indulgent behaviour with what constitutes freedom.

Being allowed to say whatever stupid thing pops into your head on Twitter doesn’t constitute freedom, it’s merely what it seems – self-indulgent, thoughtless behaviour.

I live in a province in Canada where the provincial government has imposed restrictions on my language. They have rules on how large English can be on signs compared to French, rules for which language must be spoken in the workplace and even rules about the use of non-French words on menus. Last week, the language police got themselves all worked up over – get ready for it –  the word pasta on the menu of a high-end Italian restaurant in Montreal.

Maggie and I are over-taxed, over-regulated and under-loved – at least by government.

But we are completely free to go about our lives and we do. Government is an annoyance not a tyranny. I say and write what I want when I want and where I want. I speak whichever of the two languages I know whenever I want and Maggie speaks her three languages at her leisure.

Nobody tries to prevent us from coming and going as we please. We vote as we please although to be honest, there isn’t much difference between whom we elect once we elect them but it seems that’s a problem the world over.

In other words, nobody including the government tries to prevent me from living my life and making my own choices. At worst, government simply wants as much of our money as it can get its hands on and progressives want as much regulation as possible just to make themselves feel like their saving the world and us from the world and us.

If it’s oppression, it’s pretty benign. Facebook enforces more censorship than a democratically elected government, routinely closing down accounts of those who violate its rules. In the real world, that’s comparable to being executed for saying the wrong thing.

The virtual world is a series of feudal kingdoms that include Google, Facebook, YouTube Twitter and the emergent kingdom of Pinterest. Each kingdom has its own rules and neither you nor I get to participate in the development of those rules. The kingdoms change and enforce their rules as they see fit and we have no say and little appeals process.

In the real world, governments, business, unions and individuals are restrained to some extent by our constitutions and our charters of rights but there is no such protection online.

Scammers, spammers, trolls and dolts have found Shangri-La. It is a world of unlimited opportunity for crooks, thieves, pedophiles, bullies, imposters and some really stupid people. There are no law enforcement agencies to protect us and no regulation to guide us.

And it is all controlled by the ridiculously and often very young Tech Barons and Princes who control the web sites we frequent and the software we use.

How often have you logged into Facebook only to learn that it has yet again changed its rules? How often have you seen a tweet asking Twitter to reinstate someone’s account after Twitter had closed it for some unknown violation of the rules? How often have you accepted the Terms of Agreement for using a piece of software or other technology only to have it changed arbitrarily on you by the developers?

I watched a video not too long ago produced by a fellow who ran a web site that ran afoul of Google’s rules to the point where they blacklisted his site. He contacted Google to ask what rules he had violated but they wouldn’t tell him. He was expected to know and if he didn’t know, he was expected to guess.

It took him a year to get his site reinstated in Google’s search engine during which he lost a considerable amount of time and business.

The difference between the rules on Facebook and in the real world is that we don’t get to elect who makes the rules on Facebook or Twitter or anywhere else. In the real world, if we’re not overly happy with the behaviour of a particular government, we can vote them out of office. You can’t vote Mark Zukerburg out of anything. What he and his small cadre of regulators decide is what is going to happen. If you don’t like it – leave.

I used to think that people understood that virtual reality was not real reality and that people indulged themselves in it to take a break from their day-to-day existence in the real world. Now I believe that many have actually traded their real lives for cyber reality.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than on dating sites which seem to draw people into an almost addictive state. I personally know some people who have been on two and three sites for a period of six or seven years. It isn’t that they don’t meet anyone – it’s that they don’t meet anyone that can help them break the addiction of being online and looking. Sometimes it’s an addiction that is stronger than crack cocaine.

People now spend more time texting, tweeting, posting and connecting online than they do talking, sharing and connecting with their friends in the real world. Facebook friends and Twitter followers have become an integral part of how many define themselves now and there is even a new disorder that has evolved as some are completely crushed emotionally when they are ‘unfriended’ on Facebook while others feel that their lives are meaningless because they don’t have as many followers or online friends.

At the end of the day, the simple truth is that it’s not real. It’s virtual reality. One of the definitions for virtual is “ Existing in the mind, especially as a product of the imagination?” and that is where we live and play online – in the imagination.

Your Facebook friends aren’t going to come and stand with you in the real world when the storm rages around you. They’ll post some terribly sympathetic message and then get on to the next item in their timeline. That person in the real world that you’ve been ignoring while you were spending all that time online is the person in whom you should have been investing your time.

I’ve had people tweet me to ask why I’m not following them anymore. When that happens, my first thought is usually “Get a life. I’m not so important you need to worry about whether I follow you on Twitter or not.”

I like the Internet. It’s like a flea market of information; most of it’s junk but there are kernels of real value here and there. I’ve also connected with some great people in places as diverse as South Africa and Ireland; Japan and Brazil.

But I have no illusions about it. As much as I enjoy the interaction with the people with whom I connect online, we don’t really know each other. We’ve never really met. We’re just disembodied fellow travelers in virtual reality.

And virtual reality, my friends, is merely the illusion of reality.

We have become so confused by what constitutes freedom that we are even willing to trade away our online safety and that of our children in our vigorous resistance to any government regulation that might impose some sense of common order.

Sometimes, I have to remind myself to breathe when I see this irrational fear of regulation on cyber space. We’d rather allow a million sites devoted to everything from fraudulent information to child pornography than have an environment that provides us with a safe, meaningful and entertaining medium.

Free? I don’t think so. Prisoners of our own delusion is more like it.

At the end of the day, typing on a keyboard is not the same as talking to people we know in the real world. Wikipedia is not the sole source of the world’s knowledge and Facebook is not the ultimate expression of a free and open society.

It is all an illusion based on what we want it to be rather than simply accepting what it is.

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© 2013 Maggie’s Bear
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  • Nicola Timmerman

    The only time I saw Lewis Black he was so anti-American (I know he is American) and so smug I couldn’t stand him. But I agree these virtual activities are weird.

    Anyway I can’t help thinking of all the third world countries where the children are busy learning English and learning how to play the violin or the piano while our children are wasting their time on all this virtual world stuff.

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      I don’t always agree with him either but he does make me laugh. The full bit on Facebook was too long for the post but it includes the fact that there are now people who make a living maintaining Farmville farms for those too busy to keep up with their daily responsibility to the virtual ducks and chickens. That isn’t carrying virtual reality too far, that’s simply being divorced from reality.

  • Pingback: A Bears Rant | Grumpy Opinions

  • Sebastian Anders

    Until recently, my list of Facebook friends numbered about six. For quite some time I paid very little attention to this so-called social media. I even considered cancelling my “membership”. Then I subscribed to Sun News where interesting stories appeared and I started reading the commentaries relating to these stories. I’m sure you have too.

    Consequently I started contributing my dimes worth. Read a lot of stupid comments from dumb-ass people, many of whom could not form a sentence without the use of foul language. I looked for more intellectually stimulating debates and found some. Then I started noticing some interesting and familiar faces on the list of proposed friends, some of which I knew or had met in my social and political meanderings, and decided to expand my list by making requests.

    My first attempt was met with a severe scolding and even a threat by the Facebook police, demanding, no, ordering me to cease and desist from this criminal activity of requesting “friendship” from people I did not know. I had six friends on my list. I saw people with hundreds and even thousands of friends who, I am sure they knew but a very small percentage of these. Hell, my teenage daughter has over seven hundred friends, and she probably knows a dozen or two at the most. So what’s with the attitude, I thought. Couldn’t figure it out so I ceased and desisted. In the meantime, some people read some of my commentaries and thought I was interesting enough to request my “friendship”, which I accepted.

    A few weeks later I thought I had a “right” to ask people to be on my list of friends. So I made some more requests. And bit by bit, these requests were accepted and my list grew. As it stands, my list includes some prominent political and media people, of varying stripes, although I tried to confine myself more to the blue side of the political spectrum. There were also a few individuals who, at first blush appeared to be interesting but who turned out to be bad choices. Except for one or two, they were not bad choice because of their politics but rather because the content of what they were posting just filled my pages with material in which I had no interest whatsoever, such as beautiful photography of birds and more birds and even more birds, and a variety of jungle animals, world without end of birds and tropical scenes. Others were banal quotes and sayings that were not even theirs, if only they had been used to emphasize a point and not just thrown in, page after never ending page, which increased the scrolling factor to find previous stories somewhat tedious.

    One individual, however, whom I had requested and been accepted did not turn out so well. I thought there was a connection because of my involvement, a few years ago, with the language issue in Ottawa. He was the leader of a group to do with protecting the English Language , but in Britain. It turned out to be a radical group of anti Muslims in Britain, something like a biker gang types who looked like and seemed to behave somewhat like neo-nazies. I decided to reduce my list of new friends – to unfriend a few people.

    I wrote what I thought was an eloquent explanation for my “unfriending” action and sent it to a few people, and pressed the unfriending button. The first two people were quite understanding and bid me farewell. But the anti muslim guy came back with a series of invectives and foul language, befitting a neo-nazi biker. I am just happy he was across the ocean and not in the vicinity.

    Some of the requests I had made for friendship were not accepted right away. I had even forgotten some of the names and faces to who I had made the requests. But one night I tried to log onto my Facebook page only to be confronted with another reprimand and threats of censure and even having my page closed down if I did not agree to some terms of participation and that I would not be able to request or accept friends for seven days, and that they would cancel all remaining friendship requests. So I said fine, OK, whatever.

    Oddly enough, however, some the remaining requests did come through anyway. But when I pushed the button for suggesting friends to these new friends, I was immediately warned that I could not do that. Not for a while, anyway. So, so much for cyber freedom on Facebook. As you said, they make the rules and enforce them, and we either live by them or get the hell off Facebook. That is tyranny of some sort.

  • http://bgulk0.wix.com/raspberry-h-venue gramma Barb

    I utter the phrase at least once a day! stupidity begets stupidity! En-duffy said!

  • old white guy

    we are not really free to go about our lives. everything we do has the thumb print of at least one level of government on it. yes, we can get up and go for a walk or just sit and read, but think about all the rules and regulations and laws that pertain to even a simple activity like brushing our teeth. everything from the taps , the water, the tooth brush, the sink , the tiles on the floor, i could go on but you know what i mean. each item has been exposed to government regualtion at some level. hmmm, maybe we are not as free as we think.

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      Those rules and regulations are an annoyance. If you want to experience what true oppression is like, drop by North Korea where the rules prevent you from doing what you want and going where you want. Or perhaps drop into Iran and similar countries where the rules dictate what women must wear in public. Their a difference between interference and oppression. The rules under which we live, we’re created by people we elect. The rules online are created by people nobody elects or has any control over.

      • old white guy

        interference is a restriction on freedom. of course we are more free than n korea. i would be dead by now in n korea.

        • http://abearsrant.com thebear

          Even the freest societies impose some boundaries. We have to in order to provide some safety and security to individuals, diverse groups and to the state itself. We have the right to speak freely, for example, but that doesn’t give us the right to give voice to thinks which are treasonous. We are cranky these days and look on every infringement as an attack on freedom. It isn’t. The real attack on our freedom is us. Take a look at how quick people online are to try and silence or bully those with whom they disagree. Look at how frequently student groups block people with whom they disagree from speaking on campus or from forming clubs. Consider how often people file complaints with Human Rights Tribunals because their feelings were hurt. Just today, a new professional basketball team in Ottawa was forced to change its name from The Tomahawks to something else because some thought that naming the team after an implement was racist. It would be like getting upset because the team called itself the Ottawa Samurai Swords.

          I might not be dead if I lived in North Korea but if I have to keep trying to eat this bloody gluten-free bread – that might just do it. It’s like trying to asbestos.