The smartphone is the LSD of the 2000s

Claudia del Prado
Senior Project Analyst

Just as “the PC was the LSD of the 1990s”, as proclaimed by Timothy Leary, a precursor of the cyberpunk movement (a science-fiction subgenre). Cyberpunks believed that high technology and smart drugs could help human beings overcome their limits, liberating them from authority and even enabling them to transcend space, time, and body. If there ever was a turning point in defining the limits of reality and fiction, I would say the digital revolution was it.

The question of what reality is – or isn’t – is not new. At all. Philosophy has long questioned the nature of reality and non-reality or what we call fiction. From Plato’s world of perfect forms, to Descartes’ world of matter, all have tried to come up with the answer to the unresolved question of the “nature” of reality. Where is the limit between reality and non- reality? Is it absolute or relative? How can we know?

Trying to define fiction and what differentiates it from reality is by no means easy – even for the most revered philosophers. Theories on the subject abound. It’s been a while since we abandoned the purely metaphysical – Descartes’ matter vs. non-matter – conception of reality. Fictions have become accepted realities; or as Harari correctly points out in Sapiens: most of our social structures today are pure fictions we all commonly believe in (the best example: money). In fine, it is this common and shared belief that gives these social constructions their legitimacy or reality.

Fiction and reality are two concepts that overlap, mix, converge, fuel each other. They are completely relative and subjective – they are in constant movement, they depend on perceptions. That is why I asked a psychiatrist, a film-maker, a plastic artist, a poet and a linguistic expert to try and answer the difficult question of reality – and to share their grasp of fiction. What I wanted to know is where they set the line between reality and non-reality, from their perspective in their areas of expertise and what that line is.

Not only what it is, but how and why it is useful to overcome it.

The film-maker

“The mere act of filming with a camera is denying reality and choosing your own, or in other words, creating your fiction. Fictions enable the description of reality and consequently bring us closer to what is real, turning pure reality into an unreachable utopia. Fictions are bridges we build to understand our reality.”

The poet

“I chose to write fiction, and particularly poetry, because it is like a lab to explore language where you can talk about anything ; it’s the ultimate lab for the imagination. Once my ideas touch paper they take on a life of their own, they abandon reality and become a subjective fiction in constant flux – informed by whoever reads them. I would argue that because all writing is mediation, it always touches upon something fictional; full objectivity is very elusive. Fiction sheds light on non-fiction.”

To read more of Lauren Ducrey’s work, follow her on Instagram @laurenducrey

The artist-painter

“I like to define my work as “mindscapes”: designs uncovering the landscapes of our mind. These paintings are exploring a sense of inner equilibrium, hoping to convey a peaceful state of mind. I always start drawing on paper, which I find limited in the real, so I move my drawings to the digital realm where I can distort reality and play with endless possibilities of lines, shapes and tones. Fiction is unlimited here; the imagination allows me to create these spaces and it is all working towards a sense of mental liberation. Engaging the audience by shifting perspectives and multiplying dimensions.” (Check out Lyora Pisarro’s work here, whom we thank for the header visual of this article as well! )

The psychiatrist

“Fiction can only be understood as an act of freedom. This act is fueled by a conscient use of our imagination. The mentally ill (in the context of deliriums) don’t experience fictions, they only live what they believe to be reality. It is not a free construction of imagination, but perceptions or beliefs that are so real for them that they believe them.” 

The linguistics expert

“Fiction is inherent to language. What things really are (if in fact they were and we could characterize them) and how we express them through language is in continuous mismatch. This misalignment (by defect or excess) clears the space for fiction. The condition for the possibility of fiction is that the receiver does not have all the information contained in the communicational framework. An example of little fiction: the instruction book for the use of a washing machine. The communicational framework “operation of a washing machine” is sufficiently cartesian, transparent and parameterizable so that the instruction book covers all possible states and exhausts the communicational framework without leaving much margin for fiction to happen.”

The graphic designer

“Often we define “fiction” versus “reality”. Because in layman’s terms, reality is presented as material, measurable, objective; versus what is subjective and imaginary. When in actuality a more accurate framework is to understand fiction as a substrate of reality. Just as much as perception and imagination are part of reality. 

Nothing man-made which exists out there wasn’t first a vision from the mind. An imagined concept. And brought to matter. Bent to shape. From thought. 

It’s all fiction until it’s not. All of it belongs to reality. Whether in the form of thought, language or matter, it exists and has significance.”

In fact it would seem fiction helps us describe reality. It enables us to question that reality, to build on it – even to change it. Fiction is an enabler of progress. Even Kant used fictional beings (aliens) to better explain “the reality of what a man is”. Even Kant, a guru of metaphysical reality description, used science fiction to describe reality.

Fiction is a way to better understand our reality and take stock of it. But mostly: it is a valuable tool for building our future. 

So maybe the question around reality should remain an eternal rhetorical one. Maybe it is precisely there, in that line between fiction and reality,  where creativity and imagination take root, that we can start building a desirable future. In an ever-shifting, often frightening world, perhaps imagination and creativity should be our main tools for building solutions to respond to all those “uncomfortable realities”. New technologies expand the limits of reality even further. Let us use them to create a utopia we want to believe in – and not the feared distopias we tend to tell.

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