The passages below have been excerpted from Thomas de Zengotita, Mediated: How The Media Shapes Your World And The Way You Live In It (Bloomsbury, 2005):
"Say your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere -- the middle of Saskatchewan, say. You have no radio, no cell phone, nothing to read, no gear to fiddle with. You just have to wait. Pretty soon you notice how everything around you just happens to be there. And it just happens to be there in this very precise but unfamiliar way. You are so not used to this. Every tuft of weed, the scattered pebbles, the lapsing fence, the cracks in the asphalt, the buzz of insects in the field, the flow of cloud against the sky, everything is very specifically exactly the way it is -- and none of it is for you. Nothing here was designed to affect you. It isn't arranged so that you can experience it, you didn't plan to experience it, there isn't any screen, there isn't any display, there isn't any entrance, no brochure, nothing special to look at, no dramatic scenery or wildlife, no tour guide, no campsites, no benches, no paths, no viewing platforms with natural-historical information posted under slanted Plexiglas lectern things...your options are limited. You begin to get a sense of your real place in the great scheme of things.
"Some people find this profoundly comforting. Wittgenstein, for example.
"So that's a baseline for comparison. What it teaches us is this: in a mediated world, the opposite of real isn't phony or illusional or fictional -- it's optional. Idiomatically, we recognize this when we say, 'The reality is...,' meaning something that has to be dealt with, something that isn't an option. We are most free of mediation, we are most real, when we are at the disposal of accident and necessity. That's when we are not being addressed...
"The slang expression 'whatever' distills the essential situation into a single gesture. It arose and caught on because it captures so precisely, yet so flexibly, the Janus-faced attitude we assume as we negotiated the field of options that so incessantly solicit our attention and allegiance.
"On the one hand, it's a party, a feast, an array of possible experiences more fabulous than monarchs of the past could even dream of -- it's 'whatever,' as in yippee!, as in whatever you want, whatever you can imagine; you can eat whatever, see whatever, hear whatever, read whatever, even be whatever. 'No limits,' as the SUV and Internet ads all promise.
"On the other hand, an environment of representations yields an aura of surface -- as in 'surf'. It is a world of effects. This is another existential consequence of the fact that representations address us by design. We are at the center of all the attention, but there is a thinness to things, a smoothness, a muffled quality -- it's all insulational, as if the deities of Dreamworks were laboring invisibly around us, touching up the canvas of reality with digital airbrushes. Everything has the edgeless flowing feel of computer graphics, like the lobby of a high-end Marriott/Ramada/Sheraton -- the sculptured flower arrangements, that glowy, woody, marbly, purply, cushioned-air quality. Every gadget aspires to that iPod look -- even automobiles. The feel of the virtual is overflowing the screens, as if the plasma were leaking into the physical world. Whole neighborhoods feel like that now, even when you're standing in the street...
"We need mobility among the options because they are only representations.
"And that means they are no more than they appear to be.
"And so they are never enough.
"And that's why more is on the way. Always. That's why trailers are better than movies. That's why you are always already ready for the next show, even before this one is over."
Interviews with Thomas de Zengotita:
National Public Radio. "Inside the Mediated Culture." An excellent exploration of the issue.
"The Numbing of the American Mind: Culture As Anesthetic"