11 December 2010

Disneyland exists so that the rest of America seems real.

The social theorist Baudrillard once wrote that Disneyland exists so that the rest of America seems real. Ours is a world of simulations, hyperreality, he called it, a world in which consciousness, (i.e., perception and experience) is unable to distinguish reality from fantasy, the authentic from a fake, a symbol from its referent, a fact from a fiction, or the legitimacy of one fiction over another.

Lots of people still use the term reality as an anchor to legitimize the material world in an ever more fictitious and mediated one. The problem is that our material world unintelligible and fake. As Baudrillard put it: there is no reality concealed by hyperreality. 

I think the word legitimate is more useful than reality because it more accurately connotes perception and consciousness. The TV series Glee and Madmen, their characters and plots gain their legitimacy by virtue of being cultural artifacts millions of Americans interact with.

Why does any of this matter at all and what does it have to do with education and technology? 

Well, first, from a social justice angle, hyperreality is a product of market forces and driven by our consumer-oriented service economy. It derives wealth from people consuming and perpetuates the myths of consumption as an ideal, while the quality of life and standard of living for many people have been deteriorating since the 70s. Hyperreality masks this deterioration by distracting us with trivial products and experiences.

Second, the materiality of one's existence has everything to do with one's capacity to learn. Learning is an embodied experience. A mind anxious with economic insecurity or foggy from malnutrition or illness is one that doesn't perform as freely or as well as it could.