Real or virtual, the editorial by Franco Michienzi

A dilemma that we will find ourselves facing more and more in our lives. Common sense is the only thing that can save us from alienation

by Francesco Michienzi

Tomás Maldonado’s book real y virtual explores one of the most fascinating, but also one of the most controversial subjects on the contemporary cultural scene, namely advanced technologies and their implications for present-day life and culture. In greater detail, the sophistication of reality simulation techniques offers insights into rethinking the relationship between reality and its representations. It talks about the possibility of accessing illusory worlds in which the operator-observer becomes a player, experiencing them as if they were real. In reality, if one expresses an alternative viewpoint thought, one runs the risk of being retrograde, anti-modernist and opposed to advancing progress. The good people of the internet did not fail to offer a hefty dose of criticism regarding two editorials I wrote on the metaverse and cryptocurrencies a few months ago.

«I PREFER TO WALK BAREFOOT ON THE PEBBLE BEACH AT POSITANO,
TO SMELL THE AROMAS AND SAVOUR THE TASTE OF AUTHENTIC CUISINE».

I’m personally very much in favour of innovations that improve our lives, but I’m also of the idea that it ultimately has to be lived in a real and tangible fashion. Sitting in an armchair with a headset and a sensor that gives me the same sensations of an event, that I am only imagining myself to be experiencing, doesn’t seem a good prospect to me. I prefer to walk barefoot on the pebble beach at Positano, to smell the aromas and savour the taste of authentic cuisine.

Throughout the summer we’ve been bombarded by an advert in which the wife asks her husband: “Darling, where are you taking me on holiday? Formentera? Ibiza? Taormina? Porto Cervo?” “Love, you can choose between the living room, bedroom or even the garden. The idea that all it takes is an offer that allows us to watch unlimited films and TV programmes, free from connection problems and at an affordable cost, makes me think a lot about the idea of virtual life that multinationals have in store for us. We can do everything from the sofa at home: eat, work, shop, have fun and be moved. Some might even believe that we can go sailing and imagine ourselves to be in a boat during a storm. The daily challenges thrown down by virtual reality need to be met with the right dose of common sense. There are different levels of reality and this is a warning against the temptation to pit the real against the virtual, which is not an embryonic state of reality, but One might ask why go to a boat show in person to see hundreds of different boats, when you can just see them all from the comfort of home? Perhaps because we’re still human and like touching things, looking at them with our own eyes, asking questions, or learning the secrets about what we would like to purchase. We like being with people who share our same passions, we like making an effort to feel alive. People are not just consumers.

«WE’RE STILL HUMAN AND LIKE TOUCHING THINGS, LOOKING AT THEM WITH OUR OWN EYES, ASKING QUESTIONS, OR LEARNING THE SECRETS OF A BOAT WE WOULD LIKE TO PURCHASE».

The virtual world presents itself as a new representation of reality that can become an instrument of intelligibility, but equally a new form of alienation that we can counter with the tools we have at our disposal. The virtual world is a reality that only exists in the mind of the user, trapped inside technology. It is a reality based on relating without participation, without emotion and without affection.

Going back to more tangible matters, I’m very curious to see the long list of politicians who will come to the opening of the Genoa Boat Show, using it as a pre-electoral stage. They will tell us about their to-do list, explain how determinedly they will address the various issues, be very assertive and particularly convincing about the role of politics and the need to work for the common good. We’ll pretend to believe them and we’ll receive them politely because we’re civilised people. We’ll try to memorise their sailor’s promises so that we can remind them later, even though we already know that they’ll have plausible explanations that will attribute the blame to a system that doesn’t work or to the strong powers that govern our wonderful country from their ivory towers. Genoa will also be an opportunity for many good journalists to come and illustrate the luxury enjoyed by the rich, who should devote more time to crying like the many poor in search of greater social justice. Remember the wonderful RAI 3 report that mocked our nautical industry last year? This cheap demagoguery is used to attract an audience. Of course, if these journalists had the humility to understand what it means to build a boat and how much wealth and work it generates, perhaps they would do a real public service for the truth.

(Real or virtual – Barchemagazine.com – October 2022)