The cover of the Summer 2014 issue of IEEE Technology and Society Magazine demonstrates that a picture can be worth at least a thousand words. So, in effect this is a guest blog entry implicitly from Eran Fowler the creative artist involved. The piece is titled “Reality.”
SSIT often touches on the issues associated with virtual reality, and the potential isolation from on-line connectivity compared with human connectivity. There is an irony that the editorial in this same issue is on Lifelogging — about folks who record their every activity, and in some cases post the log online in real time. One can envision the “life log” of the individual in the cover image. It is possible that he/she is living someone else’s life log. I also note that there is no evident form of input device — our subject here is a passive receiver. A letter to the editor in the issue, from Jim Fifth — a prospective game developer and father (accompanied by a larger copy of this image) observes that what he “would be taking from these people isn’t their money, but their time, their participation in reality, their relationships, hopes and dreams.”
This image, like many in art, is a commentary. If presented as an editorial, or a technically-researched, peer-reviewed paper, there would be a dialog on the percentage of individuals in this category, or even outright refutation. Art can lie. That is something that propagandists have known for centuries (“I know St. George killed the dragon, I saw the picture“). Images can have significant social impact, which is why governments censor some images and block photography or recording in various situations. If a simple photograph or image can have that impact, consider the potential for motion pictures, or virtual reality. The issue of how video games or movies affect behavior is a recurrent topic in academic and public discourse. So look at this cover again. Is it a painful truth? A good lie? Both? What action does it suggest? Is Jim Fifth’s observation that we pay good money to toss away hours, days, or even years of our life a social concern? Or does it placate the masses and keep them from questioning authority, dealing with unemployment, and tolerating a declining quality of life? Or is it an individual choice? Is the subject in this image “living for the moment,” immersed in the “now,” expending the only real currency they have: their time in the way that seems best to them?