Persons on their phones

Above: Persons on their phones. Credit: Rawpixel.

Virtuality vs. The Spectacle

Virtuality [which includes, for example, the social-media platforms] is different from the spectacle, which still left room for a critical consciousness and demystification. The abstraction of the 'spectacle' was never irrevocable, even for the Situationists. Whereas unconditional realization is irrevocable, since we are no longer either alienated or dispossessed: we are in possession of all the information. We are no longer spectators, but actors in the performance, and actors increasingly integrated into the course of that performance. Whereas we could face up to the unreality of the world as spectacle, [by contrast] we are defenceless before the extreme reality of this world, before this virtual perfection. We are, in fact, beyond all disalienation. This is the new form of terror, by comparison with which the horrors of alienation were very small beer.--Jean Baudrillard

For Baudrillard the authentic ghastliness of virtuality is the structural impossibility of gaining critical distance. At least in the era of the dominance of the spectacle the end-user--a member of the public--retained at least some ability to force themself (perhaps temporarily) away from the hypnotic trance-inducing attraction of the media event.

Unfortunately, in the age of the dominance of virtuality, the end-user cannot step outside of the mass-illusion (of social media etc.), because each end-user is already an actor within it. There is no longer any chance to gaze upon, or look-back-at the illusion since each member of the public is an active participant--a component or constructor of virtuality; the public constitutes virtuality, the public is virtuality. This being the case, there is also no leader, controller, or architect to call-out, rail against, or overthrow--this is where D&G's rhizome comes in: there is no head to cut off (there are a billion heads).

Virtuality is known to have the characteristics of being global, instantaneous, and ubiquitous. But, for Baudrillard another defining quality, and perhaps the most significant one, is complicity, collusion, or collaboration. There is no longer any outside. Outside of virtuality my loss of the-flow-of-real-time-information renders me vulnerable, a nonentity, on some level I cease to exist.

(18 December 2018)