Lotte World theme park 

The Age of Simulation

Phony Transcendence in an Age of Media,
Computers and Fabricated Environments



The New Culture War

A new political battle is being fought against the culture of the image. Here's what the scene of battle looks like from a distance. This and the next two pieces provide a good general overview of the ideas in this section. The last piece in the section provides a more detailed theoretical overview of the same issues.

Faking It This appeared in the Boston Globe in 1992.  

Simulation and the Creation
of a Human World
We are using science and technology to gain power over the world and to create fictional substitute "worlds" in which we have complete control. This overview looks at how this is changing our lives.

Story-Based Simulations: Art and Technology Masquerading as Life Contemporary forms of simulation, such as movie rides and themed environments, evolved out of traditional forms of fiction. This longer essay examines how they are similar to and different from these traditional forms. It examines three complex simulations -- the Lied Jungle, Back to the Future: The Ride, and the television news -- to make its point. This essay provides a comprehensive overview of the characteristics of the age of simulation.

1. The Origins of Simulation
in Nature and History

Nature, Representation and Misrepresentation Fish do it. Insects do it. And early humanity did it. They all simulate. 

Virtual Realities: Then and Now The caves of Lascaux reveal one of humanity's earliest efforts to create invented worlds.

Orson Welles and
The Invasion from Mars
Many of our invented worlds can be used to enhance fantasy. But we can also mistake fantasy for reality, and end up playing a role in other people's fictions.

Theorists of Simulation

Daniel Boorstin
Umberto Eco
Jean Baudrillard
Michael Sorkin

As simulation has become a dominant characteristic of contemporary society, social critics have begun to discuss its effect. Among them are Daniel Boorstin, Umberto Eco, Jean Baudrillard, Guy Debord, and Michael Sorkin.

2. Inventing Postmodernity

Disney's Distorted Mirror  This is a recent and detailed pair of essays showing how artificial landscapes manipulate visitors.

Zoos, Artificial  Rain Forests and Simulation: Worlds in a Bottle How is it possible for invented worlds to be so lifelike? Here is an x-ray of one such kind of invented world -- artificial naturescapes in zoos. This is the best in-depth exploration on the site, of what contemporary culture is about. 

Cities of Simulation:
Las Vegas
Sin city turns into sim city, as the American landscape increasingly comes to resemble the landscape of the imagination.

Cities of Simulation:
Disney World
Like much of popular culture, Disney promises to let us escape the limits of everyday life into a fictional realm of endless happiness in which time and space no longer constrain us. It lets us do now, in simulated form, what we hope to eventually be able to do in reality, with technology. In so doing, it provides a kind of showcase for "postmodernism." But the promise of freedom and happiness it offers is mere illusion.

Advertising and the Invention of Postmodernity America isn't a postmodern society. It just plays one on television. This essay takes a kind of Marxist slant on the forms of alienation inherent in an image-based society.

Narcissus and Necessity:
Why Are We Creating
Virtual Realities?
Virtual realities are a place where our narcissism meets metaphysics, a place where we design fictional worlds modeled after ourselves. But, as we do so, we are beginning to fear that  the boundary between the world of fact and fiction is breaking down.

3. Simulation Confusion

Culture of Deception We are constantly confusing simulations for what they imitate. We do so by accident and because a great many people profit by tricking us. Our governing elites now largely rely on deceptive appearances to maintain their wealth and power.

 4. Bringing Fantasy to Life

A Culture Based on
Fantasy and Acting Out
In popular culture, we increasingly move from one kind of virtual reality to another. Here, instead of reading about characters in stories, we are starting to become the characters. What we do in these invented worlds is what we also do vicariously in more traditional forms of fiction -- we act out the fantasies, fears and desires that are essential to our personalities, but with a more exciting setting and plot that enhances the experience. 

The Mastery of Life Simulations are also used to help us learn skills and master situations.

The Emergence of
Recreational Evil
The Rocky Horror Picture Show foreshadowed the culture of cyber-sex, transgression and recreational evil we lkive in today.

Mr. Paybak:
Revenge as Entertainment
Did the first widely distributed interactive movie give us a taste of things to come.

 5. The Widening Horizon
of Action and Perception

The Automated Environment We are fabricating an environment that is full not only of simulations but also of intelligent technologies and forms of automation that wait on us and give us control over our surroundings. Much of the environment of the near future will be made up of intelligent technologies and illusion.

The Deconstruction of Reality:

1. Modernism:
Surface and Depth

2. Sherry Turkle:
Surface and More Surface
Contemporary culture betrays two trends: we are trying to make simulation real and make reality like a simulation.

Faustian Society Contemporary societies have at least four characteristics:

-- they use technology to overcome the limits of the world;
-- they use simulations and virtual realities as substitutes for what they can't yet get from the world directly;
--  they hold to an ideology that says the acting out of fantasy is a form of art, entertainment and liberation;
-- they view physical reality; society and mind as forms of illusion or as something much like illusion.

This essay provides the broadest possible overview with which to understand contemporary culture.

Addendum: Other Introductions

Stanislaw Lem and
the Future of Illusion
Lem foresaw it all in the Futurological Congress. This is another introduction, similar to a number of the introductions at the top of the page.

Power and Appearances This is an alternative home page for the site that offers an overview of some of the ideas on culture and the manipulation of appearances.
      The image at top is Lotte World theme park via Wikimedia. Here is the attribution.

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