–An Excerpt from the upcoming book:  Human-Centered Design For Dummies: Turning Away From Media At The End Of History 

We cared so much about the idea and what it represented, we kept it intact, and turned it into a theme park. Please do not misunderstand this as some kind of claim that Venetians are not living a “real” life or are somehow willfully participating in a lie. The fact that these European and American cities have become symbols/parks is simply a fact, with no associated indictment of the working people who live in them. It’s not a value judgement, that these are symbols. Maybe the fate of these cathedrals, before they turn to dust, was always to live as a crumbling signifier, their natural progression, their very purpose on Earth to remind us of the fleeting nature of it all, and of the (cyclical) greatness of man’s achievements:

The symbol of what once was, in defiance, to the end. I find it endlessly romantic. Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer. So what would be the problem with any of this? I’m not yet sure there is one. I think the human problem is with comprehension, and how we experience life on Earth. Cognitive dissonance is human, but too much of it certainly makes for a rough life. So what are the tools for sense-making

What is dystopia, what is reality, what is real… Is anything ever really “real?” That’s not the question I’m interested in asking; too familiar, frozen, doesn’t go anywhere. A relativistic cope, an excuse to never care, act, or take a stand.

I must mention here that fear of living an “unreal” life often acts as a deterrent to understanding. Because of this I don’t believe there should be an instantly negative connotation to living in the simulation, or any shame in having been swayed or influenced, in fact, I believe it’s even possible to take the Baudpill and return to living “normally” to an extent. I have asked dear friends to consider the fact they may be part of a computer simulation, as a way to broach the conversation about constructed reality in the age of media/mediation. I’ve found more than a few simply choke on the idea the instant it makes them feel “fooled” or somehow consider it an insult. That’s not at all my intention.

What I am asking is: Can you see what is emerging now? Can you see the dynamics of technological capital and communication? Can you understand what they are doing to you? Whether they’ve deliberately designed this as torture or not, can you at least see that you are a captive? And optionally, (but only if you’re on a roll) can you see that this is not new?

And if you can see, you still may, ostensibly, be enjoying it. Resigned to it? You’re allowed to do that. (You’re supposed to.) But can you “see” what you’re being told, in contrast to what is? Because the ride is going to speed up, and get “worse.” I would love for you to be aware, rather than feel a sense of uncomfortable acceleration and nausea, with no perceptible origin.

Consider Zuckerberg’s “second-order” simulation venture today, where an enactment of “real” life becomes literal, not as a recount or story of real-life in cinema, but as an algorithmic layer on top of real-time interaction. What’s interesting about this is not that we have another attempt to mass-market a VR world, it’s that he’s now working within the language of business, innovating around the needs of business, noting the importance of how people like to interact in meetings, in terms of head positions, eye movements, gestures. The facilitation of an atomized remote-work future, that is supposedly “coming.” An immersive real-time simulation of fake work.

It simply has to be the best evolution of Disneyland I’ve seen in recent years, a quantum leap of the entire concept, in function, politics, and aesthetic. The Metaverse as Facebook envisions it, purportedly exists to try and approximate the real as closely as is possible, in order to “humanize” the future of business. At a time when their stated and nearly religious mission is to fight the “unreal,” (the plague of misinformation) And to strictly follow the “science” (CDC guidelines, ideology of the powers that be?)

The cartoon version of Business You is abstracted from the real, for a few reasons, including frame rates and polygons and bandwidth, but it also eventually becomes an uncanny valley problem. But if we remember Dear Baud, we know this WFH Metaverse is also there as a kind of symbolic cover for the simulation, the attempt to differentiate and teach that this is not already the Business World you live in.

That your professional (and probably personal) life is not already a cartoon, with motions and words written for you, by Walt Disney’s deep bench of talent, the descendants of whom own/run all global media today. That you are not already living in a decision tree of approved narratives, with goggles firmly over your eyes.

Nonsense! When you’re not in VR, Your ideas and opinions… those are still your own, right? Right. At least when you’re not at work, right? Right. Even though you’re more or less always at work, at home, and at work, right? Right. Are you still at work when you’re in your car with Do Not Disturb turned on? Good question. If I didn’t buy my car outright with cash, do I still own it? Also a good question.

In the world of social media you don’t need to be in any kind of authoritative role, you don’t even have to be employed.

So why don’t we experience these events and developments in the same way, almost as if we’re watching different films? The worst-case scenario is Zuckerberg knows full well what he’s doing, laughing all the way to the end times. Still a possible explanation. But the optimist in me believes he doesn’t know, simply not aware. It’s not intentional cover for the truth, but instinctual, a mode of self-preservation, a normal development in an advanced form. In this sense I believe it’s important not to (automatically) lend too much agency to perpetrators, as they are most often a competing conglomerate of factors, at the top of which is a function of their station or role, rather than some shadowy plotting villain. It’s even an important point to remember about yourself, to continually examine not just your known intentions and heart, but your actual function in the world. In the world of social media you don’t need to be in any kind of authoritative role, you don’t even have to be employed. You, even by the meek act of staying silent about technological capital, influence, narratives, censorship, are an unwitting source of great harm. With your voice and courage, you’re also a rare source of comfort and understanding.

In the end, it really doesn’t matter, because our time here is so painfully short. We will never figure it out. We will certainly never do anything but make it worse with technological “solutions.” This acceptance and understanding about our “function” in the world is what motivates the call to action:

The time you have here is a gift. I would never recommend you spend it all worrying about what part of your own identity is predetermined by a capitalist simulation. I would however use the gold found in the brilliant insights of people like Jean Baudrillard to obtain things your peers aren’t getting off Amazon. To dig deeper (offline) and find the original human reason for being, to say something when you see something, to stop cashing the checks when you know beyond any shadow of a doubt the money’s dirty. To have your own gold, which is not their gold (an absolutely wonderful idea borrowed from the mind of Neal Clark.)

This plea may be nothing but a narrative from an old book or film, but it’s a good one. So by God, at least choose a good one.


Nick Sternberg
Nick Sternberg
Nick is a professional outlier and regular contributor at the fringes of the very online.

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  1. Hmmmm, You talk about Zuckerberg as if he is some sort of alchemist. I think he’s just a smart manager, who got a big enough idea 20 years ago and was smart enough to spin it into an empire, and hired people with real vision, whacked out or otherwise, to shape, re-shape and expand that idea into a behemoth. I personally don’t see anything dystopian about any of this, for myself. But I’m 74 and have been writing about media for most of my adult life. I have seen it grow and re-form and expand and contract pretty much in sync with the generations who formed its primary target group. Mostly thanks to visionary leaders and smart thinkers. What you describe as dystopian, I see as simply evolution. That’s not to say it isn’t without it’s downside. Opiates are always addictive to the masses. Those who look for higher meaning, like yourself, and myself to some extent, have probably always instinctively known this. Speaking for myself, I have often immersed myself into several different kinds of opiate, but have always managed to come out the other side, television, which I no long pay attention to, being the most recent. The difference between the people who come out the other side and those who get lodged in the tube is simply a matter of intellect. Those who enter into an opiate world (like Facebook) with a curiosity about what makes it work are different from those who just mindlessly open up their computers and gawk for hours on end. Guys like Zuckerberg understand this. Same with anyone who has made a big score. I’m an advertising guy and the real true golden rule in that business is Understand Who You Are Talking To And Give Them What They Are Looking For. Walt Disney knew that way back in the day. Zuckerberg, Musk, Bezos, Gates, Jobs and a bunch of other fabulously well to do people know it today. It’s still the same gaudy Christmas tree, nothing’s really changed except the decorations. IMHO. Thanks for an interesting read.

  2. Fascinating read and videos, Nick, and not at all surprising.
    Notice that we will all be forever young – which conveniently also removes any micro expressions through which our real feelings could be decoded, should we ever be in the same room as our colleagues again. (Not that we might have ever learned to decode micro expressions or even normal expressions, if we have been unfortunate enough to be born after our parents go their first smart phone and forgot to look at us when they spoke to us or [not really] listened to us.)
    The big reset is way overdue.