Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Sherry Turkle ~ Simulation is the New Reality

from, in response to this question:
What Is Your Dangerous Idea?
After several generations of living in the computer culture, simulation will become fully naturalized. Authenticity in the traditional sense loses its value, a vestige of another time.

Consider this moment from 2005: I take my fourteen-year-old daughter to the Darwin exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. The exhibit documents Darwin's life and thought, and with a somewhat defensive tone (in light of current challenges to evolution by proponents of intelligent design), presents the theory of evolution as the central truth that underpins contemporary biology. The Darwin exhibit wants to convince and it wants to please. At the entrance to the exhibit is a turtle from the Galapagos Islands, a seminal object in the development of evolutionary theory. The turtle rests in its cage, utterly still. "They could have used a robot," comments my daughter. It was a shame to bring the turtle all this way and put it in a cage for a performance that draws so little on the turtle's "aliveness." I am startled by her comments, both solicitous of the imprisoned turtle because it is alive and unconcerned by its authenticity. The museum has been advertising these turtles as wonders, curiosities, marvels — among the plastic models of life at the museum, here is the life that Darwin saw. I begin to talk with others at the exhibit, parents and children. It is Thanksgiving weekend. The line is long, the crowd frozen in place. My question, "Do you care that the turtle is alive?" is welcome diversion. A ten year old girl would prefer a robot turtle because aliveness comes with aesthetic inconvenience: "It's water looks dirty. Gross." More usually, the votes for the robots echo my daughter's sentiment that in this setting, aliveness doesn't seem worth the trouble. A twelve-year-old girl opines: "For what the turtles do, you didn't have to have the live ones." Her father looks at her, uncomprehending: "But the point is that they are real, that's the whole point."
Sherry Turkle

More here


Jack P Toerson said...

I cannot be sure of this, but I don't think simulation being a new reality would be such a bad thing, provided we still maintained bio-diversity. We may finally stop using animals and just let them get on with it. No zoos, just closed wild-life parks. Letting nature be nature and letting gawpers gawp at robots. It might end up promoting empathy with animals. After all, turtles in a museum is no where near as wonderful as turtles in the wild.

eugene ionesco said...

Of course, Philip K. Dick was making a career out of this material way back in the 50s ("Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" seems particularly appropriate in this context), long before Jean Baudrillard elaborated his theories of simulation, simulacra and hyperreality.

Jack P Toerson said...

I've never read Baudrillard in depth, so I'm in a state of idle banter here, but I may have a problem with hyperreality. I can't see that we've ever had anything other than simulation in Baudrillard's sense. I can't see that there has ever been uniform links between signifiers and signifieds, or uniform indirect links between signifiers and signifieds. We're not wired in a uniform fashion. Some ice-ager may well have been aroused by the ice-age equivalent of shoes. It could be argued that is a simulation, and a production. The same ice-ager may believe that when he goes to sleep he dies, and is resurrected every morning. The idea of God could thought of as a simulation. When still popular it certainly wasn't the end of reality. It was just a bit stifled. What Baudrillard seems to have done is to ascribe an apocalypse to something that can be observed because it has always been the case. The people on the receiving end of objects (under the object value system) would be the people producing the values of those objects, which means there is an indirect link, therefore production, rather than simulation, in even the worst of circumstances, with the proviso that the production of object values is varied and has random factors beyond human control (natural disasters for instance).