22 December 2006

Revisiting Options - As Good As It Gets

When I went to visit my family this summer, I bought a book at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art.

It's called, Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live In It by Thomas de Zengotita.

It caught my eye because of my desire for seeing the real world instead of cocooning at home and watching the world through TV.

He says, "We are most free of mediation, we are most real, when we are at the disposal of accident and necessity." p. 14

Sounding very much like Dan Ho, De Zengotita says, "But mediated people everywhere know that identity and lifestyle are constructs, something to have." p. 14

It also caught my eye because he talks, in a way that contrasts Thoreau's time-period and concept, about the post-modern idea that we have all these 'options'.

De Zengotita claims that the opposite of reality is not "phony" or "illusional" or "fiction."

He says that the concept of "options" is the opposite of reality.

Uh oh. How can that be?


He says that if your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and you have no connections or gadgetry, nothing to listen to or to read while you wait, then eventually you will start to notice your surroundings and notice that none of it was designed to affect you.

Everything around you is just there and you are just there. No one arranged it for you to experience.

There is no brochure, or entrance or tour guide. There are no paths or viewing platforms with historical information under plexiglass.

He says that an experience like this will lead you to understand how very small your place in life really is and that your options are limited.

(This explanation of) this experience is meant to be the baseline for comparison to the experience we have in a mediated world.

He says that most people will recognize that culture has always filtered reality, that the things in our lives have always carried messages, represented categories of rank and affiliation.

De Zengotita says, "But being aware of that is new. This crucial point must be grasped and retained."


He explains that because many of the "objects" and "places" and "mannerisms" in our life-world are all each designed to "represent" something, we browse among these options, picking out components to build up an identity and lifestyle that means something larger to us than our "real" place in the scheme of things.

He goes on to say, "What cultures traditionally provided was taken-for-granted custom, a form of necessity -- hence reality."

We no longer grow up with a taken-for-granted reality imposed on us.

We learn that we can create our own reality by living among and through options that never before existed.

He says the slang expression "whatever" sums up our necessary and dialectical attitude in the field of options.

On the one hand, we can have whatever we want or imagine.

We can see whatever, eat whatever, hear whatever, or be whatever.

On the other hand, because all of these objects, places and mannerisms are "representational," we have built our identities and lifestyles out of a world of effects.

Because they are representations, these components have a surface quality.

Again sounding like Dan Ho, who said that unstudied style is primarily visual, De Zengotita gives examples,
"Everything has the edgeless flowing feel of computer graphics, like the lobby of a high-end Marriott/Ramada/Sheraton -- the sculptured flower arrangements, that glowy, woody, marbly, purply, cushioned-air quality.

Every gadget aspires to that iPod look -- even automobiles.

The feel of the virtual is over-flowing the screens, as if the plasma were leaking into the physical world." pp.15-16

De Zengotita says we need mobility among the options because they are only representations, "And that means they are no more than they appear to be. And so they are never enough. And that's why more is on the way. Always." p. 17

These representations are appealing because they are designed to address us. In that design, we are the center of attention.

But as reality and representation come together, there are always two opposing sides to the experience.

De Zengotita claims that while half of our being is acknowledging, I can experience whatever I want, the other half is feeling, What difference does it make?

He says, "This moment, the moment of the shrug, is essential to our mobility among the options."

While we are free to keep browsing the options, we need to keep moving among them because they are only representations.

We are always left with wanting something more and we are always getting more of the same.

He says the irony is, "You are completely free to choose because it doesn't matter what you choose."

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