The twenty-first century seems to be the magical endpoint chosen by our creative thinkers, dreamers, and visionaries when our dreams of a futuristic society will become a reality. If the future is now, then what kind of life do we have to look forward to? How will we cope with living in an alternate reality? What new meanings will we attach to our new existence?
In 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain to find a trade route to Asia, little knowing that he would discover a New World. Five hundred years later, we have evolved from believing the world is flat to sending astronauts to the moon. By daring to embark on a journey into the unknown, Columbus revealed a boundless universe that has changed the course of history.
The Age of Discovery opened a whole new world of exploration and conquest. Even though it unlocked the floodgates to unimaginable wealth and power for some nations, it was responsible for heaping untold pain and suffering upon many more. On the other hand, it expanded our world of storytelling by offering new experiences that helped us to explore and better understand what it means to be human.
If you have read my book, Spun: 101 Movies to Recreate Your Reality, then you know that when the hero embarks on an outer journey, it necessarily entails his traveling on an inner journey. The farther the hero travels outward, the deeper he travels inward. Life requires that we participate in the eternal drama. This is how we evolve and grow.
Throughout the ages, myths, fairytales and folklore were our attempts to explain life’s mysteries and ground us in the reality of our world. How else could we cope with the cycles of birth and death – the seeming temporality of life? These stories helped to insert meaning into our mundane lives. The more we better understood ourselves, the greater control we gained over our environment.
Today, we continue to wrestle with the same existential questions as our ancestors: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? It is through our storytelling that we hope to explore the many truths about ourselves. In the movie, Inception, the hero’s task is to manipulate the mind of a sleeping subject and implant an idea into his mind that will be acted upon in the real world when he awakens. This story raises some interesting questions about how ideas are conceived in the mind, while exploring the power of suggestion and the realm of the unconscious, which remains largely untapped.
When Columbus set sail on August 3, 1492, land was not sighted for another two months. Today, we have developed air travel that easily bridges time and space, so that a similar trip would take only a few hours. We have invented technologies that allow us to communicate instantly with anyone around the globe. The creation of the Internet has allowed us to enter the Digital Age. Just like Columbus before us, we are heading into uncharted territory and only time will reveal what new adventures and stories await us in Cyberspace.
For starters, Social Media is redefining how we form “community” and interact with each other. It used to be built on nationality, ethnicity, culture, religion, class, and race, but the Internet is erasing these artificial barriers. We are forming communities based on common interests. In the movie, The Social Network, the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, is depicted as a friendless young man, who is willing to risk everything in his single-minded pursuit to create a virtual platform that will support a global community. His sacrifice seems to have paid off, since Facebook reportedly has surpassed a billion users from around the world.
Not surprisingly, the Internet is changing how we communicate, work, play, learn, shop, dine, travel, date, seek jobs, find information, read books, consume news, use money, entertain ourselves, practice medicine, fight wars, commit and solve crimes. It is affecting the way companies market and sell their products and services. The Internet has become a veritable wellspring of free advice from anonymous strangers, which is proving quite valuable when a second opinion is needed. We have developed a sudden yen for sharing and staying connected.
In the dystopian tale, Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, human reproduction is obsolete and children are born and raised in Hatcheries and Conditioning Centers. The society is divided into five castes, the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon. The Alphas and Betas are bred to be the natural thinkers and leaders in society. They are expected to make decisions and dictate policy. The lower castes are physically and intellectually inferior. The drug soma is dispensed to keep the population docile and happy. This helps to create a peaceful and stable society, where everyone accepts their place within the hierarchy. The trouble begins when a citizen defies the system and is confronted by the absolute power of the state.
Notwithstanding, the Internet has led to the loss of our privacy and control over many areas of our lives. We can be tracked and followed, whether we wish it, or not. This makes it much easier for Big Brother to watch us. Neither can we escape the marketers and advertisers, who make their living from selling to us. Our digital identities offer little protection. It’s just a matter of time before we are treated as mere ciphers in a computer database that can be manipulated, regulated, and controlled by those in authority. On the other hand, it will be interesting to discover what other aspects of our nature will be activated, once these unknown forces of the Digital Age are unleashed.
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