A conversation with the dead: PKD on building a universe

“Because today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups—and the electronic hardware exists by which to deliver these pseudo-worlds right into the heads of the reader, the viewer, the listener.” Philip K. Dick, “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later”

I am a huge fan of PKD. Every since I read DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP, I marveled at how he merged the fantastic with the dark and scientific. PKD had a way of slipping the world from under you, peeling it back so that the outer layer seemed flimsy by the time you got to the pith and meat.

When I first read this essay written in 1978, I was struck at how relevant it still seems. Just yesterday, for example, I heard about the darknet and how it represents the underbelly of the internet. It’s as if we are only  seeing the outer layer of the internet with our nicely framed google searches while underneath it all the hackers and murderers teem with private connections.

But what struck me the most about PKD’s essay was his comment about spurious realities. From gaming to the age of TV, we live in world where we are constantly being bombarded with stimuli, whose influence we are only vaguely aware of. All those advertisements that pop up on the side of the screen: do they make me hungry for Pop Tarts? Who still eats pop tarts?

What makes these spurious realities more problematic is that we are never quite sure who is authoring them. It is no secret that Hollywood and TV programming have a big diversity problem. It is a notoriously difficult industry to break into and one that is not very friendly to people of color (how can it be with unpaid internships being the norm?).

So the question then is- who is feeding us these spurious realities? I would venture to say that a very small group of people is building the vast majority of what we perceive as American TV and movie culture. All you have to do is watch any movie (yes, AGE OF ULTRON is guilty of this) to see that the equation for a successful blockbuster is: explosion+ explosion+principal white male character= classic film

Don’t get me wrong, good people of the cyberweb. There are movies worthy of being produced, and yes, I am guilty of buying MAD MAX tickets. But the reality (if I can dare to say that) is that we are at a loss as to saying what exactly is our reality because of this barrage of spurious ones.

I’ll leave Hollywood alone and use new outlets as an example. The full extent of the tragedy in Nepal is still developing, but it seems like our short attention spans have also created a world where news of yesterday is just that- some vague memory. If it does not sell, it’s not the front page. But the reality for those earthquake victims may be that it will be a long time before they see a full recovery. And they need all the media attention they can get. Who controls what is on the front page story? Why am I reading about Picasso’s painting that sold for a ridiculous amount instead of the villages in Nepal.

To say that no one is guilty of the way the world works is to say that everyone is. Spurious realities… PKD was so right, it makes me feel he speaks from the afterlife.

I leave you with my own spurious reality: a picture of an alien from my new upcoming game.



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