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  • Kind of Spooky

    Posted by David Foster on January 13th, 2010 (All posts by )

    CNN:

    James Cameron’s completely immersive spectacle “Avatar” may have been a little too real for some fans who say they have experienced depression and suicidal thoughts after seeing the film because they long to enjoy the beauty of the alien world Pandora.

    According to the article, there have been more than 1000 posts to a forum for people trying to cope from the depression they experienced after seeing this film..and not being able to stay within it permanantly.

    (Via Neptunus Lex, who says: “Some folks don’t get the point. You have to come home when it’s over.)

    When I saw this story, I immediately thought of the old Chinese opium dens…which were largely inhabited by people whose lives were so miserable that their desire to disappear in dreams was entirely understandable.

    But what misery or bleakness are the would-be permanant habitués of the Avatar den seeking to escape?

     

    27 Responses to “Kind of Spooky”

    1. Le Mur Says:

      In case you thought that the CNN reporterette could, you know, read a number or count, there’s 772 posts in that marketing ‘forum’: http://avatar-forums.com/showthread.php?t=43

    2. Shannon Love Says:

      But what misery or bleakness are the would-be permanant habitués of the Avatar den seeking to escape?

      A real or perceived lack of social status. Most unhappiness in the modern world comes form people believing they don’t rank in society where they think they need to rank in order to be happy. It doesn’t matter how much stuff you have if you base your happiness by making relative comparisons to others.

      There is a reason why the stereotypically socially inept geeks (like my younger self) are drawn to fantasy stories. They present a taste of a world in which we’re not perceived as marginalized losers.

    3. Bobby Nations Says:

      Anyone else notice the pizza guy in the second row? IMHO, that picture truly is worth a thousand words. Especially a thousand words written by Jo Piazza. Most excellent!

    4. david foster Says:

      Here’s something that may or may not be related…

      A couple of years ago, I was talking with a flight instructor who had recently started teaching in new Cessna, with large navigation display screens. He said that students often had difficulty tearing their eyes away from the screen and looking outside *during final approach*.

      There does seem to be something very attention-grabbing about video images…Especially with HD and 3-D, are we creating people for whom the image is more real than the reality.

    5. chuck Says:

      But what misery or bleakness…

      It’s worse than that, people are bored. And one of the reasons they are bored is that they don’t know how to do stuff, they might as well be paralyzed.

    6. Michael Kennedy Says:

      Rousseau would probably not have understood but he created a similar illusion and his illusion had much to do with the French Revolution. How many of those Avatar devotees voted for Obama would you suppose ?

    7. Mitch Says:

      Fantasy is smooth, reality is lumpy. Some people can never accept that, which accounts for the persistence of Utopian hogwash.

    8. setbit Says:

      Chuck,

      [O]ne of the reasons they are bored is that they don’t know how to do stuff, they might as well be paralyzed.

      Ouch, that really hits the nail on the head. People whose internal lives are so empty that their external circumstances don’t much matter any more. “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”

      Now I’m struggling with misery and bleakness. ;-)

    9. onparkstreet Says:

      “Fantasy is smooth, reality is lumpy. Some people can never accept that, which accounts for the persistence of Utopian hogwash.”

      Mitch, that’s great. Some people never CAN accept that, can they?

    10. Lexington Green Says:

      People now increasingly have the prospect of escape from lumpy reality. If the reality is that your reality is too lumpy to bother with, there are increasingly alternatives other than suicide and drug addiction.

      We will see a migration of unhappy, unattractive, unsuccessful people into virtual fantasy worlds, and they will “commute” to work in “meatspace” to sustain their more compelling and satisfying virtual existence.

      I remember the power of fantasy role playing games for unpopular teenagers — including me — when it was just cardboard counters, hexagon maps, paper, pencils and dice. Now the appeal is much more powerful, and that trend is not only continuing but rapidly increasing.

    11. onparkstreet Says:

      “People now increasingly have the prospect of escape from lumpy reality.”

      Lumpy reality retains a hold on me, no matter how much I enjoy the virtual sphere. In fact, if I spend too much time online, I feel less, not more, satisfied with life. But, as you say, maybe that’s because of the nature of my life off-line (which, I’m blessed!) Still. It’s not just that. It’s the flickering glare-on-my-eyeballs light of the virtual versus the warmth of the way a table looks in real live lamplight, digital versus vinyl. I mean, wait. Where am I going with this? Ignore it. Flight of fancy. Turns out flights of fancy ARE compelling, after all. So, enjoy your fantasy creepy fantasy people :) (That’s a joke, btw, I am not anti-fantasy or a fantasy bigot).

    12. Sgt. Mom Says:

      I can understand the attraction of a created world, really, I can – since I make some of my living creating, and making real that word to other people.
      I can also understand how a world on screen can immediately seem much less vivid and enthralling than the real world …
      But holy heck – the real world is so much more complicated and unpredictable…
      These people are kinda sad and pathetic, in that they can’t make up their own imaginary world, to equal what they see on screen in a movie theater. Yikes.

    13. david foster Says:

      Of course, one could also think of *reading*…particularly fiction reading…as an escape into a fantasy world. Indeed, during the early & mid-1800s, there were a lot of circles in which novel-reading was regarded as a bad thing–although some of this was concern about young people, especially girls, getting stirred up sexually, some of it was probably a feeling that one shouldn’t be escaping into an unreal world.

      I never heard of anyone falling into severe depression when getting to the end of a favorite novel, though…doesn’t mean it never happened.

    14. david foster Says:

      Sgt Mom…”I can understand the attraction of a created world, really, I can – since I make some of my living creating, and making real that word to other people.”

      And you do it very well. (Check out Sgt Mom’s books, y’all–links at her site)

      The point about creativity reminds me of something Andre Maurois said…that followers of intellectual fads tend to be intelligent men who are not in any way creative…and that those who are not capable of formulating a system for themselves tend to throw themselves “voraciously” on those they come across, and to apply them more vigorously than would their inventors.

      Just hypothesizing, but I wonder if the same thing applies here…fairly high IQ, but without a lot of ideas re what to do with it.

    15. david foster Says:

      One more thought, and not a cheerful one..

      Media-I am thinking particularly of radio and of film–has sometimes demonstrated considerable political power. Imagine the Leni Riefenstahl of the 3-D animation.

      Neal Stephenson has importantly distinguished media which are explicit and word-based from those that are graphical/sensorial…see my explication of this distinction and its implications in Metaphors, Interfaces, and Thought Processes. The relevant point here is that the graphical/sensorial media are less likely to be conducive to rational thought and analysis and, hence, the increasing power of such media may be politically very destabilizing–and not in a good way.

    16. veryretired Says:

      There seem to be several factors at work in this situation, not unsurprisingly, but as I get older and look around at the social/cultural trends that I can only observe, but not join into as younger people can, I see some troubling developments.

      I don’t think it is unusual to this age that there seem to be so many truly lonely, even desperate, people who long achingly for some form of connection to other people, and can’t seem to find it. I am afraid I agree with the observation made quite some time ago that most men (people) lead lives of quiet desperation.

      The various social trends that have contributed to this isolation are too complex to go into here, but suffice it to say that the uncommitted, hook-up culture must leave so many people, men and women, feeling that their lives are disconnected, and even trivial, compared to the great romance and adventure they see all around them in both media entertainments and virtual reality simulations.

      There was a movie made several years ago about a virtual reality creator in which, if I remember correctly, it was illegal specifically because it was so powerful and addictive. I can easily imagine a movement to curtail the use of such entertainments if they became as all-engrossing as this “Avatar reality” appears to have been for some viewers, and even more so if there is sex involved.

      There are so many unhappy, unfulfilled people in our society, and the world in general, that the idea that some would rather live in a fantasy world is no astonishing revelation. Perhaps, for some, the fantasy is better than any existence they could aspire to in the real world.

      Sad.

    17. Jonathan Says:

      There are so many unhappy, unfulfilled people in our society, and the world in general, that the idea that some would rather live in a fantasy world is no astonishing revelation. Perhaps, for some, the fantasy is better than any existence they could aspire to in the real world.

      Perhaps things are better now. In the past, a life of quiet desperation was really desperate. Imagine living on a remote farm before modern transportation and electronic communication existed. The loneliness, boredom and lack of hope in many lives must have been more than we can imagine. Today the quiet desparer has, at least, many alternative ways in which to pass the time.

    18. Michael Kennedy Says:

      ” Imagine living on a remote farm before modern transportation and electronic communication existed. The loneliness, boredom and lack of hope in many lives must have been more than we can imagine.”

      I’m sure that was true of the settlers on the Plains who lived in sod houses with steady wind blowing but there were many rich lives led by the adventurous who chose to move to remote areas for a better life. I think of my great grandfather who left upstate New York to come to Illinois to work on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. He then worked in the glass factory in Peru-LaSalle and as a deputy marshal in the towns. About 1860, he left to go back to New York to marry my great grand mother and bring her back to Illinois. On the day he left his job at the glass factory, he made himself a glass cane. That cane hangs on the wall behind me as I type this.

      He returned to Illinois and built a farm near Odell (60 miles south of Chicago on I 40). There they raised 12 children, 9 of them boys. All grew to adulthood and, as each boy came of age to marry, he gave him a farm, requiring him to repay half the cost. He used that money to buy more land. In 1905, he died surrounded by his family in his big white house in Odell (now sadly torn down). The Catholic Church in Odell (Saint Paul’s) has stained glass windows along both sides. The first window to the left as you enter is dedicated by him and his wife; the first on the right by my grandmother’s parents.

      He never learned to read or write.

    19. Lexington Green Says:

      “Perhaps, for some, the fantasy is better than any existence they could aspire to in the real world.”

      The “perhaps” and the “for some” should be amended.

      Certainly, for many, the fantasy is better than any existence they could aspire to in the real world.

      The quality of the fantasy experience is increasing geometrically, with virtual reality worlds becoming increasingly convincing and more and more freely available and more and more densely populated. The prospect of companionship in shared interests via network technology creates vast pools of like-minded people who would never meet in person due to geography, and due to the personality issues that make them unhappy or isolated in the first place. There will be no shortage of unhappy, unpopular, unattractive people in the future. Would you rather be fat, shy, unattractive 25 year old with zero prospect of companionship with the opposite sex living in the tangible world, where the attractive, popular and self-confident always win, or go home, plug in, be with your online friends, and share in adventures or games or other activities that give you satisfaction and esteem and prestige? The trend is obvious, and it will continue for obvious reasons.

    20. Jonathan Says:

      Michael, thanks for sharing.

      Lex, agreed. I would add a couple of points to what you wrote. One, network technology facilitates connections between dispersed individuals who have all kinds of common interests — including blogging. Two, people who function well in physical reality will always have an edge over people who don’t.

    21. onparkstreet Says:

      @ David Foster: yes, novel reading was met with the same suspicions at one time, too, but novel reading hasn’t taken hold in the way on-line social networking has, has it? In terms of percentages of the population involved. Anyway, I’ve had some of that suspicion directed my way by some non-readers around me: “Life is not like a novel!” When did I ever say that it was? There is something about having your nose tucked in a book that seems like wasting time to some who are not naturally readers… . Or not. I don’t know. Just jazz-riffing.

      @Lexington Green: speech and drama club was my D&D as a teen – man was I a theater/speech nerd; my brother and his friends were into the fantasy stuff and it seemed harmless enough in the way they did whatever the heck it is that they did.

      @Sgt. Mom: I need to order your books! I think that every single time I read about them on threads around here. Next on the list!

      @ Jonathan: technology is a tool, so it can be used for good, for ill, and all points in-between. I know, obvious point. You bring your personality with you on-line – ah, there’s a catch – so you can make connections with like-minded individuals, learn things, or, escape from a daily reality that you don’t much like. The “escape” may be productive, counterproductive, or all points in-between. It just depends.

    22. Sgt. Mom Says:

      Thanks, OMP – you won’t regret reading them, I’m sure! I think Amazon is running a sale on them now, and if you have get the free shipping deal, you won’t be able to beat that with a stick!

    23. Michael Kennedy Says:

      There is something about having your nose tucked in a book that seems like wasting time to some who are not naturally readers… . Or not. I don’t know. Just jazz-riffing.

      My father’s favorite expression, it seemed, was “Get your nose out of that book !” It reminds me now of Bill Cosby’s story of thinking his brother’s name was “Jesus Christ !” until he was 8 years old.

      I don’t know if you all have seen this piece on Chicago schools in City Journal. I really wonder if the city will survive without the Daley family or will go the way of Detroit. Too bad Cosby isn’t running things.

    24. sol vason Says:

      “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Calvin Coolidge.

      There are some people who dream who are taught they can do nothing and they are filled by resentment. They are angry that they are not rich; they are angry that they are not successful. They are taught in their schools that because of an accident of birth that they will always fail, that they will never be rich, that they will never find happiness, that they will always be exploited by evil Europeans.

      And so evil exploiters exploit the planet of the Avatari and people are depressed because their teachers have been proven right.

      Perhaps our schools should change their tune and teach persistence rather than teach their students that some are marked by accident of birth to be victims.

      At least now we know the value of a Liberal education.

    25. Jim Bennett Says:

      As usual, Poul Anderson was one of the first to see this trend emerging. The Saturn Game (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Saturn_Game) was his 1981 story about people getting lost in immersive VR worlds — interesting to read today.

    26. Michael Kennedy Says:

      “Perhaps our schools should change their tune and teach persistence rather than teach their students that some are marked by accident of birth to be victims.”

      They will not do so because teachers are not the ones who persist. When I was a pre-med student 50 plus years ago, we used to laugh at the zoology students (That was before molecular biology, now the most common pre-med major) because they hated us. We got all the As in the classes we took because we were the motivated students. I suspect something similar occurs with education majors.

      I posted the link to the City Journal piece about Chicago schools. My high school, Leo Catholic HIgh School, has a 96% graduation rate and tuition is paid promptly by 95% of the parents who are black blue collar families. I go to the reunions about every ten years. My last one was my 50th. I was glad to see several tables of black alumni at the reunion as the white alumni like me are dying out. One of the graduates attended West Point a couple of years ago. Those are motivated kids and teachers.

    27. Angie Schultz Says:

      I’ll see your Poul Anderson, Jim, and raise you Damon Knight: “Satisfaction” (aka “Semper Fi”), from the Aug 1964 Analog.

      In it, the inventor of a virtual reality device spends more time using it and less inventing things. His brother/business partner tries to introduce him to a real dame, but he’s not interested.

      “Satisfaction” is unsatisfactory, in my view, in that the story just sort of lurches to a stop. “Screw it. My reality’s better. I’m staying there.” (I paraphrase.) Perhaps this was unexpected in ’64.

      It’s even less satisfying when you have Knight’s annotations (in his Creating Short Fiction). There you find that the humorless puckered minister is humorless and puckered because he’s a minister. Cliched stereotypes obviate the need for any pesky character motivations. Thanks, Damon!