In thinking through the hyperreality questions of late, my brain keeps going back to this old quote from the GWB years about the “reality-based community.”

The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ […] ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do’.

2004 feels like literally a million years ago. But this still feels prescient even today as consensus reality has gone down the toilet, and is destined to get even more fractured through synthetic realities and histories.

The supposedly senior White House official who is supposed to have made the above quote was talking in the context of “empire,” but what is an empire but a kind of hegemonic metaverse, if you will? Forced interoperability at gunpoint.

I guess what I want to say here is that, yes, being based in reality is a good thing. We shouldn’t abandon that. But the internet is a place that is not based on reality. Or if it is, it only is in the sense that a mostly invented movie might be “based on a true story.” There are things that it references which may be real things, but it blends them with the manufactured unreal.

In the case of the internet, this leads to a massive flattening of information that is nothing if not postmodern – the hyperreal. Massive distrust in the grand organizing narratives. Flattening of authority ad infinitum.

I’ve been coming back to this quote in the Daily Dot:

Gregory also said he appreciated that Posobiec didn’t use the video to warn about the dangers of deepfakes, which he described as “an over-used technique” that “seems to contribute to undermining trust in real media,” but to focus on a political hypothetical.

As well as Cory Doctorow’s observation that the reason people are losing trust in (some) institutions is because we’re seeing how often unworthy they are of our trust.

What is “real media” now, anyway, when so much of what passes for journalism is just clickbait or re-reporting things that happened on Twitter? And further, what are the institutions that deserve our uncritical trust?

I’m not saying there’s no objective ground truth and we should just ignore reality; I’m saying that these are not the things upon which information is based online, and that clinging to them exclusively during the rise of generative AI will make our lives very difficult in a world where anyone – not just empires (but especially empires) – can make their own “reality” that is anything but. Applying hyperreality as a lens, for me, then is a way to recognize the essential blending that happens online. And to perhaps realize that this is now our default state…