Excerpt from Jessica Helfand, "Simulating Reality: Sex, Spin and The (Pseudo) Screen Event." Eye, 6:26 (forthcoming, Autumn 1997) 8-9.

Nearly forty years ago, the noted historian (and former Librarian of Congress) Daniel Boorstin wrote critically of something he termed "pseudo-events": namely, the counterfeit simulations in everyday life that were replacing the authentic with the contrived. Boorstin warned against what he called "the menace of unreality", arguing his essential point with penetrating insight: that we seek simulations because we aren't satisfied with reality, and that ideals were being replaced by superficial images. Boorstin was not alone in his thinking (Beaudrillard, among others, warned against "substituting signs of the real for the real itself") though his were comparatively early and indeed, prescient obesrvations that feed directly into what we have come to think of, in today's world, as spin: the buzz or frenzy surrounding a person or event that swirls into a haze of media hype, submerging the original event or person in a fog of overwhelming--and overabundant--detail. From threats of disclosure (the future of the Presidency) to gobs of over-exposure (the end of Seinfeld), we thirst for truth (what did Clinton do, exactly, with that cigar?) and lust for closure (how will the last episode of Seinfeld conclude?) The line between fiction and non-fiction gets murkier, making it fundamentally impossible to distinguish reality from illusion. Technology compounds these hazards, adding a plethora of choices, though not necessarily contributing to any clearer understanding of what it is we're choosing, or more importantly, why.

Today, it seems, we don't merely seek simulations, we create them. Certainly as designers, it might even be argued that we willingly participate in their maufacture. Notes Boorstin: "By a diabolical irony, the very facsimiles of the world which we make on purpose to bring it within our grasp, to make it less elusive, have transported us into a new word of blurs. By sharpening our images we have blurred all our experience."

And indeed, despite the fact that opportunities for information access grow more plentiful by the second, the opportunities for fact-finding, or truth-seeking, or knowledge-building grow seem to grow dimmer.


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