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Virtually Reality

When we arrived at the lake, my family and I stand back unsure of what to do with the breathtaking view that stretches out in front of us. It feels like a 2D cardboard facade, as though if somehow kicked it, it would fall to reveal a warehouse studio behind it. We were outside looking in like visitors at an aquarium taking pictures through the glass. There is a yearning to be closer accompanied by a frustration that we don’t know how to get in. We want to be inside it but we have forgotten how to do so.

So we instinctively reach for our phones and begin to take photos. Like that feeling of seeing a puppy so painfully cute that you don’t actually know what to do, appalled at the urge you feel to kick it because maybe it is in these moments that we have reached the limits of our human comprehension. Or perhaps language. Toddlers put objects in their mouth in order to understand them, a salivary process of familiarisation with the unknown. So maybe we take photos of the lake because what we really want to do is to put it in our mouths. Here is a beauty so vast, so unknown that it is in fact incomprehensible to the senses we have employed to process such information. Our eyes cannot. Our brains cannot. So maybe our devices might succeed in what we have failed to do, becoming an optimised extension of our disappointing capacity.

We experience a distance, a separation, one that we are trying to collapse as we point our phones towards the lake, a beauty so bright that we can’t seem to look directly at it for fear we might turn to stone. We look at the present moment as though we are in the future already looking back, examining it through the view finder that will immortalise this moment as an eternal now. As we look around, we are already admiring the lake it as though it were a memory.


Virtually reality. 

We begin to the walk the path that encircles the lake, but I quickly fall behind from opting for the off-piste course through the trees. With no tempo to adhere to anymore, I am stopping to examine the shoreline, curiously tracing the strange textures on the tree bark, turning over rocks in the palm of my hand. A childlike curiosity to touch everything overcomes me and for the next while I explore the circumference of the lake, thinking only with my hands.

When I arrived back to the start an hour later I realised i was seeing the same things but very differently. The colours had changed; the greens of the moss look unnaturally bright, almost like gummy bears pumped up with artificial colouring. I examine the colours in disbelief, squinting from all angles to expose some trick of the light. But there was none. It felt as if I stepped inside a computer game where the colours were rendered with an otherworldly vividness. When I finally reached my family, my mum offers me a grape and i put one in my mouth. The insides of my cheeks tingle and my tongue prickles sharply as the taste floods my senses. They were unspectacular grapes bought from a roadside newsagents, yet I think I have never tasted anything so intensely.

Like sun light being refracted through a magnifying glass, it felt like the normally frayed edges of my scattered attention span had become concentrated to a single point. My awareness felt like it has somehow melted into my surroundings. I hear a ripple from the far side of the lake. Then a scurrying animal above me. A crunching from below. I am everywhere all at once. My nervous system is no longer only my own. The pale pink glow falling on the underside of the branches. The way the rocks are not grey at all but in fact an iridescent blue. A twig so soft that it feels velvety against my lip.

I was no longer outside looking in.  

So, what are we forgetting in our eagerness to remember? And if not on iCloud, where do we put all this wonder we experience? How do we interact with the non-human world in a way that implicates us more intimately?

We talk so readily about immersive technologies but what does it really mean to be immersed? Immersion is a practise that involves an intentional channeling of our attention.

So, how can we learn to get closer?  


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