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Hyperreality - not just an issue for young adults

I have just started reading a book by Mark Sayers called 'The trouble with Paris'.  I will start with a few quotes and there is an extended excerpt at the end of this entry.

  • Technology's promise of creating better ways of connecting actually ends up diminishing our ability to live in deep, connected relationships (p48)
  • To not succeed in a culture where anyone can succeed deeply affects our self-belief.  Thus we find ourselves constantly comparing ourselves to those around us.  Instead of happiness we find anxiety (p62-3)
  • I often issue people a challenge.  I tell them to spend the next weekend at home.  I tell them to stay in, to turn off the TV, phones and computer; and not to contact their friends.  I say to put away magazines and books, hide the ipods, and switch off the radio for the entire weekend.  Most people find this challenge too hard, but a few have actually tried with stunning results.  Most initially enjoy the space, but then after a few hours boredom sets in and many will sleep.  Come Saturday night most find themselves breaking down.  One guy who got back to me after trying thh challnege found himself, after twenty-four hours of no stimulation or distraction, sitting on his bed sobbing.  In the quiet all kids of pain from people's pasts emerge, and doubts about their worth invade the minds of otherwise confident people.  Some find themselves almost paranoid, wondering what their friends are doing and whether they are having fun without them.  This exercise illustrates the way in which the hyperconsumer culture acts as a smoke screen, distracting us from the causes of our unhappiness. (p 82)
The hyperreality and hyperconsumerism that Mark talks of is a reality we all need to grapple with to make real progress in our spiritual lives.  A quote I remember from somewhere - We are only safe to be with people when we are content being by ourselves.  As Christians we need to learn these lessons experientially - that is why solitude and silence are so critical.  If Jesus needed it in his time and place - how much more do we need it in our overstimulated culture?  If Mark's challenge above sounds to hard - work up to it - try going for one hour, then two, then three etc.  As you practice it, and wean yourself off addiction to stimulation, you will find that you are not alone, but God is with you and it is ok just to be with Him - he is big enough to run the world while we take time out.

Extended excerpt:

Why Your Faith Does Not Work: (Excepts from 'The Trouble with Paris' a new book by Mark Sayers available from Koorong, Amazon etc)

She looked like a girl who had it all. She was strikingly beautiful, confident, and hip. Half the guys in the room were looking at her, and all the girls in the room wanted to be her. She had ticked all the boxes: she was deeply involved in her church, had a high-paying job, travelled all over the world, and had a social life most of us would be jealous of with a bevy of male suitors. Yet for her this meant nothing.

She looked me square in the eye with pain in her face and told me, “I was promised an awesome life!” I was immediately thrown. This girl had everything that society tells us will make us happy. Yet as I listened to the reality of her life, I realized nothing could be further from the truth. Behind the glamorous exterior was a person who was struggling, who was unsure of who she was, who struggled with feelings of depression and with the dissatisfaction of constantly feeling as if she needed more. Her life was in limbo, and she was constantly waiting for this awesome life to turn up, yet it never came. She had finally come to the realization that she was miserable, and she felt very, very, ripped off.

This is a story that can be heard among those who have left the Christian faith because it didn’t deliver them the perfect life they believed they were promised. It can also be heard in the dissatisfaction and frustrations of those who still have faith. And finally, it can be heard in those who never have had faith yet have invested all of their hope in the fact that one day the perfect future will arrive. If we are to live lives of meaning, satisfaction, and happiness, it is essential that we understand what effects our culture has on our quality of life and quality of faith. Let’s begin with faith.

Something Is Eating Your Faith
Throughout the developed Western world, a corrosive epidemic is eating away at the faith lives of Christians. It assails us in our darkest moments; it comes to us at three o’clock in the morning when we can’t sleep. It confronts us at every corner, three to ten thousand times a day. It whispers to our hearts that “we’ve got it wrong,” that our faith should not be in Jesus Christ of Nazareth but in something else. In this context your faith is getting torn apart and most likely will not survive. Contrary to popular belief, you and your friends probably won’t lose your faith because of sex, drugs, or doubt but for a much more insidious reason. Sure, you can fight it, you can think, It won’t be me, but how do you fight an enemy you can’t name, an opponent you can’t see?
The thing that will eat away at your faith, make it impotent, and finally kill it off cannot easily be named. It is a framework, a formation system, an entire worldview. It tells us how to live and how to act. It speaks to our sense of identity. It shapes our personality. It tells us what to love, what to commit to, and what to have hope in. It is a virus that eats our faith from the inside out. This virus is the allure of the hyperreal world.

If you want to blame someone or something for your life not ending up as wonderfully as you were led to believe it would, a good place to start is the cultural phenomenon called hyperreality. The combination of a hyper consumer culture, mass media, and rampant individualism has created a world of hyperreality. What is hyperreality? It’s a term I learned from a French guy named Jean Baudrillard. He was a twentieth-century philosopher who took a trip across America, visiting places like Las Vegas and Disneyland. He said that our culture had become hyperreal, meaning that we could now have things that were even better than the real thing. The media-drenched world in which we live has overextended our expectations of life.


For some examples of hyperreality read the rest of this excerpt here on Alan Hirsch's blog.

David Wanstall, 19/08/2008