Everywhere we go, we are bombarded with advertising that claims a product is more ‘real’ than previous versions. We all know it isn’t true, or else they wouldn’t use that as a selling point. After all, if we wanted ‘real’ taste or texture, we would probably have made it ourselves. But it leads me to wonder why are we escaping from reality in other ways?
This question is much bigger than the ingredients list on a grocery item. It extends to the larger world we are all sort-of living in. But, honestly, how many of us are truly living in the real world anymore? Do we even have the ability to walk inside of our own life and see it for what it really is, or isn’t?
Books provided the first escape hatch
With the advent of the printing press, those who could read could get lost in another world. In the beginning, printed materials mostly consisted of religious texts. The expense of printing made it cost-prohibitive to be wasteful with paper and ink. Over time, the process became more efficient and publishers were able to offer a wider choice of materials.
As any avid reader knows, it is easy to get lost in the story of a well-written novel. The pages present a world beyond our own that we are free to travel on a whim. It is hard to not get caught up in a compelling story of the trials and tribulations of other people, even if they are not ‘real’. Sadly, no one can read every moment of the day, and even the longest novel comes to an end eventually.
Movies took our escape even further
Books were an escape hatch that allowed a glimpse of another world; movies opened up a whole new door. From the first silent movies to the epic features of today, for a price, moviegoers could get lost in another world completely, albeit briefly. From exotic locations captured in vivid colors, to the evolution of special effects, movies transport us to an entirely different dimension. Who worries about the ‘real’ world while they are off saving the world from some dastardly villains bent on world domination?
Once again, even an Academy Award-winning movie comes to an end. When the screen goes dark and the lights come up, we are forced to return to our ‘real’ lives and deal with the every day stuff that makes our world go round.
But, then, along came television, and we found escaping from reality even easier.
From the big screen to television screens…
Once televisions became affordable for the average family, life changed completely. Meals were served around the idiot box and family time went the way of the do-do. Even our meal options were influenced by this one-eyed monster in the living room. TV dinners became a thing. People skipped home cooking in favor of artificial fare served up on a tin tray. Meanwhile, we fed our souls and minds with the drivel of the prime-time shows.
Parents used television as a reward for good behavior and withheld viewing privileges when kids misbehaved. Eventually, TV became a babysitter to keep kids occupied. They were placed in bedrooms, kitchens and family rooms, all in the effort to keep real life at bay. People planned their week according to the television schedule. We couldn’t have the real world intrude too much on make-believe life. The art of family conversation was becoming — more and more — a lost art.
To screens for every hand…
As much as television changed the culture, it was just setting the stage for what was to come. At first, the personal computer was a behemoth that took up considerable space no matter where is was placed. Touted as a revolutionary tool to increase productivity and simplify life, it totally changed the world. The home PC quickly morphed from a giant machine to a tiny flat screen that fits in the palm of the hand. Now, escaping from reality is easy whenever we choose. Real life is lived in increasingly brief moments.
From computers to laptops to tablets, people are absorbed into the electronic world. Once cell phones evolved into computers that brought the world wide web into our hands, we slammed the door on reality.
Social media is now ubiquitous. Every business has a website and a Facebook page if it wants to survive. Though these platforms are called social media, they have all but killed society. No one has an in-depth conversation or relationship unless its on a screen. Even arguments are stalled for checking Facebook updates.
Why do we escape reality, though?
Life is hard. There is no doubt that its difficult to deal with unruly kids, difficult bosses and temperamental mates. Job stresses and money worries are the things of ulcers and restless nights. It is tempting to escape into another world rather than try to sort out the ugliness of the ‘real’ world we inhabit. Escape is so much easier. That new friend is so easy-going, unlike the partner who leaves the bathroom a shambles. Confiding in and flirting with a Facebook friend makes an affair seem less taboo. That virtual friend’s problems seem so much simpler than our falling down family.
The pictures on Facebook and Instagram show the smiling faces of truly happy people, right? That showcase home and that perfect garden are all someone else’s real world. Why can’t we get lost in the fantasy of what we wish we had? Sadly, no one seems to know what the real world is anymore.
What if the ‘real’ world was our world ?
What if we could make the choice to live an authentic life? Could we decide, that for a weekend, we would power down our screens and brush off our conversation skills? What if, little by little, we took the time to look around at the life we inhabit? How would our lives change if we chose to pay attention to those around us. If we realized that the people and problems in our life were meant to help us grow as individuals, would society recover some of its heart? Maybe, escaping from reality wouldn’t be necessary as often.
I wish that, instead of seeking ways to escape, we sought ways to be more present. We could start to cherish the people right in front of us. If we treated our partners and our children the way we do a favorite sports team or on-line friend, would our relationships improve? By Investing our time in our real world friends and neighbors , we could bring our communities back to life.
I wish, instead of the glow from electronic screens, our children, friends and lovers would glow from the love they see in our eyes. We could light up the world if we realized that our ‘real’ life is more than enough and escaping from reality would only be a now and then thing.