Surrogates (2016)

One of my favourite films is the lesser-known ‘Surrogates.’ It tells of a dystopian future, where people reside in isolation and instead live their lives through surrogate robots. These robots act via controls from the human brain, sending emotional and physical messages (or sensations) back to their controller, yet are indestructible and averse to pain. The streets are filled with fearless, beautiful ‘people’: an inflation in metal of every real human's actual qualities. From the ability to materialise ones dream appearance through these surrogates, combined with the robots physical immortality, an emotional superiority is conceived also. The irony crowning this dystopia is the contrast between the actual human: unfit, unkempt and indoors, and their perceived self: a stunning, spontaneous and unbreakable being, which comes as a result of this ‘middle man’ between mental and physical presence.

Having recently moved to Amsterdam, I knew I would find myself in a completely new city with minimal time to make friends due to work. As a self- confessed stereotype of Generation Y, I immediately took to the internet, specifically Tinder, to find acquaintances. The app, which paved the way for a plethora of ‘dating’ or ‘hook up’ focused variants, has the largest user database of any competitor and is therefore the quickest and easiest way to meet new people around you. Although the intentions of users are often not to merely make new friends, I figured it was worth a shot. And so I got swiping.

A few days and dead-end conversations later, I begun talking to a boy who was also new to Amsterdam. As the chat flowed, we realised that we had a lot more in common than we initially may have imagined when striking conversation: he lives in the same building. In fact, he lives in the room next door to mine (to put this into perspective, there are over 300 rooms in my building alone, never mind the rest of Amsterdam.) We were, in fact, sat less than 5 metres apart as we spoke, online. I quickly made an excuse about being in bed to prolong our meeting.

As this seemingly freak coincidence set in, I couldn’t help but feeling that the dystopia of ‘Surrogates’ was becoming all too real. Instead of beautiful, self-styled robots, we have Instagram filters and display pictures that could be used as advertisements for Photoshop to hide behind. In essence, what was unnerving me was the seeming realisation that there was an ever increasing void between mental and physical presence. This void was being enabled, like surrogates, by a middle-man, though the robot in this case is much more omnipresent. The ‘robot’ in reference is the internet, able to present itself in various forms in our day to day life, much to the extent that we cease to notice any more, and are actually reliant on its existence.

This led me to revel in all of the ways in which the internet has enabled the loss of synthesis between mental and physical state. The importance of maintaining an online persona invests more mental capacity in a lot of people than maintaining physical wellbeing and interaction. Facebook and Instagram likes and follower counts serve as measures of self-worth, particularly amongst millennials, myself included. A prime example of this disparity, I find, comes when meeting with friends to eat. More often than not we will reach for our phones on arrival of our food, to capture the image and post it to social media seeking approval and validation from our peers forgetting that we are actually sat surrounded by friends with whom to enjoy the moment with. The ‘story’ feature on Snapchat further encourages this and when was the last time you watched a band perform without a sea of iPhones shielding direct view?

Not only does this create lack of mental engagement when actually in a social setting, it also creates an illusion of experience when alone. It is not only possible but common for people to go a day without any social interaction on a physical basis, though they may have ‘experienced’ such via the internet: email, messenger apps etc. The definition of ‘experience’ becomes loose, as in modern times this may mean via the surrogacy of ones internet persona alongside being tangibly present in a social setting. Perhaps we have not yet reached dystopian levels of disengagement, though it is foolish to argue that a growing amount of mental presence is not lived via, and slave to, the internet and the up-keep of an online persona.

However, my thoughts led me to another sentiment: how many things in my lifetime could I experience, first-hand, in all physical presence- realistically? The melting of tangible and intangible into the definition of ‘experience’ means that I am able to instantly experience what my favourite band sounds like live, take virtual tours around every city on the globe and most relevant to my current expat situation, keep in contact with friends abroad. Of course, there is a limit on the level of involvement received when using the present-day surrogate of the internet: only two of five senses can be communicated. However, the volume of experiences available make it nothing short of amazing. The disparity between mental and physical presence may be growing, though the level of information and networking available mean that the product of this void is not brain-dead humans, but more aware, astute and connected people.

Our online presence may have superficial elements, but overall it merely acts as a vessel to the addictive, constant stream of information and involvement available at our fingertips. This stream of information has revolutionised society, and enabled mental and emotional connections between those who’s physical presence cannot possibly be able to concede so many tasks at once. In my building of 300 interns and young professionals, I have probably crossed paths with a mere 50%, and only 10% of them I would class as a friend. It is simply impossible to meet as many people in person, or live as many experiences first hand as is possible via the internet. So to conclude, yes, I met my next door neighbour online before in person. Though had I not, I assume it is unlikely our paths would have crossed due to work schedules, and we would have continued to share proximity but not friendship.



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