Sunday, September 27, 2009

Living life through Surrogates

As the Internet is getting more and more exciting with multipurpose social networking sites sprouting here and there, and the rise of websites that provide audio-visual entertainment from around the world is getting more and more popular with the DIY (do-it-yourself) generation, could it be possible that people are staying in their homes or rooms more and are spending their existence experiencing life—or at least a digital version of it—through the Internet?

These were the thoughts I harbored right after watching the science fiction flick ‘Surrogates,’ which I promised myself to certainly watch ever since I had seen its trailer. ‘Surrogates’ is a movie set in the modern times (2054 in the comic book mini-series from which the movie is adapted, but only 2017 in the flick) when the technology of Surrogacy has not only been invented, but also has been distributed commercially among the lay people. In the film, Surrogates are marketed to those who wanted to experience life without leaving the safety and comforts of their own homes, through the senses of a remotely-controlled human-like robot, the physical features of which are dependent on the choice of the user (and they often choose their Surrogates to physically be at their best). It’s nothing different from designing your own avatar in forums or instant messengers.

The concept of Surrogacy toys with that internal desire of man to live a chic life as promoted by a capitalist society. While some humans subject themselves to actual physical alterations like surgery to live a life the way they want to be (superficially), the technology of Surrogates proposes an alternative—using remotely-controlled android counterparts the experiences of which are also experienced by the users, minus the harmful stimuli.

I am reminded with my communication studies courses in college, where it was tackled that the Internet is becoming popular because of the privilege of anonymity. Stepping into a world where other people are most likely unable to know who one really is, the user is allowed to mold a version different from how he is in the real, face-to-face world. Sometimes, he presents an exaggerated version, sometimes a “real version,” that is, that side of a person he suppresses in real life due to social stigma, etc.

Back then, for ideas used to be dominantly exchanged through words, judgment based on the physical is minimal. When pioneer social networking sites such as Friendster and Myspace came into existence, the superficial—which is, hard to admit, greatly exalted in real life—re-established its power over brains. With primary photos serving as the main selling point of a person to other people, it is pretty obvious that the good-looking ones get the most invites from unknown users in spite of the rest of their profiles being uninteresting.

Currently, people in social networking sites, who are shy about their physical attributes due to their fears of being judged based on the surface, do not post raw photos of themselves. Most of the time, they post enhanced pictures—skin brightened, noses improved through Photoshop, the shot structured strategically to show the best angle of the person, the imperfect lower body cropped out, pimples and other blemishes erased, or even as far as using the photo of a good-looking individual.

‘Surrogates’ takes this idea into a whole new level, in that social networking through technology is close to mimicking the real thing, or even causing a glamorous version of it. Superficial people who all wish to be gorgeous solve their fears of being judged physically with the fact that they can choose how their Surrogates would look like. And guess what, they often choose the gym-toned, celebrity-looking robots.

Presently, social interactions through the Internet are limited to audio-visual interactions. One cannot physically feel the person on the other end of the line. They cannot do things together except play games through the Internet.

One of the cyber-phenomena that involve group activities through the use of characters selected by users is MMORPG, or Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. It is a genre of RPGs (role playing games), where many players from many locations interact with one another in a virtual world, often a fantasy world that involves monsters, kingdoms, and wizards. This world has a life of its own, independent of the user’s timeline. Even though the user is AFK (away from keyboard), the virtual world, which is controlled by the publisher most probably, continues to exits and evolve.

‘Surrogates’ again takes this further, in that group activities are no longer limited to vanquishing dragons or finding hidden treasures in a magical, medieval world. The real world is the former virtual world and people can interact as they would in actuality.

Now the grandest question of them all, if I were a surrogate, how would I prefer to look like?

Of course, idol Jay Chou! Nyahahaha.

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