We Will Not Be Entertained Enough

From Megan Garber’s astute, unsettling cover essay in the current issue of The Atlantic, “We’re Already in the Metaverse: Reality is blurred. Boredom is intolerabe. And everything is entertainment”:

Dwell in this environment long enough, and it becomes difficult to process the facts of the world through anything except entertainment. We’ve become so accustomed to its heightened atmosphere that the plain old real version of things starts to seem dull by comparison. A weather app recently sent me a push notification offering to tell me about “interesting storms.” I didn’t know I needed my storms to be interesting. Or consider an email I received from TurboTax. It informed me, cheerily, that “we’ve pulled together this year’s best tax moments and created your own personalized tax story.” Here was the entertainment imperative at its most absurd: Even my Form 1040 comes with a highlight reel.

Such examples may seem trivial, harmless—brands being brands. But each invitation to be entertained reinforces an impulse: to seek diversion whenever possible, to avoid tedium at all costs, to privilege the dramatized version of events over the actual one. To live in the metaverse is to expect that life should play out as it does on our screens. And the stakes are anything but trivial. In the metaverse, it is not shocking but entirely fitting that a game-show host and Twitter personality would become president of the United States.

Later, after chronicling an offensive and absurd incident initiated by a clueless-but-still-megaphoned TikToker:

The dynamics are simple, and stark. The people on our screens look like characters, so we begin to treat them like characters. And characters are, ultimately, expendable; their purpose is to serve the story. When their service is no longer required, they can be written off the show.

Garber doesn’t mention David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” in her deeply considered piece, but it certainly brought to mind the infamous videotape from that novel. Known as “the Entertainment,” the circulating cartridge is known to be so ridiculously entertaining that anyone who sees it will be compelled to watch it over and over, over and over, until they expire.

Stephen Schenkenberg @schenkenberg