Surrogates

Certain conditions preclude me from enjoy Real Life much as others do. I’m pretty much over my agoraphobia and my anthropohobia is well-managed at this time, truly better living through chemistry, but I’m still a homebody. One of the attractions of Second Life is that I can do things in the virtual world that I can’t or that I find difficult in meatspace. I don’t mean things like scuba diving, hang gliding, hunting dinosaurs, and the like. But merely going out in a crowd of people whom I don’t know where I can be bumped, touched, groped or stuck in an elevator. If I could send my Second Life avatar out as a surrogate for me, I’d probably do it.

And such is the MacGuffin of the 2009 Bruce Willis movie, Surrogates, a sleeper non-hit that is absolutely brilliant. I just finished watching it with fascination and revulsion. In this fictional world, people can stay at home while connecting via brainwaves to an android as a surrogate they send out into the world, with full sensory capabilities and not a few minor super powers. Like a Second Life avatar, these surrogates can be customized or idealized? Is your meatbag-self not buxom enough? Too portly? Bald? Old? Your surrogate doesn’t have to be. Worried about being crushed by an out-of-control train? Your surrogate isn’t.
There is enough action, including some nice chase scenes, to satisfy the casual moviewatcher and most teenage boys, but if you are the type of person that thinks about the ideas, then you will be deeply satisfied with this film because it supports its more-than-cursory examination of the morals of using surrogates by sometimes too subtly examining how society shapes and is shaped by the use of advanced technology. This would be a great date movie, if I could work up the courage to date, as there is plenty to talk about on many levels after the show.
In The Matrix (1999), its sequel movies, and similar movies (and countless books or short stories), people move into a virtual space, leaving their corporeal selves in the Real World. A fantastic idea that could evolve from Second Life. You would think that fiction taking this angle would often approach the psycho-social aspects of the technology, but I’ve yet to see (or read) works that do. At least much, that is. Phillip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” (Web) is deeper than its pretty deep theatrical counterpart, Blade Runner (1982), but I’m at a loss to think about other counterparts. Clearly, I need to read more and watch more movies. A good excuse to stay at home.
I wonder how Second Life would be different if it had the ability to be permit true, virtual surrogates for its users. Certainly, there would be more government oversight. And the economy would scale up. Relationships would become very, very complicated. Quite a bit to think about. But first, I think I’ll watch Surrogates again.

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