Reality became a set for the virtual world

It is a sunny day here in Lisbon, I am walking by the central station and hear a street musician. Actually, it is a special kind of musician: The guy is a rapper.

He brought his speaker, a microphone and is performing in front of a small crowd. It is a melodic mix between spoken words and singing, he quite hits my taste. 

I stop and join the audience, to listen for a while and get lost in the music. Wondering what his lyrics are about (I don’t speak Portuguese), humming along.

Suddenly it hits me: He is not performing for us, for us, the crowd standing there. No. The entire time, he is performing into his phone, which he has on a telescope stand in front of him. He plays with the camera, and his eyes never leave the screen.

By a look on his screen, I see he is doing an Instagram live stream. Hearts are bubbling on the screen. It seems like he is quite popular and has a big virtual audience.

I feel a sense of disappointment coming up in me and decide to wander on, leave the musician and his speaker behind.

I walk a few hundred meters and sit down to order an espresso. With the sun on my back, generating this cozy warm tingly feeling, I come to the realization which is stated in the title of this essay: Reality became a set for the virtual world

Crazy how the times have changed. If we look back, less than a decade ago, we differentiated between “real” and “virtual” world. Always looking down on the virtual one, treating it as a second class citizen, as not real, as something that is of less value.

Look around in our day-to-day life, people are constantly sharing their experiences online. Sometimes I get the feeling certain things are only done as they look great on social media. As they appear “real” even though it is as fake as it gets.

What I mean by that? Let’s go back to our street musician: Why is he giving himself the hassle to bring is equipment to the streets, performing there in hot sunshine, when all he actually cares about is an online audience? Why is he not performing in his home, with nice lighting and AC? Because reality is a set.

The setting has to be interesting, new and exciting for his online audience.

Acting like a street musician is a perfect for this: It looks real. It feels like a precious moment, seeing someone on a live stream in the middle of a crowd on the streets. Something you can’t miss out on, something that is happening spontaneous. It feels less “staged”, some might even call it “real”.

We, the entire crowd standing there, are part of the set.

Don’t get me wrong: I totally understand him! It makes a lot more economic sense to perform online for thousands of viewers instead of ten in the offline world. We are talking a few euros on the street and the potential for big money online. He is a great musician and I hope this helps him to be able to life of his art.

It nevertheless saddens me, that the precious intimate moments we have in our daily lives lose their value in themselves and become vehicles for impressing an anonymous audience in a virtual environment.

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