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“The Avatar Blues,” or Why Technology is the Cause of, and Solution to, All of Life’s Problems

January 11, 2010

The wise Homer Simpson once said that beer is “the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”

I’m seeing parallels to Homer’s sudsy conundrum in a rather odd CNN report about what some are calling “The Avatar Blues.” Apparently, after seeing Jim Cameron’s hit film and experiencing the lovely world of Pandora rendered in visually stunning 3D, some viewers are finding the real world and their own lives lacking. The CNN article will likely bring wide attention to the phenomenon, which had already sparked more than 1,000 message board posts with suggestions for how to cope with depression related to the inability to live inside the film’s imagined and digitally constructed world.

I don’t wish to cast doubt on either the authenticity of this reaction or the fact that a large number of viewers could be having it. I even believe that forming a deep emotional connection with that world and then sensing that you are being deprived of it could trigger an actual depressive episode among sufferers of the mood disorder.

However, I am concerned with the woefully inadequate coping mechanisms presented in the CNN article. Among them are:

1. Going to the Internet to look up more information about Avatar. One message board user says, “I can’t force myself to think that it’s just a movie, and to get over it, that living like the Na’vi will never happen.” In the film, the Na’vi live in harmony with nature and are guided by the living spirits of the land and their ancestors. To cope with the inability to live in such a way, the user says, “I think I need a rebound movie.”

2. Communicating with like-minded people in online forums. Presumably, this means that those who have these feelings after seeing Avatar should seek out others who have had the same response to the same movie. In other words, they should use technology to seek out others who feel similarly disconnected from the natural world.

3. Playing Avatar video games.

4. Downloading the movie soundtrack.

5. Seeking constructive activities and connections outside the virtual realm. This is literally the last idea presented in the article.

So, to sum up, technology helped bring about the severing of most connections between human beings and their natural surroundings. Technological advancements in filmmaking helped spark the sense of absence and feelings of longing encapsulated in the “Avatar Blues” phenomenon. And technological solutions are given by far the highest priority in the article that details ways to cope with these negative feelings. Jeez, what’s a person to do? I’m not saying anything about technology is bad, I have found some real gems on technology, that bring us close to The Smart Future.

Still I have no good answers. In fact, I don’t believe there are universally effective answers to this paradox on an individual level. It’s an ongoing struggle, and the polluting, profit-oriented powers-that-be might have us all beat no matter what we do.

But life goes on, and cope we must. I do believe it could help slightly to better identify what relevant questions we might ask ourselves. To parallel the list above:

1. Do any of us spoiled, indolent, modern Westerners really want to “live like the Na’vi”? Rephrased, would any of us survive more than 5 minutes in a Pandoran jungle? I’m pretty sure just about all of us would eat the wrong rainbow-colored plant and die of toxicity-related massive organ failure. Or we’d get eaten by a Vermicious Knid (h/t Roald Dahl) or whatever those Avatar animals are called.

2. I completely agree with the idea that we should communicate with like-minded people. People who are equally dissatisfied with modern consumer culture and the effects of industrial, corporate technology on our lives and on our natural world. But is the best place to talk to those people on an online movie discussion board? Would somebody deeply affected by these feelings not do better to attend a rally against mountaintop removal, or a meeting of concerned citizens about corporate unaccountability, or a local farmers market?

3. Is playing video games alone in one’s basement the answer to feelings of isolation and disconnection?

4. Does a James Cameron movie soundtrack help with anything other than saccharine deficiency?

5. If you’re dissatisfied with the life you’re living, and it’s characterized by technological dominance of your leisure time and modes of communicating with other people, might you want to try the opposite approach for a change?

Now, my Momma didn’t raise no dummy—I fully recognize that I’m writing on the Internet about reducing the use of technology. As the title of this piece reflects, the widespread use of technology is neither good nor bad. It’s both. More than anything, I’m writing about rejecting the glib, mindless “solutions” presented in the CNN piece.

For most of us, the way forward isn’t to go “off the grid,” because we’d never make it. But neither is more reliance on technology the answer to dissatisfaction with technology. If there are real paths forward, they’re probably somewhere between those extremes.

  1. January 12, 2010 10:02 am

    Can we also address the fact that all those solutions (except the last one) are basically “wallow?” Surround yourself with others who are similarly affected and wallow in your own freakish misery. How about if we tell depressed people to seek out other depressed people and discuss suicide methods? I realize that there is some validity to the concept of group therapy, but I’m not sure that’s what they are recommending.

  2. January 12, 2010 10:17 am

    Fantastic, Alan. I’m continually surprised by the lengths to which Americans will go to escape; but have we become such a narcissistic society that it actually makes us SAD that we can’t live on Pandora right this second — simply because it’s something we WANT? If not being able to live in a fictional place from a movie is an actual source of sadness in your life, I’d wager to say you’ve got it pretty good.

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