Plato’s so-called ‘myth of the cave’ is proverbial. For generations, it served as a warning against ignorance, against the power of complacence. For many, it underlines the liberating force of rising above appearances but also the high cost of knowledge. The Matrix, the Island, the modern incarnations of the Platonic myth are as widespread as they are appealing.
The prisoner in Plato’s cave is reduced to being an observer in a world reduced to projections on a screen, the cave wall. An emaciated viewer in front of an emaciated stage, where the experience of the outside world is mediated ad infinitum. There is no way out, because the screen is the way, and as any screen, it is self-pointing, self-referential, self-defeating.
Over the last two decades, we’ve experienced the rise of the Screen. The smartphone, the tablet, the ubiquitous screen doesn’t cease to mediate and supposedly enhance our experience of the world. The modern world is the digital tyranny of the Screen. Or a tyranny in the making, the screenification of the post-industrial world. Plato is back.
One of the leading sci-fi topoi of this generation is the complete surrender of human life to the Screen. Romance and dating is already undergoing a Screen revolution. Democracy, political and social debate are increasingly Screen-mediated. Shopping, exchange, too. One by one, human activities, which have always been carried out in analog, are being inflected by their submission to the digital Screen. The pandemic may not have introduced any new trends, but it certainly accelerated existing one.
The cave is getting larger and brighter, but the sun feels ever more distant, and our eyes ever more riveted to the dancing shadows on the wall.