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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, November 15, 2004
    The New Realists increasingly want 'real' food - maybe organic - that tastes of something, doesn't involve the genes of fish for temperature control, and comes from a real place somewhere on the map. They don't want the kind of consumables leached of flavour and interest in the form of pills or tubes that the experts used to tell us represented the future of food because the Apollo and Gemini astronauts used them.

    They want real sound of people working, not the fake recorded mutter that the BBC shelled out £2,300 in 2000 when they worried that their accounts department was too quiet.

    Or the fake smells that London Underground tried in their tunnels the same year.

    Or the fake places that all look the same, with the same global storefronts in every town and city around the world, in the cheapest international style of glass and concrete.

    Or fake politicians whose slightest utterance is tested before focus groups and scripted, and who - like George W. Bush - even have the word "Wow!" on the teleprompter.

    Or the fake relationships people create online, never having to meet, using fake names - sometimes even breaking up real flesh-and-blood relationships in the process.

    Or fake community activity, like the Holiday Bowling Lanes in New London, Connecticut, which social theorist Robert Putnam describes in his book Bowling Alone, with giant TV screens above each lane, where the players never talk to each other between turns, but just stare sadly upwards.

    Or the kind of world where, except for the very rich, most of us will have to rely on virtual bankers, virtual doctors, virtual pharmacists, virtual carers and virtual teachers.

    That's not to say that there's no market for internet chat rooms, Pot Noodle, NHS Online - or George W. Bush for that matter. There clearly is. But there's also a growing suspicion of a world where we don't have to see people or touch anything, and a longing for something we can't quite put our fingers on. Just how big that market is, I'll discuss later - but what large numbers of people in the Western economy want, they tend to get.

    It's a key reason that so many people are starting, in the media equivalent of a dim light, to feel around them for something firm to grasp.

    I'm not going to buy David Boyle's Authenticity: Brands, Fakes, Spin, and the Lust for Real Life. The title is so good it almost says it all; the polemic is well served by the extracts on his website as quoted above. And I've got too much else to read. But I like the polemic. It has a good intent. And I also like the way Boyle has brought new life to a good old word. The authentic. Without pomposity, without elitism, but with a white-hot lust for life, searching for the authentic is a healthy mission, attuned to the times. As Robert Nozick sagely predicts, 'In a virtual world, we'll be longing for reality even more'.