20 Years In the Matrix

I slept in as long as I could today. I wore a big sweater, my L.A. Cowboy boots, and only a bit of makeup around the eyes. The sky was cloudy, and I knew it might rain, and it struck me as the perfect day to be watching a movie with my students.

We spent most of October discussing the uses of technology, the miracles and the risks. We read things like “Is Google Making Us Stupid” (2008) by Nicholas Carr and “Why the Web Won’t Be Nirvana” (1995) by Clifford Stoll.

So naturally, I planned on following these themes up with some first-class science fiction.

I biked to the subway with copies of chapters 3-6 of H.G. Welles’ The Time Machine (1895) in my bag, and The Matrix (1999) on the brain, and just after I parked my bike and began walking, approaching 9th Street: there was Neo… two of him.

It was definitely one of those moments when you ask yourself: “Holy shit. Am I stuck in the Matrix?”

I knew that teaching The Matrix was going to be awesome, and something about the sky threatening rain outside our windows added depth to the onset of the film, Neo dreaming, getting in and out of cars, getting drenched in the rain; his life before enlightenment.

But besides the overall excellence in film making were the themes of man vs. nature, man vs. machine, dream vs. reality, and perhaps the most haunting, human survival in a world becoming overrun by machines.

Welcome to the desert of the real.

And for some reason noticing things on a round year anniversary seems particularly meaningful, and so they are, which is probably the real reason I saw Keanu Reeves in the window, on the cover of New York.

But social media has been officially outed as a digital mine for user information, and everything from internet browsers to Alexa are somehow listening to our every click, reminding most of us of just how weary we have become of that feeling that someone is always watching, waiting to show us what we want to see. It’s especially pertinent now, with presidential elections just around the corner.

And in another vein, you can’t deny how much fun social media can be, narrating your world through pictures, through filters, and captions…

upping the exposure and tuning out the shadows.

It can be overwhelming viewing the lives of all the people you know, and many you don’t; realizing by and by that you have become consumed by the apparatus, projecting yourself out into digital space, crafting your unique, personal narrative…just like everyone else.

Inside the Matrix, they are everyone,
and they are no one.

So are we everyone, or are we no one? Are we getting closer, or getting pulled further apart? Are we getting smarter, or is this obsession with Google, social media, and A.I. indeed making us stupid?

Published by Virginia Valenzuela

Writer * Editor * Musician

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