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Politics, Technology

Surrogates: Are we far off?

And what does it say about us?

Still shot from "Surrogates" by Touchstone Pictures

Still shot from "Surrogates" by Touchstone Pictures

Yesterday I watched “Surrogates”, a movie I’ve been meaning to watch for a long time.  It stars one of my favorites, Bruce Willis (who, by the way, is still kicking ass and yippie-ki-yaying at almost 55.  Go him.)

If you’re not familiar with the plot of the movie, here goes with no spoiler: sometime in the near future a tech conglomerate, VSI, develops robots that allow humans to interact in the world without ever needing to leave the comfort and safety of their home.  Base models of the robots — or “surrogates” — are pretty generic and feature only a limited set of senses while the more expensive models have an extraordinary and superhuman set of senses and abilities.

The story revolves around the hunt for a weapon that can kill both the surrogate and its user.  Such a weapon defeats the purpose of the surrogate, which is intended to allow humans to experience “Life — only better” since jumping off a building, or getting hit by a car, or getting shot or whatever only damages or destroys the surrogate and not the owner.

Owners have the option of replicating themselves in their surrogate, but most tend to choose one that is young and attractive.  Go figure.  And because humans can choose how they want to appear — indeed, who they want to be — and no one ever knows who is behind the surrogate, humanity loses the concepts of sexism, ageism, and racism.  We see this in the film from the get-go: in one of the initial scenes and attractive, young female surrogate is actually owned by an older, heavy-set man.  The theme is continued in the story of Bruce Willis’ wife’s character.

It made me think: with the prevalence of online personas and identities, how far off are we from choosing who we want to be and how we want to represent ourselves?

Certainly we don’t have external, real-world representations of our ideal selves (YET–unless you count plastic surgery), but with blogs, online gaming communities and spaces like Second Life, platforms like Twitter and Facebook and countless others, aren’t we already there?

We have a word for how we choose to visualize ourselves — “avatars.”  It may be the “real” us, a Photoshopped version of the “real” us, or it could be any representation of how we want to appear to others.  It’s the same principle that makes the internet potentially dangerous for kids: that 12-year old kid that wants to “hang out” may be a 50-year old predator.  Who can tell?

And so, naturally, I got to thinking: in a world of surrogates, would I use one myself?  Yes, most likely.  And how would I choose to represent myself?  Would I choose an identical and accurate representation of myself?  Nope.  And I’d wager you’d say the same.  Please correct me if I’m wrong.

But what does that say about us?  And what does it say about our culture?



One thought on “Surrogates: Are we far off?

  1. Fun post! A few months ago, I decided to stop using my “Mangatar” avatar on Twitter, and instead uploaded a real pic of myself. It was difficult at first, because I realized I’d gotten used to letting this avatar version of me–the @sunshinemug me–be a little bit sassier and more self-assured. But there was also something good about stepping out from behind the mask and being my real self, maybe just a little bit sassier than she was before.

    Posted by Sunshine Mugrabi | December 7, 2009, 10:47 pm

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