Synthetic Pleasures
Documentary Film
Lara Lee director, George Gund producer
Played by: Robert Carrillo Cohen
Main Quote:
"We are trying to figure out ways to reduce the sense of separation that having bodies gives us. If we start to inhabit an environment where we can't take our bodies, I think the difference between mind starts to go away. And I personally view that as being a positive development."
-- John Perry Barlow

Relationship to the Core Wave:
"Are our creations natural or unatural? Automatically? Is the wheel an extention of the foot? Are our creations extensions of our bodies or of some greater body? "
-- r.c.c.

Game I Core Wave: "The primary distinction between inside and outside."

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Highlight Quotes

"Someday there will be a generation of kids, that grows up, that are really good at making up what's inside of a virtual world. At making up all the plants and buildings that we have no words for, that aren't plants or buildings. When they grow up together, they are going to have a new way to communicate with one another."
- Jaron Lanier, computer scientist.

"You know, I think the thing that sets human beings apart from other creatures is a built in dissatisfaction. There's an itch that we have that can't be scratched. Our efforts to scratch it have created civilization. Which is essentially the practice of trying to adapt the environment to us rather than adapting ourselves to the environment."
--John Perry Barlow

"Its all packaged for me. My world is packaged for me. I just have to consume it."
--Robert Gurland, Chairman and professor of philosophy NYU.

"We are in an era in which the natural world is threatened by human activities. We can't drink from our rivers. The air is polluted. The food chain is suffering. At the same time we can retreat into a synthetic world in which we have artificial trees and artificial skies and artificial animals. I think the day might come when some of those worst science-fiction fantasies might come true. The electricity goes off and you discover you are not living in paradise. You're living in hell."
--Howard Rheingold

"It's gotta be you in charge of your brain."
--Dr. Timothy Leary,

"The Internet was developed by the US military to be a command and control center that could not be shut down. In case of a nuclear attack the Internet would still be standing. Well I doubt that they thought that people would be talking about sex on the internet. But now they are. And they can't shut us up."
-- Lisa Palac - editor "future sex"

"If we do get the ability to have complete control over the structure of matter, will we in effect become omnipotent. It sounds like this is true because if we can build anything that we want to build then what is going to stop us from doing absolutely anything at all."
--Ed Regis, author of "Nano"

"The kind of VR that I think most people are familiar with was the war in the Gulf. I mean here we managed to create something like reality but we abstracted out of it the people that we were killing. So it was like a giant video game. And all we were aware of was that we were winning and that we were zapping the opponent. These are not blips on the screen. They're people." -
--John Perry Barlow co-founder Electronic Frontier Foundation,

    -- Synthetic Pleasures


I found Synthetic Pleasures to be a radical documentary film about the virtual, artificial, or synthetic worlds that surround us. The film was really visually exciting. I mean really visually exciting. The film is full of beautiful computer animation, great music, and very thoughtful people. The computer animation is some of the best I have ever seen.

When I think of Virtual Reality, I usually think first of video games and my concerns over their effects on people. My son got a Nintendo 64 for the holidays and I was very glad to have Synthetic Pleasures handy to watch with him that morning before he hooked up the Nintendo.

I figure if my son is going to immerse himself in this stuff, the best I can do is give him some perspective on it. Synthetic Pleasures entertained both of us a lot and gave us a great overview from which to think about these issues.


Virtual Reality is often described as immersive. But Synthetic Pleasures made it clear to me, just how deeply immersed we already are in a "Blade Runner" world of pervasive man made changes.

The film includes sections on virtual weddings, virtual travel, virtual sex, virtual war, body modification, smart drugs, you name it. The section on "smart drugs" reminded me a great deal of the "dial up emotions" machine you could get in the original "Blade Runner" book: "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep," by Philip K. Dick.

I find high tech stuff can be a great value to my life as long as I can balance it with the health of my physical world. Our bodies and minds can do most of this stuff and often better. I think Synthetic Pleasures highlights these points well and makes it clear that the positive or negative use of technology is up to us.

I couldn't wait to order the soundtrack of the music to this film and recommended it to all of my friends. Often I can find ambient or techno music to be overly simple, boring or grating. But all the music tracks in Synthetic Pleasures created really interesting and pleasurable atmospheres for me. I hope they produce a Volume 2.

The film also reminded me of one of my favorite books about culture and technology, "Disappearing Through the Skylight" by O.B. Hardison, Jr. In it Hardison points out that when something becomes common place it becomes invisible. When we become immersed in a technology, he says, "it becomes part of the world as given -- part of the shape of consciousness, you might say, rather than the content of consciousness."

My son and I like to go and play Laser Tag a great deal. But one of my favorite things about going to this one place to play is that they have this great sign on the wall that reads, "ACTUAL REALITY."

WhooHooo. There's a new game to play.

-- Robert Carillo Cohen

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