Immersion in the Realm of Digital Working
When you watch a piece of live or recorded performance – a play or a film – it is possible to lose yourself in what you are seeing. You forget the time, you forget your physical surroundings as you “immerse” yourself in what you are watching.
When you do become immersed in a piece of art, there’s a forgetting that takes place – it is a forgetting of your immediate surroundings. Some people go very still and are unaware of how “transfixed” they are. Others move around on their seat, changing position, leaning forwards and backwards, equally unaware of these movements. Immersion in art is a kind of out-of-body experience. We enter a world of mental images that take on a quality of “virtual” reality. Essentially, we “lose” ourselves in the art.
Of course, it doesn’t always happen; more often than not, we regularly snap out of this state, are distracted, and “come back to ourselves” – “You’re back in the room!” Yes, immersion in art can be a kind of trance state.
When we are seated, the immersion tends to be very head-based. The hand robotically feeds the popcorn into our automatically chewing mouth, as we stare, hardly moving, at the screen or the unfolding live action.
As a regular attendee at the Edinburgh Festival, the world’s largest arts festival, I am often offered the chance to see theatre shows what are described as “immersive” experiences. Here, immersion is taken all of the way. The play set in court takes place in a real court; the play set at a graveside takes place at a real graveside. There’s one about a relationship, set in a cafe, and we, the audience, take our seats in the cafe, immersing ourselves in the atmosphere, not only before us, but also all around us. In some immersive theatre productions, we may even be involved in the drama, interacting directly with the actors. When it is done badly, we don’t suspend our disbelief and are merely more or less curious onlookers. When it does work well, we lose ourselves in the drama and become immersed, forgetting all else around us.
Now, the digital realm is based on immersion. It’s all about “going in”. Going in means zoning out, where going in means the digital and zoning out means the physical.
You can become utterly immersed in an online game, in an hour of tweeting and instant messaging. People even cross the street dangerously, immersed in texting, oblivious of the risk to life and limb.
You can’t immerse in water without jumping into the lake. In the digital realm, immersive experience is presented as necessary, even obvious.
In the process you lose your current surroundings and awareness if you digitally immerse yourself.
It seems to me to be common sense to be able to decide when you immerse yourself in anything. It should be your choice. The problem with 24-7 always-on, digital immersion is that the moments of entrance and exit, of diving in and climbing out, can become less clear, even lost to your consciousness. Immersion then becomes a kind of stupor, possibly even an addiction. We aren’t just immersed, we are buried.
More to come.