Thoughts on Life

#051022: Worlds

Physical, virtual, split realities
by Leandra Medine Cohen
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I’ve been doing this thing for the past few months where I put an outfit together and if I like it, I wear it until one of its components gets dirty or starts to smell. Before I came to Europe (I’m in Hamburg right now and spent the end of last week in Rome), the most recent perpetrator of this new habit was:

Originally, I thought this behavior represented a sort of transcendence: even though in my adult life I’ve historically and explicitly rebelled against the desire to wear something different every day, there was a sort of shame around the behavior — the rebellion masking a shadow feeling of not-enoughness dating back one degree to elementary school but who knows how much further back, really. Yet now it seemed to have both come and gone from the surface with little friction or resistance.

After I had lunch with a couple of friends last week, one of whom was in town for a tech conference wherein the most pervasive topic of discussion was web3/the metaverse, I realized that what constitutes a societally accepted definition of reality/”lived experience” is genuinely changing. That according to mainstream levers of acknowledgment, we now occupy two different versions of reality: The physical world and the virtual world.

Where in the past, what happened online was far less important than what happened in the physical world (it wasn’t “real life)”), that’s not the case anymore. Our involvement in the virtual world has caught up with the physical world and we take it much more seriously.

When you think about social media channels and in particular the extent to which they have both made and broken lives, this is nothing new, no matter how much resistance the concept is met with. (I keep thinking about when after the backlash that came in response to Dave Chapelle’s Netflix special, he was like, “Twitter is not a real place.” It was comforting, I think, for a lot of people to hear someone say it so publicly, but it was also like, Isn’t it a real place though? The consequences of what happens in that unreal place are, for a lot of people, very, very real.)

Anyway, I think this is inviting a redistribution of energy that is seemingly playing out in what I’ve been experiencing through my wearing the same thing for weeks in a row IRL (in real life). In the physical world, I don’t think twice about wearing the same thing in public for days in a row (I don’t undermine the role being a mother plays in this!) but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t document it on social media. It’s just not that interesting, even if it’s real.

This represents a split between what I consider worthwhile to do publicly in one reality vs. in another. I’ve already known that the virtual world is as real as, or for many, even more real than the physical world (and its presence can be deeply redeeming) but with this in mind, it’s now also like: Of course someone would buy something you could only wear or use in the metaverse (see: brands making clothes for “video games.”). To the user, the same exchange still takes place: get an asset, say something about yourself. So what’s the difference?

Only there is actually a huge difference — and this is what I had not really realized until now: The two realms are indeed different realities, with different rules that govern them. It kind of scares the hell out of me because we’re still singular people projecting different parts of ourselves into both worlds, with some of these features celebrated in one place and straight-up banished in another. When we’re doing this so simultaneously, it promotes a fiercely confusing splitting for the individual where parts of us work in one place but don’t in another — can reap reward or celebration in one, punishment or reprimanding in the other.

It seems like a recipe for destruction as far as the less spoken-about third world (reflected in our respective inner lives, which in my view connect to the spiritual realm) goes.

For a long time, it wasn’t true that the worlds were actually different. The physical world more like informed whatever happened in the virtual world. Then the reverse started to happen with, for example, the kinds of stores and garments and food creations that were designed through the late 2010’s with the focus of looking good online. (You could argue the explosion of the fast fashion market is related to this phenomenon too with it becoming more important to convey outfit variety online where quality does not matter as much.)

Physical-world involvement was still at the center but as the virtual world becomes more self-sufficient (the pandemic and its lockdowns helped speed up this process for sure) and that involvement gets less necessary, we find ourselves at an interesting crossroads where we are either achieving integrity (as in wholeness, no moral veil by this definition) online where a formal set of social expectations/rules will continue to be refined, returning to it offline, or more likely, continuing to live the split, ignoring that third realm. More and more lately I find myself thinking this is an impossible proposition.

What do you think?

As this is technically about how to get dressed, here is as far as the outfit goes:

It’s a jacket from a brand I found in the metaverse (on Instagram), based in Paris, called Soeur. Perfect compliment as neutering partner for a pair of striking orange jeans (by Frame), which I love so much, but which I don’t like when worn with any other solid — be it a neutral like black or white or a bright color like green or pink. Actually, pastel pink would probably look really good with it if I had on the right shoes (in my head this is a pair of wood sole brown sandals with gold hardware, or like, these).

The sandals are Hermes and feature white stitching on black leather. They catch the belt (from Saks Potts — here are two good ones too) w the stitching and the jacket with their washed wood stacked heel. Wore it the day before with the New Balances (to my left) and at night two days before with a pair of black slingbacks.

See you later this week,