As I mentioned on the most recent FastForward Radio, I’ve been at Walt Dinsey World this week working at a conference. I described the Disney complex as an artificial world made up of several smaller artificial worlds. Las Vegas is another good example of this.
Last night after dinner, one of my co-workers (a fellow Coloradan) was excoriating the whole Disney experience, talking about how much happier he would be alone on top of a mountain eating out of can or (better yet) hunting his own game. There was enthusiastic agreement from several of the others present. I challenged him on this, noting that our ancestors who lived on mountain tops and hunted their own game worked long and hard to create a different kind of world. For some reason, though living what my co-worker was offering up as an idyllic existence, they opted for civilization. In fact, if you took our primitive ancestors on a walking tour of the Lake Buena Vista resort complex — just a small part of Walt Disney World — they would probably think they were being given a glimpse of the dwelling place of the gods. If you told them that people staying in that world despise it and would much rather come with them to live the kind of life they lead, they would be rightly dumbfounded.
Across the lake from the artificial beach: an artificial seaside town.
It occurred to me after the fact that while my friend’s mountain top experience may not be as artificial as the world we were strolling around in last night, there is definitely something fake about it. After all, if he’s going to eschew civilization, then what’s with the canned food? And what’s with the rifle and ammo? Also, how was his cabin constructed, exactly? And if he’s staying in a tent, well it needs to be made of the skin of buffalos that he killed using a spear with a stone tip. Plus, the guy is a pilot and a huge aviation nut. I don’t think he’d really want to live in a world without airplanes.
But then if that’s the case, his natural and primitive lifestyle is an admitted compromise (if not outright hoax.) It’s a pleasurable experience similar to the real thing, but not identical, and made possible by civilization and technological infrastructure. His mountain cabin is — in some ways — as much an artificial world as the Norway Pavilion at Epcot.
In fact, it’s a bit like this, though perhaps not as extreme.
So, sure, he can prefer his mountain cabin and canned beans to a beach resort and yacht club built out of a reclaimed swamp. That’s his choice, and it’s a matter of taste — kind of like preferring the Venetian over Circus Circus, or Worlds of Warcraft over Second Life. There’s a big difference between where he is and where he would like to be, but maybe not as big as he would have us think. The externals are different, of course. But the fundamental distinction between the two places is not so much a difference of kind as a difference of degree.