The Concept Of Hyperreality In Simulacra And Simulation

26 years before the first iPhone was introduced by Steve Jobs in 2007, Jean Baudrillard wrote a pioneering piece that would fundamentally change the way we would think about media. In his treatise Simulacra and Simulation the French philosopher states that we are living in a simulated reality and hence have created a hyperreality. His starting point was Jorge Luis Borges’ 1946 fable On Exactitude in Science. Baudrillard (1988) believed that our world transformed into a flat virtual reality that tries to simulate what never was real in the beginning. According to him Simulacrum is how society simulates the real, or how reality is brought off by society. We experience socially relevant events mostly through media – we do not know what really is going on but what we see on our screens. As Baudrillard suggests, the real and the fictional have collapsed into each other: we are no longer sure what is reality and what is fiction. Especially fascinating is the fact that Baudrillard proposed this theory pre-internet.

Many years before, not only smartphones, but also PCs would become mainstream in our western hemisphere. His almost 40 year old text is now more relevant than ever before. Through social media like Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram we see the world through a filter, quite literally. Our daily lives are full of fake-news, simulations and internet trolls. Like a spaceship we are trying to maneuver ourselves through this hyperreality. Never quite sure if that lovely man on the other side of the chat is a real person or just a super advanced algorithm. Never knowing if these velvet pillows in the latest IKEA catalogue were draped by a human being or the drapes originate in some unbelievably complex computer rendering software.

Computer Renderings and Simulation Completely detached from the real world we have created a parallel reality. The digital and virtual did not only become an extension to our world but an autonomous world itself. Over the past years simulation and visualization have changed the way we look at the world. Computer simulated realities are taking over in almost every professional field since the 1980s. Simulations “became a new way of living” as Sherry Turkle (2009) puts it in her publication Simulation and its Discontent. At the beginning practitioners with all kind of different backgrounds feared that their ownership over a project might slip away through the process of using a computer program.

Nowadays it became standard procedure in almost every field. Especially designers or architects seem to be very dependent on their machines. Tinkering around with the possibilities and options computer programs offer became an important part of the design process. Even more, it became a stylistic device for design of the 21st century. Nowadays simulations are so smooth and naturalistic they are hard to question. Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) became so advanced and realistic it sometimes is even hard to differentiate between “real” and “fake”. In this day and age, simulation wants to propose itself as proxy for the real.

Long before any ground-breaking ceremony of a building this exact structure already had been built. Even though in another world or reality, architects construct buildings in great detail with rendering software on their computers. So, how can someone say the “Topography des Terrors” designed by Peter Zumthor in Berlin has never been built when clearly people spent many many hours on constructing it?

03 December 2019
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