Or, the semioticist’s apprentice
Because of new media, we see ourselves separated from the action of life more and more often. And the more it happens, the more we consider it commonplace, and the more it dictates the way we live and act even when that separation is not enforced. This is a point I am stealing from Igor Yuganov, but I think it is an especially good one, and in any case he writes sort of as if he got it from Yuri Lotman, anyway. He pointed out that there were always experiences where you are well-separated from the action: the Roman Circus, sporting events. But the portion of life wherein we are not expected to participate has never been as high as it is now. This has a profound effect on how we act, especially when this separation needn’t exist. Consider the case of extraordinary or traumatic events. The only times I’ve seen a dead person lying on the street was on TV or in the movies. So seeing a dead person on the street, I will react like it is a movie: I will observe and not feel the need to do anything. Maybe I will take a photo. This is what it means to lead a modern life.
I should add that the more mundane and lifelike the media experience, the stronger the separatory effect it can have on your everyday life. Everyone already knows that we don’t live in a cartoon universe of giant robots. But when you see something very much like your life, and then realize you are not actually a participant, the impulse to take that lesson and use it in your life is that much stronger. And so we go on, tugged by realism in art into observing our own lives from the side.