17 Jan Blinded by the Box
There is an powerful, inviting voice out there in the land, and the question is whether, having been been birthed by the merger of movies, Internet and imagination, it will be uplifting, or malicious. Judging by a January 7th driving incident in Utah, there is reason to be concerned.
That’s the day that a teenager blindfolded herself and then proceeded to operate a moving automobile. The resulting crash was predictable. Happily, no serious injuries resulted. The obvious question – “what was she thinking?” – can be answered in three words: Bird Box Challenge. It’s a web phenomena among the more radical fringe of You Tubers who are dangerously replicating online their own dangerous versions of the Netflix movie Bird Box, where actor Sandra Bullock and her compatriots had to escape a nebulous invading horror by blindfolding themselves. Those who didn’t, would view the hideous force and become zombie serial killers or suicides. The sad irony is that a scene in the film actually showed the multiple-car smash-ups that result from the incomprehensibly stupid act of driving-while-blindfolded.
There have been so many similarly dangerous Bird Box Challenge attempts on YouTube that the web service created a new rule banning them, and Netflix has issued warnings. We could chalk all of this up to just the newest fad in a long line of video pranks, but I think it goes deeper.
When Bird Box was released by Netflix it garnered a whopping 45 million viewers in the first seven days, a record for an entertainment streaming service. Most of us assume the power of visual storytelling. But social media strategist and web innovator Ekaterina Walter puts a startling metric to it when she says that a visual image is processed by the brain 60,000 times quicker than reading information in text form. Couple that with the global ubiquity, impact, and instantaneous connectivity of the Internet, and we can see how our imaginations (including foolish flights of fancy – like blind driving) are now being wooed to operate on a whole different, even bizarre, level.
When Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg laid down $2 billion to purchase the virtual reality venture Oculus Rift, he was taken with the breadth of the vision of its originator, Palmer Luckey. In an October 2015 article in Vanity Fair Luckey opines this way: “Being able to do anything, experience anything, be anyone. What would be better entertainment technology than perfect virtual reality? There isn’t any.”
If we listen carefully, we can almost hear a troublesome quest for god-likeness. The ancient wisdom of Genesis and the Garden of Eden story has a cautionary tale about that. Storytelling, at its highest, has a powerful ability to impact the imagination. It can drive us to empathy for others, to moral reflection, and even to self-correction. Or it can tell us that we ought to actually try-out in real life just a little of the feeling of a god, or at least a laws-of-physics-transcending superhero, and when it does that, it is teasing us into stupidity, and some crashes.
[Craig Parshall is a fiction author of 13 novels and constitutional attorney serving as Special Counsel to the American Center for Law & Justice]