Pics or it didn't happen: welcome to the post-reality world in 2017

By Wendellen Li, Wired.co.uk

Post-reality saved me the other day when I was getting a new phone at the Apple Store. The primary account holder, my father, needed to be there in person (it's standard store policy), so I FaceTimed him - and it worked. No-one could deny that a talking screen is as good as real - which makes me wonder what exactly we mean by "real", anyway?

Reality, as we have always understood it, means the physical world in which we eat, sleep and breathe, and which behaves in certain fixed ways: seven colours of the rainbow are the basis of all we see; objects fall, rather than float off cliffs; the best things in life can't be captured; and friendship is something we feel. But these days, I'm no longer so sure. Digital and physical worlds have become inextricable, different but not separate, and together they make up a new form of reality - one which I like to think of as a kind of post-reality.

When I told my friends I was engaged, they called me to talk about it - but only once it was true on Facebook. That's post-reality.

When my Uber driver headed down a one-way street because his GPS was more real than the oncoming cars - that's post-reality.

When girls are shaving their eyebrows because tattooed-on ones look better on Instagram - that's post-reality.

When the military can shoot people in the Middle East from trailers in Las Vegas, and when things I want are advertised in sponsored content that I have trouble differentiating from journalism, and when strapping our phones to our heads is old news - that is so post-reality.

Are my friends on Facebook really my friends? Are we in a relationship if it's not online? If I don't post to Instagram, does it still count? If not-so-many people liked my post, do they still like me?

This is the world I've grown up in. This is the reality in which I live, and most of it has nothing to do with the physical world. I no longer believe that the world in which I eat, sleep and breathe is all that's real.

And it's not just that the real is taking a back seat to the digital - it seems we're preferring it. The real world is servant to our relationships, our enjoyment and our livelihoods in the digital worlds we've built up, where we value who we are online enough to trade the brows we were born with for Insta-worthy ink. Uber drivers couldn't find their passengers without the app, but the app will run without them some day. We're already living in a world where transport or hospitals or energy would stop without internet connectivity. How much is real? How much is virtual? Even before VR devices become mainstream, we need to ask if reality itself will have a fighting chance.

We were told that 2016 would be the year when virtual reality gave us a compelling alternative to current reality. But we're already living in a post-reality - and that pixelated metaverse is only going to become more important to challenge in 2017.