In Sarah Schulman’s book The Gentrification of the Mind, she laments, “Will everything (books, music, pornography, education, movies, friendship, camaraderie, love, and television) all be free if they’re consumed online and prohibitively expensive to experience in person?” She wrote this in 2012 and may not have anticipated how much further that process could go in the following decade. Facebook had already virtualized many facets of social life but iPhones were still relatively new, as was the revolution they were unleashing. During the decade that followed, the bifurcation of digital and physical experience that Schulman described actually collapsed under its own weight, with the two universes reuniting in the form of the mediated hyperreality that we now constantly inhabit. Everything online that was already free—content—became seemingly more free and more infinite (even when it’s not actually free, it still feels like it is). In-person experience became correspondingly expensive, not in absolute terms but relative to its digital version. When eating dinner at a restaurant costs the same as 4 months of Netflix and infinitely more than unlimited free social media, that contrast increases the gravitational pull of the screen and the home.
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