September 26, 2016

The Brave New Virtuality

Can you imagine a reality where the online world is more real than the physical world?

Brave New World is a science fiction novel written by Aldous Huxley in 1931. The book depicts a futuristic society where people have free access to drugs and sex, and they are ruled by a powerful controlling entity that is a  highly efficient marriage of government and corporate power.

Rather than revolt against this power, many citizens embrace their indulgent lifestyle, becoming completely dependent on the government and its grand plan for the human race.  Part of this plan is the mass dissemination of a wonder drug called soma that serves to pacify the populace and quell the desire to rebel.

In this civilization, the government maintains control through a constant bombardment of advertising, encouraging extreme materialism,  and promoting drugs and sex.  This Brave New World is a success is a sense, as most of its people are generally peaceful and content.  However, a chemically induced happiness tends to sit poorly with many contemporary readers. Most read the novel as a sort of nightmare, dystopian scenario where people are brainwashed and have lost much of their ability to be free and make independent choices.

Are we perhaps creating “A Brave New Virtuality” with our growing obsession with consumerism, the Internet, and the power that we so willingly hand over to corporations working with the government to own our communities? And if so, is this good news or bad?

If you have read Utah Stories throughout 2010, you know there is a common theme to many of our articles: government leaders in Utah typically have few qualms handing over the keys to the city for the promise of tax revenue. This trend is radically changing the unique culture that exists in our cities along the Wasatch Front.

If you remove culture and community, does free thinking follow?  If all that remains in our cities are chain stores and big boxes retailers, is there even any need to report on local events?
What happens when actual news is totally replaced by entertainment, celebrity gossip, and ads for anti-depressants?  Perhaps, for better and for worse, our own society is not so far off from the one Huxley imagined.

As we close out the decade, we can now look back and present the top four bone-headed decisions by City Leaders.  I think we can safely say these decisions have made our Brave New World  in 2011 a little less pleasant.

As our unique, local businesses fall and are replaced by corporate clones, it seems we come closer and closer to a point where people have little choice but to look to their computers and television to provide the community they crave and we embark upon our own new frontier: a Brave New Virtuality.

The Sugar House Granite Block amid demolition

1) Sugar House was in need of a make over, but in efforts by the community to preserve the buildings the developer felt he should demolish rather than listen to more people telling him what to do with his property. The Sugar House developer wanted to build another “Gateway Mall” style development. (mixed-use, high-end, luxury), but then the bottom fell out of the comercial and retail real-estate market and now we have instead a “Sugar Hole” (but at least the hole is now filled in and there are some nice trees around the lot).

2) But who could blame him, after all the Gateway mall was a huge success with its “mixed use” model. They attracted Abercrombie and Fitch to Salt Lake City! Way to go Didi Corradini and the Boyer Company! And just in time for the Olympics. In subsequent years Gateway would kill Main Street and the malls, which had already killed most of the local businesses that once existed on Main Street*. Again wouldn’t it have been a better investment to preserve the history and buildings that already existed on Main Street? Utah Stories predicts that Gateway will decline significantly once the City Creek Center is completed, leaving behind urban blight.

3) Tare down the Cottonwood Mall and make it into the next Vegas style faux Italian village! That mistake speaks for itself. Not long after the demolition GGP (General Growth Properties) declared bankruptcy. Today the former Mall is sorely missed by area residents and business owners.

Plans for the Cottonwood Mall redevelopment

4) Turn Lehi into the next Draper! And in one fail swoop install all of the best chains so nobody has to drive to Draper or Sandy to patronize the chains. Besides Costco and Lowes and a Paradise Bakery and Olive Garden Lehi now offers an In-And-Out Burger! Thanks City Government for offering such generous tax incentives to get us our very own In-And-Out Burger and saving our lives by not needing to drive to Sandy to patronize theirs!

5) Sandy was supposed to have a 50 acre nature park nearly the base of the most magnificent mountains in Utah, after the old gravel quarry closed down six years ago, but there was just one problem, the Wal-Mart in Sandy closed down and moved to Draper. Sandy was no longer receiving the Wal-Mart tax revenue. They needed another Wal-Mart in Sandy in a really bad way.

Thank goodness Dolan and the Boyer company teamed up. Who needs a nature park anyway? Sandy, working in tandem with Wal-Mart’s PR arm and $1 million ad campaign convinced residents that  the opposition group “Save Our Communities” was “misguided” in their opposition to the Wal-Mart. Way to go Tom! Only don’t ask him about the amazing tax incentives he gave to Wal-Mart to convince them to open in Quarry Bend. And don’t ask him about the now very generous campaign contributions Dolan receives from the Boyer Company.

Call me old fashioned, but isn’t it unethical to offer such generous incentives to corporate entities while leaving all the Ma and Pa shops in the shadows of big boxes and strip malls to make ends meet?

When was the last time anyone enjoyed a nice walk in developments tailor-made for corporate America?
What if we stopped aiming to attract more big boxes and chain stores and looked to offering local businesses an environment where they can thrive? Just another question we hope to address in the coming months.

Within the context of talking about the huge shift from the physical to the virtual world, Utah Stories set out to find people who have adapted and found new ways of doing business, despite the incredible changes that have occurred in the past ten years.

Our next segment is on how Google has transformed the media landscape in the past 10 years.