I asserted for many years that it’s not hard to keep a mental barrier between “reality” and “fantasy.” I’m here today to tell you I was wrong.

I don’t mean to renege on my belief that people who play Grand Theft Auto don’t become inclined to commit grand theft auto, but rather to introduce some depth to the dialogue.

Everyday decision-making, especially in casual conversation, is primarily driven by mimetic tools and experiential data, broadly assessed in an instant by heuristic thought processes which produce a result that is rarely ideal and only occasionally appropriate. In conversation you don’t have time to think, so you resort to intuition. Post-hoc deliberation often produces a better result: we can usually come up with a good response to almost any situation, sometimes even as early as a few minutes after the scenario flits through our experience. Of course, this capacity is generally worthless, except for embellishing stories and posting on Reddit. So, suppose you (like me) spend your leisure time engaged in the fantastic: movies, anime, video games, novels, and reading on the Internet. Well, what kind of corpora are you collating in your network of neural circuitry? What cohesive but uncorroborated data will be available to the intuitive heuristic that fires to collect a response to an idle comment? Only that from your experience: the fantastic. Your understanding of a situation is subtly influenced by the fiction.

This is skewomorphism: when an internal model of reality includes elements derived from the non-real.

If you’ve ever met a person who “talks like a book,” you’ve run into a skewomorph. If being a reader has such a significant effect on someone’s speech, how much greater is the effect from movies and TV, which are primarily dialog? While the outcome might be more socially acceptable in that case, societal rubberstamping doesn’t hide the fact that the effect almost certainly reduces your ability to act appropriately by basing your expectations on fantasy instead of reality.

Unfortunately, it’s not like I have a solution or anything. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a handy solution, any more than there is to the problem of physical acuity facing an adult who as a child never fought anybody or fostered athleticism and rarely even challenged himself on the playground. Some things are easily, naturally accomplished by many children, yet challenge adults because we understand expectations and inhibitions. The prime time for gathering data about reality is past.

I guess the best bet is to flip fiction the bird and get some experiences of your own, but that’s obviously easier said than done. As an adult I’m supposed to behave, and I have to live with the people around me so I don’t want to just go off the fucking wall as a form of data aggregation although that is probably a great way to work against the problem presented.

Of course, there’s another side to the story: if one spends long enough in fantasy, one understands fantasy. If one spends time on the Web, becomes adept at navigating cyberspace. I sometimes feel like I belong on the other side of the keyboard, inside the monitor, in the expanse of the network. It’s where I feel comfortable; free to be myself, agile, and experienced. But that doesn’t help me in the real world. The translation is imperfect; the correspondence flawed. Reality and your interpretation are in skew.