One of the great unasked questions of our time has to do with the balance between vicarious and non-vicarious experience in our lives. No previous generation has been exposed to one-tenth the amount of vicarious experiences that we lavish on ourselves and our children today, and no one, anywhere, has any real idea about the impact of this monumental shift on personality. Our children mature physically more rapidly than we did. The age of first menstruation continues to drop four to six months every decade. The population grows taller sooner. It is clear that many of our young people, products of television and instant access to oceans of information, also become precocious intellectually. But what happens to emotional development as the ratio of vicarious experience to “real” experience rises? Does the step-up of vicariousness contribute to emotional maturity? Or does it, in fact, retard it?
And what, then, happens when an economy in search of a new purpose, seriously begins to enter into the production of experiences for their own sake, experiences that blur the distinction between the vicarious and the non-vicarious, the simulated and the real? One of the definitions of sanity, itself, is the ability to tell real from unreal. Shall we need a new definition?
— Alvin Toffler in Future Shock, Edition 3, (New York: Bantam Books, 1984), p. 235. First published (New York: Random House, Inc., 1970).
"One of the great unasked questions of our time"