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Living vicariously

Tuukka Virtanen
October 29, 2020

For some weird reason, I vividly remember the first time I encountered the word vicarious. I heard it when listening to the progressive metal band Tool’s album “10, 000 days” back in 2006. The word is right there in the name of the first song of the album, rightly titled “Vicarious”. I remember immediately searching the Internet for the meaning of the word. I remember opening up an old online dictionary and staring at the answer: “Experienced in the imagination through the feelings or actions of another person.” [1]. That’s fascinating I remember thinking, but not really understanding what it could mean in practice. And now in 2020, I suddenly feel like that word makes a lot more sense.

Living under lockdown conditions has made one thing clear. Real life experiences are invaluable. Now that we can’t meet face-to-face, we realize the value of what we have lost, or perhaps better said: what can’t be replicated by a virtual reality. But if we can’t experience something by ourselves, we can put our mind in the shoes of others. Live vicariously through them. This is partly a reason why so many bloggers and social media influencers have become popular. People want to live out their dreams through a social media influencer who is sharing their experience while doing something exotic, or maybe even not that exotic, as many people want to just virtually hang out with their favorite influencer.

But today it is possible. To live your life even more vicariously than ever before. Maybe you want to see what a walk through nightly Tokyo looks like. Well, there’s someone streaming it right now in a popular streaming service. What if I want to ride down a mountain bike through the mountains of Nepal? There’s three-hour action camera footage for you to go through. Or maybe you want to watch extreme skydiving videos that make your heart jump? That footage exists too and also a virtual reality simulation about skydiving. Maybe you are hungry. Maybe you want to watch videos of salacious looking foods. Well, there’s a whole genre for that: mukbang. It’s about watching videos of people eating foods and conversing with their viewers. You can find anything from noodle soups to hamburgers to massive eating competitions. Everything’s on the menu.

There looks to be no stopping for our hunger for more vicarious experiences. We want to live more lives than we have. It’s a sad reality of life that we only get to live once, so we are so desperate to see life through new eyes – or through an action camera lens, as in this case. We will create more and more electronic recordings of our lives, us doing every imaginable thing in the existence, while simultaneously making reality-matching recordings of them for others to enjoy.

The logical conclusion of this evolution is that vicarious experiences will become commonplace, maybe the standard for experiencing activities. Maybe in the future, when someone asks you, “Did you go to the game last night? “, you will answer: “I played the game through the eyes of the goalie. It was great! I let in only one goal!”. People will expect the vicarious experience before the real experience. Real experiences will become rare and expensive and only the wealthy can access a real, real life experience. Others will enjoy in sharing their experience, but for a lot cheaper, through a virtual recording.  

A future where we live more through others than ourselves might sound weird for us today. In our individualized world, the individual experience is in the center stage – How I experience this event? Maybe this new vicarious way of living can introduce as to each other, through our experiences. We will get used to living in different imaginations, swap them for a day, visit another in the afternoon, drop by tomorrow in another. Maybe our collective consciousness will become more allowing towards shared experiences. Until that future happens, live vicariously.


[1] Vicarious, Google search top answer, October 2020

About the author

Consultant | Finland
Test automation consultant with technical experience in test automation and quality assurance. TMap Next certified Test Engineer with knowledge in test planning and execution and test design techniques. Master of Science in Information Management. Indie game development as a side project. Creative and visual thinker.


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