The Virtual

Make my day, punk...

Virtual reality has been with us a while now, or at least the phrase has. Virtual as a term is often used but less often explained. By far the most common meaning in use is as a sort of opposite to 'reality'. So you have everyday real things like me and you and bananas and books, and then virtual not-real things like video games and life on the internet. Then you try to bridge that divide by dressing people in what looks like the innards of old TV sets, and S&M gloves.

It's funny that for over 100 years now a kid could sit in their room for hours each day with their head in a book and at worst be thought of as a bit of a nerd, whereas if a kid hits the intertubes or fires up the PS3 for even half that time each day, it's next stop Charlie Manson. Since when is a book any sort proof of being plugged into the real world? I hear parents all the time moralising about how little Jack or Amelie doesn't have a PlayStation, and never will, and how they'll never watch that dreadful Simpsons show (?!). And yet if the precious dear locked themselves away with a book, aren't we proud?

If being real is about materiality and connection with others, then the Net and computer games have books beaten without breaking a sweat. Kids who spend time with these things are much more plugged in to the wider world than anybody reading a book has ever been. Literally, directly. That's not to say books aren't valuable, only that they're not and shouldn't ever have been objects of sacred worship. All books have become bibles in this debate. It's also a thing about language, books obviously deal with words, whereas games and the Internet deal much more with images of various kinds, and sound. Words, we worship them, even though they're essentially empty.

There's a different way of defining the virtual. It's not the opposite of the real. Games and the internet are real. How could they not be? Where are people supposedly escaping to when they use these things? Their imagination is about the only possible answer. But hello - where do book readers spend most of their time? There's an argument dating back to the invention of that other tool of Satan, the TV, which says these newer technologies force-feed the imagination and don't require the same level of viewer input. But that's just the language Nazis again, who can't see that imagery has always 'exercised' the mind as much as words have, but in different ways. If you do nothing but sit in front of the TV or the PS3 all day, then maybe you're channelling the life force a little narrowly. But that would apply no matter what monomaniacal obsession you might have.

So the virtual isn't the opposite of the real. It's very real. More next time.


  1. Hi Nick,
    I like your phrase "monomaniacal obsession". It reminds me of the Ethan Edwards character in John Ford's film The Searchers.
    I do think that narrow-focused obssesive pursuits do tend to dimish a full immersion in life, and limit awareness of the relational in living. Perhaps this is where the importance of that all-important sense of balance comes in. Balance and awareness of the relational/relationship in life are really one and the same thing.


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