Virtually Real

August 21, 2008

Some of my real life duties force me to traverse a certain space in the city center at least 2 or 3 times a week. A couple of years ago ambitious city planners have transformed this space into this immaculate, soulless, hideous copy of Huxley’s worst nightmare. While I was pushing my way through hordes of tourists and serious looking businessmen on their lunch break I came to think about some things. To me this place isn’t more than a visually constructed utopia. It does not feel “real” at all. It reminds me of the black screen you see for a couple of seconds when you teleport from one location in Second Life to the other… it just takes a lot longer to pass. So how is this space more “real” compared to the places I visit in virtual worlds? I know what you’re thinking: “that girl spends to much time in front of the computer”. Maybe. But even if so, isn’t that my reality then? I consulted a friend of mine in RL who has no experience with SL about the matter and his reaction was very defensive. “Of course here is more real than SL, you can’t smell anything in there for example and generally you can’t survive there” and I answered that the technology in VR is already capable of adding smell and touch it just isn’t as advanced yet. Also I can’t survive in this exact spot we are standing right now either…but yeah I get carried away sometimes.
Everyone who has seen Matrix can probably have long, more or less meaningless discussions about physical existence and how everything we think is real may not be or whatever…what it all boils down to usually is conspiracy theories and I’m not really interested in that. What I think is more interesting about the discussion with my friend and other people I have talked to about this is: Why is it so important for many to make a clear distinction between what is real and what isn’t in the sense of the geographical location of ones physical body (Meatspace)? I think it is fear. The same fear some people that have never traveled far from home get when they are about to travel to a foreign country. Maybe it’s fear of the unknown. I often compare the SL community to a fictive community of a different country (somewhere far far away). It has it’s own rules, conventions, means of communication, it has it’s own culture. It is very real. Kind of like the experience you gain when going on a holiday somewhere you haven’t been before. You are able to experience an entire new world. Therefore I feel SL it is an expansion of my reality. I have a lot more, very unstructured thoughts on this subject and I will continue to collect them here in the future.
And if my mom reads this she is probably going to call me and ask me to get an appointment with a psychotherapist. And that is ok, too because that is the reality she lives in….but that again is an entirely different story.


7 Responses to “Virtually Real”

  1. trindolynbeck Says:

    Sorry, didn’t complete my thought.
    So, what i am trying to say, or one of the things I’m trying to say is;
    If you lose a friend in RL there is no sense of touch, or smell, or sight… They are just gone. Your heart breaks and you can’t think, it doesn’t get more real than that. When you love someone your heart soars whether or not anyone is around. That’s pretty unreal but completely true.

  2. casetomorrow Says:

    (odd that only one of your two comments shows up :/ must be my blogging noobishness, I tried to approve them both!)

    Trin: first of all: Thank you for being the very first commenter on my blog, YAY! I am sure that your father’s wisdom has influenced you in a positive way even if it took you a while to understand. Perhaps we all just need a lot of banging heads on our virtual walls to realize that what we feel in our heart is real even without the touch. Or that it may be “pretty unreal but completely true” And this last point gives me a lot to think about, which is nice :)
    One of the reasons I started thinking about this whole RL/SL reality thing is what you said too: should my virtual presence affect me as it does or is this just insanity, or addiction? I think a lot of people think about this actually. My RL friends are certain that it’s addiction (and insanity but they don’t care about that as much because they know I had been insane before too :D) and that I should stop whatever I’m doing. Certainly nothing I feel while on this “game” is of any importance they say. How would they know though? Maybe I’m just looking for legitimization when I say that I believe that we are pioneers of something that is inevitable…evolution.

  3. (Well, let’s try again)

    Case, for me the world “real” has a different meaning. I learned from my father, a Methodist minister and theological genius, that the only “real” things in life are the ones you feel, like in your heart.. Happiness, sorrow, joy, reservation, elation, etc.. He told me this when I was a stubborn, know-it-all, college student and we argued for days about the relevence of his beliefs. But over the years, I have finally come to understand what he was saying, unfortunately, too late to tell him before he passed. I’m a loner, in this world and beyond, choosing to express myself alone while the world rolls by. So, when a chance to “feel” comes along I grab onto it with both hands. It becomes part of me and fills my soul. And, when it goes away, I find nothing but emptiness. An emptiness so REAL nothing corporal can compare.

    In SL I have felt both ends of the spectrum, pure joy and total dismay… So, for me, SL is as real as any concrete block I happen to smash my head against. It hurts just as much, or feels just as good. The confusing part for me is, should it? Or am I just insane from making the computer such a huge part of my life. I mean, a connection is a connection, right? A friend is a friend… does it make a difference that your friend is faceless? Does it hurt less or feel better…?? Are feelings more real because of the sense of touch? Not for me.

  4. Now at least they will know what I’m ranting about :)

  5. An inevitable truth that I have been experiencing a lot more than I really intended to or “wanted” to when traversing the virtual and real worlds is the similarities they share. Not that I shouldn’t expect it since they are both based in reality, or at least, manipulated by the same bunch of humanoids. Therefore, even though we reel in the magic of virtual bliss, the minds behind remain filled with real feelings and emotions. The laws of the universe, although bent and twisted, still apply. Sometimes it’s hard to remember this. We feel so free in Second Life to do and be whatever we can dream up that we forget that everyone else around us is experiencing the same freedoms, so in reality, we void each other out and the truth is the only thing that remains constant. Happy, sadness, bliss and sorrow are unchangable and unforgiving. Focusing on making one person happy inevitably leaves another person alone or feeling left out. When one reality becomes dependent to another, which really is the only way to heighten the experience, you have a formula for chaos when communication between the two breaks down.
    This is my experience of late. Real as all get-out. The strength of a bond between two is no less because of a lack of senses. The brain makes up all the details it needs and fills in the blanks. In SL you experience a person, or the idea of a person, no more or no less than meeting them on the street. Visually, just like in RL, some are goofy, some are beautiful, some are plain and some are extreme, but, if you spend any real time with them, discovering what kind of person they are and how they think, or what they think, the facade falls away pretty quickly and you make decisions based on what you are hearing, not what you are seeing. The reality is in their words, not their action.

    So… suddenly, the freedoms fall away as well, being that you are constrained to be “human” when dealing with other humans. I have a tendency to hit and run because of my insecurities about dealing with people and the fears that arise because of this. This act can produce several different effects in other people’s minds. Either they think I get bored of them, am very busy doing something else, am not impressed with their pressence, etc…. When, in fact, I am afraid of boring THEM, or revealing my ineptitude.

    Boring, but there it is :P

  6. That was my first blog enrty to but I thought it fit yours as well. Sorry to muck up your page…. LOL

  7. casetomorrow Says:

    Hahaha! Please muck up my page as much as you can. I love your openess and your insightful thoughts. I don’t actually think anything you have to say is boring :p. I’m glad you have a blog now too, can’t wait to see the things your creative mind will come up with. Ever since I started this crazy discussion about reality 2 weeks ago on my flickr page and here I’ve been thinking about this a lot. For one I have started to do some more in depth research on what has already been written on self perception and virtual worlds. Currently I’m reading this very entertaining book called “I Avatar: Culture and Consequences of having a second life” by Stephen Meadows. He includes some research that I in my own words would summarize as: how everything we experience online is real to us in the sense of experiencing it. The only thing that distinguishes between the virtual and the “real” is our intellect.
    Another thing I have been doing lately is watching myself^^ That’s right. Because honestly, I know not a lot of people in the SL community talk about the negative side effects they are experiencing online. I would like to change that. For example when I spend to much time online I start to feel detached from my first life and I struggle sometimes to find a balance. There is a lot that I still don’t understand about this but I will sure look into it and post about it as soon as I’m ready.

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