I’ve always loved books and reading. As a kid I could lose myself for hours in an exotic faraway place, transported by the combination of someone else’s written word and my own imagination. There was the real world I lived in and a secondary place I could go if given the time, solitude, and the power of a good book.
Reading has always been a participatory experience, as opposed to television, which is more of a spectator sport. Reading stimulates the imagination; television supplies it for you. Going online is also engaging and participatory. Content is not merely presented to you in twenty-two-minute increments. Instead you determine where to go, what to take notice of, and what to disregard. You decide if you want to watch the commercial or not; you determine if you want to hit that link or view that page. You are in charge of your online content; it’s you, in the driver’s seat, choosing your own direction.
Gaming can be even more engaging. The graphic and audio sophistcation of Internet games is truly mind-boggling. It both activates and tricks the senses. But it’s not just how things look and sound; it’s also how things feel. So much of what is done on the Internet can simulate reality because of how real it looks. This intensity of experience creates a virtual reality.
The word virtual is an interesting one. Once, it’s primary meaning had to do with something having potental, something possible but not quite actualized. Merriam-Webster’s first definition of virtual is: “being such in essence or effect though not formally recognized or admitted.” To say something was virtually impossible meant it was almost impossible but not quite. Virtual meant as close to actual as you could get while still retaining the understanding that it was not.
The word virtual and the word reality were first linked together in the late 1930s when describing the fictitious and illustory reailty created on the theaterical stage. But the phrase has left the arts and is now firmly embedded in the techno-lexicon. Virtual has become a computer word. Virtual reality (VR) has come to mean a computer-simulated environment of either a real or imaginary place. I remember hearing it the first time while watching people who wore what looked like welder’s goggles; they seemed to be randomly moving like puppets on strings, interacting with something only they could see. Now there are entire virtual worlds, worlds that exist only as computer-simulated environments. There are virtual communities, social networks of people connected to each other online. There are even virtual relationships, relationships that exist only online with no physical interaction whatsoever.
Virtual reality is almost like the real thing but not quite. The gap between the real and the not-quite, however, keeps getting smaller in the virtual realm, as technology advances. These not-quite experiences are still good enough for many purposes for many people.
The above is excerpted from 5 chapter in #Hooked: The Pitfalls of Media, Technology and Social Networking by Dr. Gregory Jantz.