Electric Language describes the three shifts in the psyche when software guides reading and writing. It analyzes writing that has become automated no longer in-scribed or printed in resistant materials ; as well as productivity-based writing as opposed to contemplatively focused on linear wholes ; and writing linked through hypertext networks as opposed to the private space of traditional books. The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality measures the reality shift that occurs when human perception merges with computerized simulations to.
An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while. Virtual Realism By Michael Heim. No cover image. Read preview. Synopsis From the simple VR games found in upscale video arcades, to the ultimate "immersion"--the CAVE, a surround screen, surround sound system that projects 3 D computer graphics into a ten-foot high cube--virtual reality has introduced what is literally a new dimension of reality to daily life.
But it is not without controversy. Indeed, some say that a collision is inevitable between those passionately involved in the computer industry and those increasingly alienated from and often replaced by its applications. Opinions range from the cyberpunk attitude of Wired magazine and Bill Gates's commercial optimism to the violent opposition of the Unabomber. Now, with Virtual Realism, readers have a thought-provoking guide to the "cyberspace backlash" debate and the implications of cyberspace for our culture.
Michael Heim first offers a thoughtful discussion of what virtual reality is "in the strong sense. The true flight simulator is a metal room on a motion platform that contains a replica of an aircraft's cockpit. It simulates with astonishing precision an aircraft's rolling, pitching, and yawing motions. A computer coordinates the instrument readings, and the flight controls can adjust for the inputs that control the position of the simulator, the aircraft's characteristics, and information about the terrain over which the aircraft is supposed to be flying.
Video displays simulate conditions outside the cockpit. The motion platform of a good simulation can even create vection, which is the pull on the viscera that you feel with air turbulence or in fast elevators. Similarly, the SIMNET tanks mechanically shake and rock with the sound of explosions when they are hit by a virtual enemy tank. A flight simulator for training pilots carries a high cost in gear and discomfort, but the costs are quickly justified.
It is better to train pilots in full-gear simulators than have them burn up actual flight time in expensive aircraft. The simulators can provide more variety and challenge than routine flight hours. The military pilots in the Gulf War used computer simulations for mission rehearsal and thereby reduced the risk to their lives.
Most had flown over virtual desert sands repeatedly before making the actual runs — and their simulations used recent satellite data to create a vision of the actual terrain. Ship pilots likewise learn to navigate treacherous waters through computer-based simulators, and nuclear power plant crews practice emergency responses in the same way.
With such specific aims, these training simulators do not require total im-mersion. Nor do they allow more interaction than would be expected of those who remain in the role of pilot. The flight simulator provides only those aspects of VR that are relevant to the task at hand. The pilot need not have the capability to lift a finger to fly through the virtual cockpit to observe the virtual plane from a foot perch above the fuselage.
Nor does the navigator need to be able to lift the ship from ocean to clouds. Interactivity can be limited to those situations imposed by the performance of an actual aircraft or ship. Free will stays under the finger of those who set up the task and [ 26 ] Virtual R e a l i s m test for training accuracy. The SIMNET teams sit locked to their tasks as they coordinate tank controls and communication with other team members. As the VR paradigm spreads, more and more training situations call for simulators. We will soon take our driving exams in simulators, and many jobs that require physical skill will test us and improve our performance through simulation.
But the team of soldiers in the simulated tank or the pilot in the metal room on mechanical arms remain restricted to complex but rather narrow tasks such as flying an airplane or fighting other tanks. As such, then, a simulation is less than virtual reality in the strong sense of the term. Its name refers to the famous "Myth of the Cave" in Plato's Republic. Instead, like the cave in Plato's myth, it contains graphics projected onto the walls of a small room. The user dons stereo-synchronized glasses and uses a light-weight navigation wand to maneuver.
The CAVE is a surround-screen, surround-sound, projection-based system. It immerses the participants by projecting 3-D computer graphics into a ten-foot square cube composed of display screens that completely surround the viewers. It tracks head and hand movements to produce the correct stereo perspective and to isolate the position and orientation of a 3-D input device held by one of the viewers.
A sound system provides audio feedback. Instead of wearing helmets to experience a virtual world, CAVE dwellers put on lightweight stereo glasses and walk around inside the CAVE as they interact with virtual objects. Multiple viewers can share the same virtual experience and can easily carry on conversations inside the CAVE, enabling researchers to exchange discoveries and ideas. One user is the active viewer, controlling the stereo projection reference point, while the rest of the users are passive viewers.
The CAVE was designed from the beginning to be a useful tool for scientific visualization. Its goal was to help scientists achieve discoveries faster by expanding the resolution, color, and flicker-free qualities of high-end workstations. Most importantly, the CAVE couples with remote data sources, supercomputers, and scientific instruments via high-speed networks.
To fill its graphic walls, the CAVE requires enormous computing power when compared to present-day desktop machines and computer workstations. The consumer electronics market already offers total-surround home entertainment systems that have a primitive resemblance to the CAVE. The CAVE helps us understand where the television market, with its increasingly immersive hardware, is headed. In recent years, television news and talk shows have increased interactivity through call-in shows and through feedback from the Internet.
In the main, though, television pours out unilateral, non-interactive content, while the CAVE allows people to explore and interact. Astronomers walk through projections of galaxies, and physicists experience Einstein's equations. The modular database libraries in the CAVE that range from astronomy and physics to weather pattern analysis distinguish it from total-surround broadcasting as we know it in the s.
They both offer strong sensory immersion and the experience of telepresence. The power of these prototypes lends a meaning to all the satellite applications of virtual reality. Not every application of VR, however, [ 28 ] Virtual Realism demands the same amount of immersion. Some hardware delivers a lesser degree of immersion while still providing useful telepresence. As we have seen, sensory devices by themselves do not equate to full immersion. VR depends ultimately on activating the inherent telepresence capacity of human beings.
While telepresence never equates to unaided imagination, there is something within the human being, a central point from which we stretch outside ourselves, that makes the technology work. Total sensory immersion depends in the long run upon our ability to enter into what our senses receive. In the short view, however, we can classify several stepping stones that lead up to the two main doors of virtual reality.
Three Stepping Stones to VR Each of these stepping stones stops short of full immersion, but each step contributes something to the range of VR options. Each step offers a different degree of complexity and a different apparatus to do a specific job through telepresence. Each step shows another side of the human ability to become telepresent in different ways and to different degrees.
The monitor itself resembles a small periscope, with two large glass lenses into which the user peers. The maneuvering action is smooth rather than rough like a periscope because the lightweight BOOM swivels in any direction horizontally or vertically, and the user can move it effortlessly to any height or angle. The BOOM has the feel of a mobile window onto any corner of an artificial world. The monitor box discloses any corner or perspective of the virtual world.
The BOOM allows the viewer to stand while turning and panning or it attaches nicely to a computer workstation where it permits seated access to 3-D worlds when appropriate. Engineers using CAD computer-aided design programs use the BOOM for modeling aircraft wings under construction, for example, which would otherwise remain hidden by the flat dimensions of a blueprint or would be obscured by the non-physical geometry of wire-frame models.
A Boeing engineer can, for example, stick her head into the computerized model to see what clearances the mechanics will have when they maintain the aircraft. The recent Boeing was the first aircraft to go directly from the computerized model to actual production without passing through the costly phase of physical mock-ups.
The glasses pick up infrared emissions from the monitor so the left-eye sees one image, then alternates with the right-eye which sees another image.
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Each eye synchronizes with its corresponding stereo image. This binocular fusion results in depth information that seems normal to the human eye — as opposed to the way fish or deer see because their eyes are positioned on both sides of their heads. The result of the shutter glasses is a 3-D world on a square monitor screen. Such systems can also track the head position and use the motion parallax effect. This means that closer objects appear to move faster than [ 30 ] Uirtual Realism distant objects as the user navigates through the virtual scene.
Such computer graphics go beyond the cues of static optical perspectives and activate dimensional cues that our bodies normally use in the physical world. Several users can view the same screen while a special mouse with a multiple-motion ball allows the user to steer through the virtual scene, including up-down, right-left tracking when the ball is lifted or lowered.
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Arcade games use graphics on square screens to give a first-person perspective to their action. The first-person perspective enhances the psychological immersion. Classic adventure games like Castle Wolfenstein, Doom, Duke Nukem, and Descent use first-person movement to draw the user into a psychological tunnel that combines narrow interactivity shoot-'em-up with a highly linear geography castles and labyrinths.
A more sophisticated task psychology exploration and riddles enhances the psychological immersion of interactive games like Myst. A variety of graphics techniques pull in the user and engage the telepresent imagination. Obviously, 3-D graphics help, as well as the traditional 2-D depth cues like interposition, shading, brightness, size scaling, texture gradients, and all the tricks of linear perspective since the Renaissance. Many of the popular adventure games on computer engage the telepresent imagination even though they run on flat, 2-D monitors without the tracking of shutter glasses.
The graphics invite the eye to come in, and the movements of the hands on the mouse or joystick affect the action on screen, transporting the player to the world of adventure. Still, the fish-tank world continually runs up against the limits of the small screen. It is true that we can stare long enough at the monitor of a desktop computer until our focus becomes so intense that we begin to see it as if through a window on a world of data, but such a focus cannot draw on the full intuitive knowledge we carry as incarnate beings.
Our bodies carry knowledge accumulated through years of unconscious experiment. The child experiments with sand castles, spilled milk, and mud pies. Every moment of silent exploration builds a tacit understanding of physical space and its complex object relations. Desktop VR draws to a very limited extent on this intuitive understanding. To draw fully on body knowledge, we need VR [ 31 ] full immersion.
Fish-tank VR loses its spell every time we turn our heads away from the monitor. This 3-D world remains out there, in front of us, on screen. If the head turns left or right, or we look up at the ceiling, the immersion vanishes and we are no longer present in the virtual world on the desktop. Some situations may benefit from this double exposure, and research on augmenting primary reality through computer overlays has many applications.
The final stepping stone before the two main entrances to virtual reality is VRML. This developing computer language supports 3-D graphics on the Internet. Any personal computer in the world can connect to the Internet and access hypertext click-and-go documents and images on the Net. Current Internet images range from scanned home photographs to video animation with audio hot links.
With the right software, any computer user can call up the images and enjoy the illusion of entering a virtual environment through the desktop. As mentioned earlier in discussing simulators and SIMNET, the felt quotient of immersion rises with the addition of other people to the interaction.
Telepresence increases with mutual human presence. I may choose to appear as a penguin. Others have already assembled'in their own chosen avatars. When I then enter the virtual world, others may greet me and acknowledge my avatar. Another penguin-clad user greets me with "Nice suit, Fishy," and the greeting affirms our being there together. I can chat with others, and the interaction supports the realization that I exist in this artificial world, which is also a social world similar in certain ways to the one where I grew up.
Nevertheless, this window on [ 32 ] Virtual Realism the artificial world still keeps us outside looking into the virtual world since we perceive first of all a window and not the virtual things and people existing in that world. One glance up, or to the right or left, and we are again outside the limited frame of that particular world. VRML helps us step towards, but not yet, inside virtual reality in the strongest sense. The limits to virtual experience have their benefit. As the Internet continues to expand its audio and animation capacity, for instance, we will have many choices. We may want to connect with video and audio on occasions, and at other times we will prefer the limited bandwidth of the telephone.
We may want to blend some video still shots with audio, or use photographs, or any number of options. Limiting our telepresence can also prove convenient when, for instance, we prefer to be heard rather than seen. Each application of telepresence calls for its own amount and specific type of immersion. If you are training bicyclists to take virtual curves at high speed, you might indeed want them to sit on steel fixtures so their legs can pedal and their arms maneuver. If you set up a virtual flight controller to oversee airline runways with an unobstructed view in any direction and from any height with the video and audio fed by earth and satellite cameras , you might want the user to feel physically unchallenged, comfortable for hours, and no more bodily involved than a person who scoots a swivel chair across a smooth floor.
The task at hand determines what kind and how much immersion to put in the virtual world. There is more to immersion than helmets and gloves. All the variants of virtual reality we have examined in this brief tour center around the "I"s of immersion, interactivity, and information intensity. These three components of experience continue to spread through contemporary media Culture as satellites radiating from the central light of virtual reality technology.
The stress of these components on traditional culture is considerable. We go a long way toward alleviating that stress when we attain some clarity about the central source of the stress. Understanding the strong sense of virtual reality is the first step towards being realistic about virtual reality. Figure 3. Figure 4. Photogrammetry photo top ; wire-frame CAD right ; color added to the model in below ; final textured virtualworld version bottom.
All rights reserved. What he said over lunch held the future in a horrible way that neither of us could grasp at the time. His words foreshadowed a tragedy that would injure him and implicate our schizophrenic culture. At the time, the prophetic words were innocent of the shadowy terrorist the FBI calls "the Unabomber. I had been looking forward to talking with him, and lunch seemed a perfect opportunity. The Yale computer scientist had invented the Linda programming language and had also written eloquently about the human side of computing.
I knew him not only as a writer but also as a friendly reader of my books. I looked forward to an exchange of ideas. Our conversation moved from pleasantries to questions about how to humanize the computer. Several of David Gelernter's sentences imprinted themselves on my memory and later played back to me in ways I could not—would not—have imagined: "We are on a social collision course," he warned. This situation holds the greatest danger of a cultural collision.
The office was in flames, and David barely escaped. He staggered to the campus clinic, arriving just in time to save his life. The permanent injuries he suffered from the mail bomb included a partially blinded right eye, damage in one ear, and a maimed right hand. Two years later, on April 24, , a letter to Gelernter from the Unabomber taunted: "If you'd had any brains you would have realized that there are a lot of people out there who resent bitterly the way techno-nerds like you are changing the world and you wouldn't have been dumb enough to open an unexpected package from an unknown source.
The social train wreck was no longer around a distant corner of the future. On September 19, , the Washington Post caved in to the Unabomber's threats by publishing his page, 35,word manifesto entitled "Industrial Society and Its Future. By evening, I could not find a single copy of the Washington Post with the 8-page manifesto insert. On the Internet, no one can kill you with a mail bomb — at least, not yet. Desperate to be published, the Unabomber now had his own "home page," complete with wanted sketches and maps pinpointing the series of explosions, all in high-tech format, thanks to the FBI.
I did a text search of the manifesto and found the word "computer" frequently used in conjunction with "control" and "technology. The killer critic sees computers as instruments of control to oppress human beings either by putting them out of work or by altering how they work. The Manifesto states: It is certain that technology is creating for human beings a new physical and social environment radically different from the spectrum of environments to which natural selection has adapted the human race physically and psychologically.
If man does not adjust to thi00s new environment by being artificially re-engineered, then he will be adapted to it through a long and painful process of natural selection. The former is far more likely that the latter. The dilemma posed by the Unabomber Manifesto appears in the work of other alarmist critics. Many people in fact share the Unabomber's view without harboring the same pathological desperation. The no-win dilemma they see is either to permit evolution to wreck millions of lives or to use technology to forcibly re-engineer the population. Either artificial engineering or laissez-faire evolution seem the sole options: Either manipulate humans to fit technology, or watch technology bulldoze the population until only the techno-humanoids are left standing.
The Ellul school of criticism posits a monolithic steamroller "technology" that flattens every human activity. Recent members of this school, like Jean Baudrillard, nationalize that alien Leviathan and call it "Americanization. We not need look outside the United States to find Luddite theory. Since the publication of the Unabomber Manifesto, many American policy writers have felt the need to distance themselves from the Unabomber because they in fact oppose the same technology monster attacked by the Manifesto and they share some critical sources.
While agreeing with the Unabomber's ideas, they understandably want to distance themselves from terrorist practice. The number of such critics grew in the early s when information technology extended into all areas of life, spawning the multimedia industry and virtual reality com- 36 Virtual Realism panies. Computer networks like the Internet came into general use in the early s, and economic forecasts indicated that the computerized infrastructure was transforming the national economy as well as the American culture.
Not surprisingly, critics took note. The Cyberspace Backlash Not long after the arrival of cyberspace came the cyberspace backlash. A cultural pendulum swings back and forth to feed sensation-hungry media. The media feeds on the overstatements thrown out by wide mood swings. A trend climbs in six months from obscurity to one of the Five Big Things of the month. The media's editorial strategy guarantees backlash: simplify an issue; then exaggerate what was simplified. Cyberspace was no exception, and the swing against cyberspace was inevitable.
The backlash runs from those who are frustrated by the frequent need to upgrade software to those who experience Alvin and Heidi Toffler's "future shock" as a personal, existential jolt. While the Tofflers preach "global trends" from an economist's overview, the individual suffers painful personal changes in the work and marketplaces. Waves of future shock may be intriguing to futurist policy makers, but those same waves look scary in the eyes of someone scanning the horizon from a plastic board adrift in the Ocean.
The big picture of evolutionary trends often overwhelms and silences the personal pain of living people. These people will eventually find their voices in a backlash against the confident soothsayers in business suits. A streak of the Unabomber's Luddite passion weaves through the cyberspace backlash.
The titles of several books published between to give a glimpse of the breadth of the backlash. Obviously, these books show infinitely more grace than the Unabomber's crude, coercive manifestos, but they all reject, to varying degrees, the movement of life into electronic environments. These critics tend toward what I call "naive realism.
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The elaborate data systems we are developing still exist outside our primary sensory world. The systems do not belong to reality but constitute instead, in the eyes of the naive realist, a suppression of reality. The suppression comes through "the media" businesses that collect, edit, and broadcast packaged experience.
The media infiltrate and distort non-mediated experience until immediate experience is compromised. Computers accelerate the process of data gathering, and further threaten, in their eyes, the purity of immediate experience. Computer networks add unnecessary frills to the real world while draining life blood from the real world. Reality, they assert, is the physical world we perceive with our bodily senses, the world we see directly with our own eyes, smell with our noses, hear with our ears, taste with our tongues, and touch with our own hands.
From the standpoint of this perceived world, the computer is at best a tool, at worst a distracting mirage. The mountains, rivers, and great earth beneath our feet existed before any computers, and the naive realist sees the computer as an alien entity in God's pristine world. The computer, say the naive realists, should remain a mere tool.
It is a subordinate device that can distract us from the primary world. We can and should, if the computer enervates us, pull the plug or even destroy the computer. The naive realist struggles with many fears. There is fear of abandoning local community values as we move into a cyberspace of global communities. There is fear of diminishing physical closeness and mutual interdependence as electronic networks mediate more and more activities.
There is fear of crushing the spirit by replacing human movement with smart objects and robot machines. There is fear of losing the autonomy of our private bodies as we depend increasingly on chip-based implants. There is fear of compromising 38 Virtual Realism integrity of mind as we habitually plug into networks. There is fear that our own nature is slipping away as genetics transforms organic life into manageable strings of information.
There is fear of the sweeping changes in the workplace and in public life as we have know it. There is fear of the empty desolation of human absence that comes with increased telepresence. There is fear that it will be the same power elite who "moved atoms" as they pursued a science without conscience who will now "move bits. Idealists us. Haive Realists Futurists like Toffler describe a culture shaken by future shock. But their shock comes in macro-economic waves, not in personal and existential distress. In this sense, futurists like Toffler are idealists.
Idealists take the measure of individuals by placing them in the larger context of economics or politics to which the individuals belong. The Tofflers look to the economically and politically global, not to the individual or existential. Their big idea absorbs individuals. Like the other "digerati" celebrated by Wired magazine, Toffler welcomes the digital revolution and you had better join or be crushed by the wheels of history.
Such idealism goes back to the early pioneers of computing. Rationalists like Leibniz and Descartes, the seventeenth-century philosophers, pushed computation and mathematical physics ahead of ethics and feelings. Their faith in progress relied on the reduction of thinking to systems of rational logic. So large was their optimism that they easily became targets for Voltaire who caricatured Leibniz in the character Professor Pangloss in the novel Candide.
Pangloss's tortured young student Candide meditates: "My Master said, There is a sweetness in every woe. It must be so. Idealists are optimists, or, on bad days, they are happy worriers. The optimist says, "This is the best of all possible worlds, and even the pain is a necessary component. Postmodern theory, with glib talk of "cyborgs," "software cities," and "virtual communities," provokes its opponents by flashing a brand of intellectually sophisticated terror.
Postmodern rhetoric, lacking a compassionate basis in shared experience and common practices, was out to frighten the insecure and to train commandos who attack common sense. After all, language since Saussure is basically a code or system, not a living event for which we are each responsible.
Since Saussure, the communicative power of language, its ability to build community, became an object of derision to sophisticated theoreticians. A certain jaded idealism enjoys poking common sense in the eye with hot purple hair, revolutionary verbiage, and cyberpunk affectations.
A cyber-vocabulary promotes confusion as a fashion statement. Wave the banner of confusion, however, and you provoke a return to basics. Naivete then seems a blessing. Yet the dialectical story does not end so simply, because the futurist vision is not without cogency. What the futurist sees is precisely what brings others fright. Herds in the Noosphere The futurist sees the planet converging. Computer networks foster virtual communities that cut across geographical and time zones.
Virtual community seems a cure-all for isolated people who complain about their isolation. Locked in metal boxes on urban freeways, a population enjoys socializing with fellow humans through computer networks. Shopping, learning, and business are not far away once we enhance our telepresence abilities. The prospect seems so exciting that you see the phrase "virtual communities" mentioned in the same breath with McLuhan's "global village" or Teilhard's "Omega Point. This giant network would surround earth to control the planet's resources and shepherd a world unified by Love.
Teilhard's catholic vision ranged from evolutionary physics to world religion though his views received more suspicion than support from the Vatican orthodoxy. He saw in the physical world an inner drive for all substance to converge into [ 40 ] Virtual Realism increasingly complex units. Material atoms merge to create higherlevel units. Matter eventually converges to form organisms. The convergence of organic life in turn produces higher level complexity. The complex units establish a new qualitative dimension where consciousness emerges.
On the conscious level, the mind—and the networking of minds —gives birth to a new stage of spirit. As in Hegel's nineteenth-century philosophy, Teilhard sees the birth of spirit as the inner meaning or cosmic purpose of the entire preceding evolution.
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Convergence toward greater complexity, even on the sub-atomic material level, exemplifies the principle of Love agapic rather than erotic love. Only later, with the dawn of intelligence, does Love come into full consciousness and self-awareness. For Teilhard, this is the Christ principle that guides the universe: "In the beginning was the Logos. Teilhardians see ultimate convergence as the Omega or End-Point of time, the equivalent of the Final Coming of Christ.
Teilhard, like Karl Marx before him, absorbed much about evolutionary dynamics from the father of German Idealism, GeorgeFriedrich Hegel Hegel applied the Christian notion of Divine Providence to the recorded events of civilized history to show a rational progression. Hegel's elaborate encyclopedias and multi-volume histories of Western civilization affirmed a hidden evolutionary will driving purposely towards a single culmination.
The fulfillment of history, according to Hegel, was a harmony of unity in diversity, a oneness which later interpreters described as a "classless society" Karl Marx or as "social Progress" the St. Louis Hegelians. Hegel's genius was to see a divine Idea unfold in the material world of historical events —even to the point of squeezing all recorded history into a Procrustean logic of progress. The famous "Dialectic" changed from its original meaning of logical conversation to its new meaning of social movements and improvements. The motor that powered the movement of history was a series of internal civil wars, each bringing the entire society a little closer to perfection.
Just what this heavenly harmony looked like in practice appeared differently to the various brands of Hegel's idealism. While Karl Marx's brand came dressed in the worker's garb of political economy, Teilhard's brand blended synthetic physics with Christian communitarianism. It is especially the communitariansim that attracts network idealists. Community seems a by-product of the development of machines. At first machines functioned as stand-alone tools under supervision by a single human operator.
Then machines increasingly functioned in an ensemble. While the first machines were isolated work tools, they soon became parts of a larger assembly, with railroads, fuel distribution, and highway systems being the obvious examples. The spread of the machine as an assemblage reached into the sphere of human society with radio networks and television networks and now satellite networks. The linked machines plug into the networks with the computer as the controller switch.
The result is a networked grid encompassing the earth and giving humans access to nature. Control over nature comes through a combination of human and machine networks guided by computers. The network idealist builds collective bee-hives. The idealist sees the next century as an enormous communitarian buzz.
The worldwide networks that cover the planet will form a global bee-hive where civilization shakes off individual controls and electronic life steps out on its own. In that networked world, information runs free through the planetary nervous system, and intellectual property vanishes as a concept. Individuals give and take freely. Compensation is automated for the heavenly, disembodied life. Electronic angels distribute credit. Private territory and material possessions no longer divide people.
Digital mediation does away with the battle of the books, and proprietary ideas give way to free exchange and barter. Cooperative intelligence vanquishes private minds. Extropian idealists who define themselves as the enemies of entropy encourage members to put their deceased bodies on ice until scientists can one day either revive the repaired body or upload the brain-encased mind into silicon chips.
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The Teilhardian Internet is optimism gone ballistic. Realists are less impressed. They are uneasy with the idealists who [ 42 ] Virtual Realism celebrate an electronic collective. I know people in rural communities who hear wishful thinking in the phrase "virtual community. For many, real community means a difficult, never-resolved struggle. It is a sharing that cannot be virtual because its reality arises from the public places that people share physically— not the artificial configuration you choose but the spaces that fate allots, complete with the idiosyncrasies of local weather and a mixed bag of family, neighbors, and neighborhoods.
For many, the "as-if community" lacks the rough interdependence of life shared. And here is where the naive realist draws the line. The direct, unmediated space we perceive with our senses creates the spaces where we mature physically, morally, and socially. Even if modern life shrinks public space by building freeways, and even if the "collective mind" still offers interaction through computers, the traditional meeting places still allowed social bonds to be built on patience and time spent together.
This is the bottom line for realists. It is no surprise, then, for realists when they hear that the Internet Liberation Front is bringing down the Internet's Pipeline for six hours, when Anti-Semitic hate groups pop up on Prodigy, when Wired magazine gets letter-bombed, or when Neo-Nazis work their way into the German Thule Network. The Utopian communitas exists as an imagined community, as the Mystical Body. Real community exists where people throw their lot together and stand in face-to-face ethical proximity.
Computer hardware may eventually allow us to transport our cyberbodies, but we are just learning to appreciate the tradeoffs between primary and virtual identities. Put the New Jerusalem on hold until we phone security. Virtual Realism Both naive realism and network idealism belong to the cyberspace backlash. Realism Animation Navigation Nausea Meeting Other People Haptic Feedback Taught By.
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