Virtual Reality – Not Reality At All

“The specialness of humanity is found only between our ears; if you go looking for it anywhere else, you’ll be disappointed.” -Lee Silver

I fell in love with this quote at the beginning of Friedman’s Future Imperfect: Technology and Freedom in an Uncertain World (pg 275).  The most amazing thing about the human race, and the part of ourselves that holds who we are, is destroying itself from the inside out.

Virtual Reality: what do those two words together even mean? The definition of the word Virtual is: “Almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition” (Miriam Webster 2011).  Since I was raised a little old fashioned and with no older brothers, the Virtual World is still considered “nerdy” or “un-cool” to me.  However, that is not how the rest of society sees it, apparently.    I have to be honest and say I do log in to Facebook (funny side note, my 2007 Microsoft Word did not recognize the word “facebook”) multiple times a day, but there is something even more fake, in my opinion, to video games and programs like Second Life. 

“If it looks real and feels real the brain tells us it’s real” Jeremy Bailenson Director of the Virtual Lab gives his insight on his studies with virtual worlds.  “Behavior carries over to behavior face to face” “Virtual experiences can affect you profoundly in wonderful and not so wonderful ways.”  (PBS 2011)  Our brain is tricking itself, or is being tricked by this technology that amazing brains of others created.

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An article I found on Internet Blogging found through extensive research that “73% of adult profile owners use Facebook, 48% have a profile on MySpace and 14% use LinkedIn. ‘Blogging appears to have lost its luster for many young users,’ said Lenhart. ‘The fad stage is over for teens and young adults and the move to Facebook – which lacks a specific tool for blogging within the network — may have contributed to the decline of blogging among young adults and teens.” (PEW Research Center 2010)

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I find this information so disappointing because in my opinion blogging is one of the most intelligent forms of the virtual technological world.  A good blog takes talent, skill, and knowledge.  Great writing skills and, almost always, great photographic skills are the pair that makes a blog worth reading.  I believe these skills are (should be) more highly esteemed than the ability to quickly click your thumbs in a certain pattern.  But that’s just me.

The brain often fails to differentiate between virtual experiences and real ones. The patterns of neurons that fire when one watches a three-dimensional digital re-creation of a supermodel, such as Giselle or Fabio, are very similar—if not identical—to those that fire in the actual presence of the models (Blascovich  & Bailenson, 2011)  But somehow we do know that Fabio really isn’t in the room! I just wonder what tells us that if not our brain.

All of these authors notice how ‘the brain’ doesn’t know the difference. If our brain can’t tell a difference, if the neurons fire the exact same way, then how do we know the difference? What other part of is telling us “this is an Xbox game!”? 

 

“Disruptive as it may seem, the shift to an ever more virtual world—of which the Internet was only one step—may be something close to inevitable, given how humans are wired neurophysiologically. Driven by imaginations that have long sought to defy the sensory and physical constraints of physical reality, humans continuously search for new varieties and modes of existence, only this time we’re doing it via the supposedly cold machinery of digital space.” (Blascovich  & Bailenson, 2011) We are doing this to ourselves. It seems that the very thing that created all this, the imagination, is now destroying itself. 

There are different levels of these technological Virtual Worlds.  The further you get, the faker the illusion.  Even if your neurons don’t know it, you know this isn’t reality.  If the technology isn’t benefiting your health or helping you learn something, then what a waste of time!  Be present in the world we were born into – that is our true reality. 

 

Sources

Blascovich, J., & Bailenson, J. N. (2011). Infinite Reality – Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds, and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution. New York: William Morrow. http://vhil.stanford.edu/pubs/2011/infinite-reality-intro.pdf

 

Pew Research Center, Lenhart, Purcell, Smith, Zickuhr (Feb 3, 2010) Social Media and Young Adults http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Social-Media-and-Young-Adults.aspx

 

Friedman, D. (2008). Future Imperfect: Technology and Freedom in an Uncertain World (pp. 275-292). New York: Cambridge University Press.

 

PBS Documentary “Digital Nation” (2010)

 

Miriam Webster (2011)

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