Been twiddling my metaphoric thumbs for a couple of days now, trying to come up with a topic to write about. That’s one of the problems when you write a blog on a common theme – every so often, you run out of things to say and you go into a panic thinking that the bit of your brain that deals with blogging has fused and you’ll never be able to write anything ever again. Not true, of course… but i live in hope!
So, you sit and twiddle, twiddle and sit, tit and swiddle and wait, and inevitably, like a lost washing machine repair-man, something will turn up and get things spinning again – usually unexpected, always without warning and often when it’s most inconvenient. It’s never in the way you expect either… so there i am, in the middle of writing an e-mail to someone when, completely out of the blue, the word ‘Oxymoron’ pops into my head; and here is where i need to press the rewind button to an earlier occasion…
It was a typical get-together in sl, which meant that the the conversation was eclectic, to say the least – the topics were predictably random and singularly divergent. If i was to say that during a typical session themes might range from the spectacularly mundane right through to the plainly obscure and the insanely sensible – everything from cheese, peeing competitions, talking shoes and glue, through to the price of gas, how to retrieve lost jewellery and stained mattresses. Sometimes the conversation can even be oddly normal!
Somewhere, buried in the depths of discussion, oxymorons came up – please don’t ask me in what context because i don’t have a clue. i have a vague recollection of various people citing their favourites, but i’ve forgotten most of them – my own particular favourites are; political party, European Union and airline food; however, one did stand out for me – ‘virtual reality’.
VR is a topic dear to our hearts and understandably so, although precisely what we mean by the term has changed subtly over time. In its original form, virtual reality almost exclusively referred to some form of haptic device coupled to a virtual environment of some description. The old-fashioned view of a virtual world would have been yours’ truly, all rigged up in a sensor suit, headphones and stereoscopic visual projectors mounted in a chunky visor. Movements in the real world would be echoed by their virtual counterparts – meaning that getting immersed in anything like sl would be an exhausting, not to mention dangerous, activity. None of us experiences sl like that, (do we?), and VR has come to encompass a much broader field – but is ‘virtual’ and ‘reality’ a contradiction in terms?
There are those who will say that it is nonsense to consider a virtual world to be in any sense ‘real’ – the physical world is quite obviously the real thing: it’s the physical space in which we exist, where we eat, sleep and breathe, where we are able to touch, smell, taste and experience life. That’s an argument i accept however, how exactly do we define ‘real’? If what we see, hear and experience from our physical environment is real, then why should it be any less real if we experience those sights, sounds and experience from a virtual environment? They trigger much the same responses, with the same effects and, although i grant you that if we stop eating, sleeping and breathing in the real world, then it’s curtains for us, do those arbitrary constants really define what it means to be ‘alive’?
i am, i realise, being overly simplistic and not a little provocative, however our world is redefining itself daily as we become ever more connected to and dependant upon the virtual world that now infiltrates every part of our lives. To my mind that makes it every bit as real as many of the other physical traits of life that we’d traditionally cite. In fact, i’d go further than that – if we’re going to argue that the virtual world cannot be qualified as an aspect of ‘life’ or ‘reality’, then there are an awful lot of things that we consider to be an intrinsic part of both that i’m afraid we’re also going to have to discount as being simply virtual constructs too: social interaction, conversation, sight, hearing… you get the idea?
Perhaps the time has come to put aside our traditional definitions of reality and accept that there’s more to life – at least in the modern world – than the simply physical. That may make some of us feel rather uncomfortable… but that’s life!
I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
the only thing that’s real
Nine Inch Nails – Hurt