The Impossible Dream

We’ve all wished we could at some time; just TP into sl and stay there for good, and who can blame us? There’s something inherently desirable in being able to shake off the physical constraints of the world that we’re forced to inhabit and live out the rest of our lives in a virtual environment that, in many ways might be considered superior to the natural world. With technology advancing at an ever-increasing rate of knots, what might once have been considered mere flight of fancy – the relocation of our non-physical presence into an electronic entity – becomes ever more a theoretical possibility.

i’m pretty certain that within my lifetime, the first steps towards to achieving that leap will have been accomplished. It’s not too great a leap of the imagination to see virtual worlds at the forefront of crossing that boundary – only this week i’ve seen a ‘game’ in which a physical object can be influenced by ‘mind control’, and it stands to reason that it won’t be long before some enterprising geek comes up with bio-feedback devices that communicate directly with our brains to convince them that we are experiencing sensations such as taste, touch and smell, when we munch upon a virtual hotdog. Logically, the next step is to become integrated with the digital medium – imagine downloading your memories and knowledge onto a memory stick: a solid state repository that can interact directly with a digital environment… coming to think of it, who needs these wasteful and fragile bodies at all? I can foresee a day when we will choose whether to live a virtual or corporeal existence and i can’t help wondering whether that’s a good or bad thing.

Certainly, there are days when i’d happily TP straight into sl and sever the connection to rl completely – think of the benefits too: the power to control our environment to suit our mood, instantaneous travel, the ability to change our bodies and look on a whim, fantastical places to explore and shops that never close… it’s all very tempting indeed; but is it all that it’s cracked up to be?

Before you shout, “Hell yes!”, and think that i’ve gone permanently insane for even letting doubt cross my mind let’s just pause a moment and consider the sl we all know and love. Whilst it’s good, to my mind it’s certainly not that good… ie. a viable alternative to the real world, at least not without some pretty fundamental and – at the present state of technology – still pretty far off innovations. Before i’d even consider setting my home location to sl, there’s a fair few things that i take pretty much for granted in rl that would have to be ported in; things like, being able to taste food – even if actually eating the stuff in a pixellated world is unnecessary. Then there’s the other sensory input that my body craves; sensations like hot and cold, the wetness of water and the feeling of wind in my hair. Whilst these might seem rather small and somewhat unnecessarily quaint add-ons to the virtual world, i happen to think that they’re pretty essential to maintaining some sort of equilibrium. To me, being able to control the sun’s position is only half the story… i want to be able to feel its warmth and the corresponding coolness of the shadows and, when i wrap a virtual blanket around my shoulders to keep out the night’s chill, i want to be able to feel the snuggly warmth. Similarly, if i’m splashing through the waves on a virtual beach, then where’s the fun if i can’t feel them breaking against my legs and if i can’t smell the seaweed and salty air?

Sensory deprivation is well known to cause all sorts of weird and wonderful responses and, whilst becoming an integrated part of sl, as it currently stands, is by no means the equivalent of living in a sensory solitary confinement – quite the opposite when you consider the rich environment at our disposal – i still think that to be unable to feel, and fully experience those things that remind us we’re alive would have a terribly deleterious effect upon our minds. i’m certain that boredom, depression, paranoia and the screaming heebie-jeebies would swiftly follow.

Add to that the lack of privacy, lag, bake fails, griefers and only having the control over your body that your AO or whatever poseball to hand has to offer and, for all its attraction, i think it’s going to be quite a while before sl has what it takes to cajole me into its clutches permanently. Besides, would you really want to put your life into the hands of Linden Lab?

s. x

Oh, my life is changing everyday,
In every possible way.
And oh, my dreams, it’s never quite as it seems,
Never quite as it seems.
The Cranberries – Dreams 

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