our increasingly virtual world

With apologies to Kyb, good friend, frequent commenter on this blog, and virtual reality genius, I am growing increasingly fed up with the way we are more and more abstracted from reality.

I site as a particular grouch point, the immensely popular Eden Project in Cornwall, and now an new planned project for Bristol.

I have deliberately never been to the Eden Project, despite people telling me how great it is, and reading all about it in various environmental publications.  For me, the fundamental problem is that anything like the Eden project serves not to connect us with the earth, but to abstract us.  If we have to go to some geodesic dome project to experience the world in all its majesty, then something is wrong.

Fewer places allow us to experience nature red in tooth and claw, instead they serve us (at a price!) nature in a sanitary container, with necessary health and safety rules adhered to.  There is so little wildness around now, and we’re reluctantly content to allow that erosion to continue, as long as we have virtual wildness, something we can choose to visit when the conditions are right, when the weather is clement (or not even that if its in a flipping dome) .

Dont get me wrong, I recognise my own culpability in this area, to a degree I have welcomed some elements of these abstractions.  I like the ability to take my children to a farm park occasionally, but I hope that this doesnt mean that real farms (which are infinitely more fun, and which we also visit when possible) will disappear.

But domed and fenced representations of wildness are no replacement for real wildness, I think they pose a real danger, that we will accept these replacements in the place of real adventure and outdoor experiences.

Are we really to end up in a Neuromancer style distopia?  Mega cities sprawling across a totally urban landscape, with just a series of domes and fenced enclosures to remind us of what the world used to be like – probably not but it feels more like it everytime I hear about another one of these things.

I could go on, and will at some point, about the role of television and computers in all this, but right now I’m supposed to be looking after my youngest daughter, and she wants to play… with somebody real.


One thought on “our increasingly virtual world

  1. Here’s the backgroun d for my next scifi short story:

    Two essentials to human existence: community and stimulation. Community gives us security, stimulation gives us excitement. Having said that, communities benefits are long term, and in the short and immediate term, community looks mainly like a bad proposition – it reduces autonomy.

    Danger is powerful- it forces people to work together (enhancing community) and provides them with the stimulation they need, however it inevitably has casualties, with people suffering and dying.

    Technology so far has been dedicated to removing suffering and increasing autonomy. Inevitably, it’s resulted in us being so starved of danger that we create highly sanitised and controlled simulations of chaos. Theme parks, horror films, bungee jumps, carefully fenced off examples of ‘nature’, weapons that allow massive destruction a long way away, even financial crises. People who can’t afford the insane apparatus of control to simulate danger stimulate themselves with dangerous relationships, drugs or gang warfare (the perfect marriage of community and stimulation).

    Not only do we want nondangerous danger, but we also seek community without the disadvantages. Whether a community mediated through technology is as satisfying as an unmediated one is an open question – and it’s easy to get bogged down in the specifics of the technology in the complaints and rebuttals.

    However, there’s a principle at work: technology acts always to increase choice and control, and people will always choose choice and control when given the option, but choice and control is not the same as happiness.

    As our distance increases, so our effects must get ever bigger so that we can see them.

    I think it is inevitable that technology allowed to follow its natural path will eventually remove all real danger from our lives. Whether it’s possible for humanity to exist in that state is an open question – but expect a lot of self destruction until it’s finally answered.

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