Saturday, March 31, 2012

virtual life vs. real life

I have written about this topic in a few forums before. It's a topic I come across more and more often. People, including me, use the media "internet", computer, play stations and such devices so much more than they did just a few years ago. It's part of their daily lives. It can become addictive.

Let's start with a simple thing as a mobile phone:
Can you remember a time when all you had was the stationary phone at home? Connected with a cord that got tangled up ever so often? Remember the times that you missed a call and it was still not too late when you called back as soon as you came home? I do!! 
When it first came out, people loved their mobiles. To be able to call whenever they wanted to - no need to search for a public phone or get home to do so. And to receive a call anytime. Not only in cases of emergency! But also to do business away from office. Faster and more instant than before. What a great invention!!!
And then the possibility to write short text messages!!! Another great invention. Now, if you were not able to talk (i.e. because you were in a crowded, noisy place or did not want others to eavesdrop) you could still communicate. Prices for the mobile devices and services went lower with time too, so more and more people could afford this. 
By now though, I can observe schoolchildren texting their friends (or even phoning them) as soon as they leave the school building - with their friends walking right next to them!!!! And when asked why they answer: "I can write them (or talk on the phone with them) better than directly."  
Now this is a development that I find odd. "Virtual" communication better than "real life"?! It makes me think. Are they afraid of direct communication? Have they forgotten how to do it? Or is there something else going on? A kind of separation between people through devices that are supposed to help them stay in "touch"?? Or is there an additional communication going on??? Communicating on more than one level at the same time?? Enriching their communications, not diminishing them. 
I don't know - I'm not using my mobile this way. I'm one of those that can turn it off for days and not miss it!!

Next thing is the computer:
First used to help organize and get things done faster (i.e. making, keeping and evaluating statistics) - computer as calculating machine. Then to write on it and be able to correct without it being noticed or having to retype all of what you have written before - the computer as typewriter. It did not take long and small games were programmed as intermezzo to the often boring office work.
But as those little games distracted from the work AND people wanted to play them at home too, and not only at work where they had the computer, the first "only game" computers were built (I remember the Commodore 64 as such a game computer, although I never had one myself). Now, there is a whole market for those game devices and games. And people spending most of their free time on those games. Even children. Not going outside to play in nature. So game devices to make people move again were invented (i.e. Wii); still inside but not stationary anymore. Most of these games though are "single person" games. No second person needed to play them - only you and the device. Sure, there are team games; but you can have fun alone too!! All you need another person for is to compare your scores. Actually, there are complete competitions run with computer games. And then it's not on how fast you can run or how high you can jump, but how fast you can click, or how fast your computer can calculate your input into output.

Closely connected to the computer as such is the internet:
First invented as Intranet for one office to communicate nearly instantly with the other office within an organization (or university). The Internet followed very fast - and that not only for corporations but for anyone that had a personal computer at home. In the beginning used mostly to send emails - instead of mail  which usually was: write something on a piece of paper and send it off through a delivery service. This took some time. Email was instant compared to this (you still have to wait though if the recipient of your message actually reads and answers it as before). It did not take long and firms had their own websites for marketing - and private ones followed fast. A whole new profession developed. 
[There is a whole market too for all types connected with sex. Because the first contact can be so more anonymous than in real live. It does touch my topic. But I do not want to elaborate on it here.]
But not only websites as such flourished. There were also networks established that connected people not only within their work but in their private lives too. Websites on which people could interact with one another without having to actually be in the same place at the same time. Guestbooks to websites were people can leave public comments, forums were discussions take place. Games went online - to be played still by one alone but also as a team. And soon social networks followed (G+ being one of them - although not the first). All of what had been done in real, daily life can now be done virtually too. 

And now comes this "virtual life vs. real life" into play:
There are people that use the media "internet" and all it's different ways so intensive that they do not seem to have a real life anymore. All they live for is their virtual life. The person they are online. They identify with the online personality they show in the games they play, the social networks they communicate in. Here they can be what they can't be in their real, physical life. "Online" they can be a hero, brave and strong. Or the vamp they do not dare to be for real. Or the wise person with deep insight they fear to utter to the people they meet every day. Or the bad guy. The possibilities are as vast in the online worlds as in the offline one. 
As long as you can distinguish between the virtual one and the real one all is fine, I'd say. The problems come when you start identifying yourself so much with your virtual self that you had created that you actually get lost in it. And if someone does not react the way they thought they would (the way they should react as to the image they had built up "online") they are so surprised and shocked as if they had been attacked in a real, physical way and not only virtual. 

To name an example is "Second Life" - an online virtual world. Now, I never have played this. I know people that have, and have read public comments on social networks and news articles about this game. And all the problems with this addictive way of playing the game. And one of my first comments to this game was: what if our real life was only a virtual game like "Second Life"? All we are and do is such a part of a game, you a character in a game played by someone else that you don't even know or ever have seen or heard from - but that directs everything you do. No free will, no own decisions, all pre-programmed reactions. A game within a game (within a game within a game maybe even). At this point many couldn't "follow" my line of thought anymore.
They got lost. It's hard enough to cope with one online life and the physical one. But more of them layered and intertwined?? That's too much. OK, I'll leave it at online vs. offline.

Today I read on my favorite online gaming site Neopets :
In reality, you can play a game much like "Kacheek Seek", although it involves YOU hiding and physically having to move. This can be a scary concept, as reality is in 3D and provides endless possibilities for your foes to hide. Also, it is not the social norm for them to give you money if you end up finding them.
 lilshadowdweller, Tips for Surviving the Neopocalypse

This takes up what I have been observing. The real physical life as a scary thing. Why? Because you already have identified yourself so much with your virtual self that anything else is so new and different that it can scare you? Or because you have to be brave to face the physical real world - with all it's problems and difficulties and you do NOT have the pre-programmed reactions and solutions to problems easy accessible? It involves a quite different way of communicating and thinking. And it involves moving more of your body than just the hand and fingers to move the mouse or to type in something quick at the keyboard. 
And you can't not re-do it over and over again most of the time until you are successful or can "level up" to the next stage of the game. A mistake in the physical world can be the last mistake you make! In the virtual world, well, you can easily start over again if you have lost a life by your mistake. Sure, it will not be the exact same virtual you anymore, but that does not really matter as long as you "live".

And again I get "lost" in the thought that maybe our physical "offline" life is not that much different than an virtual "online" one. In both you can win or you can fail. It just depends on how you perceive this. You can be an expert in the online life and fail badly in the offline one. Or the other way around. Or be good in both. To know if you can still master the physical life, simply turn off the internet (and all your other technological gimmicks) for a few days and depend on yourself and the people around you. And be ready for a few surprises!!

So as a conclusion, I would say that for me it's not a "Virtual vs. Physical", but a "Virtual + Physical". I can learn from both ways of living. Use and improve my talents, share my thoughts, train my mind (and body - yes, with devices like the Wii mentioned above this is virtually possible too), communicate with others, discover new things and ways of thinking every day and enjoy life as such fully.
It is my responsibility how I balance both "lifes" and which one I give the priotity. And it depends on my own decision and free will. I am responsible for all of my actions - both physical (real) and virtual (real).

I am the master of my life. 
Or not ;).