The world has been changed to such an extent by technology that we could begin to use the term ‘virtual reality’ to refer to the world in general. ManuelCastells calls it "the culture of real virtuality", we are surrounded by images and media that recreate and ‘re-present’ an idea of our world. For example, photography does not necessarily record reality anymore because images can be manipulated, and reality is not as it seems. Communication is enhanced in every aspect thanks to digital technologies, but they also make the manipulation of information easier, and not necessarily identifiable.
Futhermore, since the invention of television we are bombarded with virtual worlds and virtual people. According to Timothy Leary: "Most Americans have been living in Virtual Reality since the proliferation of television." At the beginning (1945-75) television consisted of a few national channels, often broadcasting only in the evening hours. Then it offered a straightforward "realistic" representation of the world. There used to be narrators addressing the audience directly both at the beginning and at the end of programs thus marking the division between reality and the suspension of disbelief. We now watch soap operas that are broadcasted three or four times a week, allowing us to watch the progress of the characters’ lives over a realistic time scale. The characters are talked about as if they were real people, and the media even reports a major event in the soap opera as if it were news, they are blurring reality and fiction.
What we are currently experiencing for the third time in this country with the TV programme Big Brother is the most extreme show of ‘real virtuality’. The participants are in a constructed environment, their every move monitored. It is presented to the viewer as a ‘reality TV’ show, where the viewer can watch the contestants twenty-four hours a day (over the Internet). The Big Brother world is a construction of reality, manipulated and controlled by the programme makers. Big Brother films real people but then plots and edits their activities like a drama, the participants are characters in the drama rather than ‘real’ people. Viewers can interact with the programme by voting out a contestant every week, making them feel they have some control over the outcome therefore their participation is significant. But what the viewers are shown on the half hour daily TV slot, is a vastly edited down version of the past twenty-four hours, obviously not reality and obviously controlled by the editors not the viewers. Yet it attracts millions of viewers daily – perhaps a reflections of how viewers are much more attracted by watching someone else’s life, rather than living their own lives!
Virtual Reality Vs. Real Life
The virtual communication is a very easy way to avoid real life problems
The number of people using cellular phones has been growing very fast recently. Everybody enjoys the opportunities that the mobile communication offers. However, mobile communication has already become a concern, because cell phones exert a negative influence on teenagers' health and mental development.
Most of all, cell phones attracts teenagers with games and sms messaging. There has been a special block language developed for short messages sent though cellular phones in order to save time pressing buttons and use as much symbols as possible. A 13-year-old schoolgirl from the UK surprised her teacher several years ago, when she had written a short composition about her summer holidays in the sms language. Here is what the girl wrote: "My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 : kids FTF. ILNY, it's a gr8 plc." Secret agents would have to spend hours to decipher the message, although it seems to be absolutely readable for any modern teenager: "My summer holidays were a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his girlfriend and their three screaming kids face to face. I love New York. It's a great place."
This news was just a nice joke for teenagers. When they asked Russian schoolchildren, if they would like to write a short composition in the sms language, they said that they would gladly do it shortening the words: less time and fewer mistakes. Teachers did not like the idea, though, because Russian grammatical literacy among schoolchildren leaves much to be desired.
However, the problem is a lot deeper, it is much more important than just a joke. Millions of people have become addicted to the Internet, but now there is another global passion - the cellular communication. In the very beginning, when cell phones were rare and new, they were presumably used on the direct purpose - for business. The situation has changed - cell phones have become common in everyday life. A mobile phone can be used as a digital camera, one can access the internet through a phone, etc. In addition, one may use cell phones for flirting. Until recently, the world wide web fulfilled all those functions alone: people chat, find and meet new people, have cybersex, and even get married. Sms-flirt is an opportunity for the people who cannot spend all the time sitting in front of a computer.
Cellular operators sensed the profit opportunity and introduced the service immediately. An sms sent to a certain number takes a person into a virtual city. At first, it was just a couple of chatrooms where people just talked: there was love and sex, but it was all virtual. Now there are marriage registration offices too. Two people can submit their applications there and their marriage will be registered. They hold sms-weddings and give birth to sms-children in sms-maternity hospitals.
Sms-cities have a very short history, but they have their veterans who have been "living" there since the opening day. The average age of these people is 25 years.
What makes people go virtual? People eat and sleep with their cell phones. Why does the virtual communication become a substitute for real love? The explanation is rather simple. Real life is much more complicated. For some people it is extremely hard to live and communicate with other real people, to find a common language with them, to love and to be loved, to get married and to have real children. Through virtual communication the idea of commitment is meaningless. This game becomes a form of reality in which it is very comfortable to live. It is a way to avoid problems, at least for a little while.
As a rule, a "virtual person" is absolutely different from a "real person" although they are one and the same individual. If two virtual friends decide to meet each other in real life, they become very disappointed as a rule. When people meet in real life, they always evaluate each other, they are very cautious to each other in the beginning.
The problem is as follows: the cellular and online communication become an additional way of communication. Moreover, it is the only reality for many people as well. This is something that one should avoid. If people start living in their own small boxes as a result of the technical progress, the situation might become disastrous.
There has recently been a report on television about how the Japanese have become fond of electronic dogs. A journalist asked an e-dog owner: "Is it true that you never communicate with other people spending all your time with your e-dog?" The man answered: "No, it's so not true, I communicate a lot, for example, with other e-dog owners." A normal person plays and starts doing something else, while an abnormal person always find another reason to avoid the reality.