Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds, and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution
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“Right now, we’re inside a computer program?”
With that monotone query, a very confused Neo, played by Keanu Reeves in the blockbuster film The Matrix, convinces hundreds
of millions of viewers that virtual reality could be so real that people have no idea they are actually living in a simulation. Of course, The Matrix is just a movie, but brain science supports many of the ideas of the Wachowski brothers, who wrote, directed, and produced the film.
The brain often fails to differentiate between virtual experiences and real ones. The patterns of neurons that fire when one watches a three-dimensional digital re-creation of a supermodel, such as Giselle or Fabio, are very similar—if not identical—to those that fire in the actual presence of the models. Walking a tightrope over a chasm in virtual reality can be a terrifying ordeal even if the walker knows it’s virtual rather than physical.
People interact via digital stimuli more and more. According to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, kids spend eight hours per day on average outside of the classroom using digital media. This translates to billions of hours per week. People interact with virtual representations in just about every facet of life—business transactions, learning, dating, entertainment, even sexual relationships. Online dating, which used to be somewhat stigmatizing, is now normative. Young adults consider their Facebook friends just as important as the people who live close enough to meet physically. In the world of online games and virtual worlds, millions of players spend over twenty hours each week “wearing” avatars, digital representations of themselves. Strikingly, the average age of these players is not fifteen but twenty-six. Household “console” video arenas, especially games, in which people control and occupy avatars, consume more hours per day for kids than movies and print media combined. To borrow a term from the new vernacular, virtual experiences are spreading virally.
Technological developments powering virtual worlds are accelerating,
ensuring that virtual experiences will become more immersive by providing sensory information that makes people feel they are “inside” virtual worlds. In the United States, Nintendo’s Wii, often coupled with a huge high-definition television, populates many living rooms. The players’ physical actions are transformed into virtual body movements in the game. By the time you read this, Nintendo’s Wii, Microsoft’s Kinect, and Sony’s PlayStation Move may incorporate 3-D displays.
From the book INFINITE REALITY: Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds, and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution by Jim Blascovich and Jeremy Bailenson. Copyright © 2011 by Jim Blascovich and Jeremy Bailenson. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
Our lives are increasingly virtual. And although Avatar is still science fiction, Jim Blascovich and Jeremy Bailenson argue in Infinite Reality that comparable wonders await us in the future. In these pages, they offer a captivating tour of virtual wonders that are poised to transform human nature, society, and culture alike.
Imagine cocktail parties—or even business meetings—in which you can adjust your age, gender, weight and height at will. That may come to pass in a shared virtual space where we control our own avatars. Or envision what it would be like for your descendants, hundreds of years from now, to meet you. As the authors note, virtual reality technicians may someday construct your “eternal avatar,” that looks and behaves like you, but can do so when you are no longer alive. And the possibilities for virtual entertainments—including virtual sex—stagger the imagination.
Yet there is much more to the authors’ book than mere prediction. They delve into psychological research relating to virtual worlds and report some intriguing results, such as the fact that the human mind largely treats virtual people just like physical ones. In one intriguing experiment, it was found that in virtual communities, users shunned unattractive avatars in favor of more attractive ones, and that the taller one’s avatar, the more likely one was to inspire confidence in one’s peers—echoing similar findings in the non-virtual world. In addition, the authors ponder some of the philosophical dilemmas raised by the burgeoning virtual worlds, such as whether an overreliance on virtual technology constitutes an addiction.
Bored with traditional reality? Infinite Reality suggests a world of virtual alternatives lies just around the corner.
Hardcover Book : 304 pages
Publisher: William Morrow & Co, Inc ( April 05, 2011 )
Item #: 13-353834
Product Dimensions: 6.0 x 9.0 inches
Product Weight: 16.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)