The borders between our real and digital worlds are blurring, leaving me to ponder a question that Ricardo Dominguez proposed: are we really virtual, or are we virtually real?

I find the idea of virtual reality so creepy that it’s fascinating. People can spend hours online, more focused on their virtual selves then on the physical life in front of them. I always saw the creepy side to it, but it wasn’t until I read a few articles today that I saw how virtual worlds could be beneficial. 

Benefits

In a short PBS clip called  “Full Immersion,” I learned about how interactive training can prepare soldiers for battle. The use of holographic screens and simulated figures teaches soldiers proper target identification. Such monitored simulations can help them pay better attention to their surroundings and to make the “proper moral, ethical and legal decisions.” At the end of the training, the soldiers can even be evaluated on the accuracy of their aim and decisions they made.

In this sense, it’s pretty obvious that mixed virtual/physical worlds can be extremely useful. I’ve seen people use such simulations for training firefighters and astronauts as well. Essentially, it recreates the stress of potential real situations and presents the dangers without posing any real threat.

The Downside

We discussed the idea of digital realities in my New Media Frontiers seminar, and I heard some really terrifying stories about people who became addicted to their Second Life world. It got to the point where a man became so obsessed with his avatar and avatar’s wife that he neglected his own real family. That’s super scary, and it’s made me realize how virtual realities can pose a threat to our true, real world.

Other thoughts

The article “Erasing @race” discussed the relationship between interface and race within virtual worlds, asking the reader if race was a “missing element of our virtual identity”? Though she really only pondered the possibility, it seemed to me that the author, Beth Kolko, was in favor of making race a more prominent feature in virtual worlds.

I don’t see a need for making race a part of our virtual identity, and I guess that’s because I’ve never really noticed skin color as defining people. I’ve never really seen anything good come out of differentiating people based on skin color, so why should we consider such a factor online? In comparison to other generations, I would say that my generation is a lot less discriminatory when it comes to race, and so bringing race into the digital world seems like we would be going backward.

I think there’s a difference between looking at people based on race and based on ethnicity. Race is based on our physical appearances like skin color whereas ethnicity is more focused on culture and heritage. Ultimately, I think it’s best to ignore color and race but to celebrate the diversity of our different backgrounds. That’s how I look at it in the “real” world, and I believe that’s how we should see it online.

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