The Difference Between Reality And Virtual Reality
I was watching the tweets flow by on my Twitter timeline for a bit last night; probably because it was either that or watch the Academy Awards with Maggie and I’d rather poke out my eye with a sharp pointed stick than suffer through that much insincere sincerity.
I have a few followers and sometimes – well all of the time, actually – there are just too many tweets flying by to catch them all but one small series did catch my notice. It was a conversation between three people about a tweet made at the Oscars. They didn’t approve of it and were expressing their criticism which is fine by me. I consider it my duty to criticize something every day so I feel a certain kinship with others equally as committed.
They were discussing what should be done about the person behind the offending tweet. They agreed that they didn’t want to see the person “go to prison or anything like that” which I thought was quite magnanimous of them considering they were discussing a tweet they didn’t like, not an armed robbery or a terrorist plot.
One person suggested that they should ban live tweeting from the Oscars. My first thought was that person must work for the government.
Banning, restricting, regulating, preventing and just generally interfering with something is always the approach taken by government once they’ve established they can’t tax it.
And that’s when one particular tweet really grabbed my attention.
He wrote, “Do you really want to impose restriction on the last bastion of freedom we have?”
The last bastion of freedom?
It was a statement so absurd it literally took my breath away. I almost reached for my sharp pointed stick to jab in my eye just to prevent myself from reading more. This tweet wasn’t made by someone living in North Korea, it was made by an American; a citizen of one of the freest societies on the planet.
Somehow, somewhere along the line, we have evolved this idea that we are oppressed in real life and only free in virtual reality. It makes me wonder just how small the lives of some people really are and how limited their perception or even grip on reality must be. I think too many confuse self-indulgent behaviour with what constitutes freedom.
Being allowed to say whatever stupid thing pops into your head on Twitter doesn’t constitute freedom, it’s merely what it seems – self-indulgent, thoughtless behaviour.
I live in a province in Canada where the provincial government has imposed restrictions on my language. They have rules on how large English can be on signs compared to French, rules for which language must be spoken in the workplace and even rules about the use of non-French words on menus. Last week, the language police got themselves all worked up over – get ready for it – the word pasta on the menu of a high-end Italian restaurant in Montreal.
Maggie and I are over-taxed, over-regulated and under-loved – at least by government.
But we are completely free to go about our lives and we do. Government is an annoyance not a tyranny. I say and write what I want when I want and where I want. I speak whichever of the two languages I know whenever I want and Maggie speaks her three languages at her leisure.
Nobody tries to prevent us from coming and going as we please. We vote as we please although to be honest, there isn’t much difference between whom we elect once we elect them but it seems that’s a problem the world over.
In other words, nobody including the government tries to prevent me from living my life and making my own choices. At worst, government simply wants as much of our money as it can get its hands on and progressives want as much regulation as possible just to make themselves feel like their saving the world and us from the world and us.
If it’s oppression, it’s pretty benign. Facebook enforces more censorship than a democratically elected government, routinely closing down accounts of those who violate its rules. In the real world, that’s comparable to being executed for saying the wrong thing.
The virtual world is a series of feudal kingdoms that include Google, Facebook, YouTube Twitter and the emergent kingdom of Pinterest. Each kingdom has its own rules and neither you nor I get to participate in the development of those rules. The kingdoms change and enforce their rules as they see fit and we have no say and little appeals process.
In the real world, governments, business, unions and individuals are restrained to some extent by our constitutions and our charters of rights but there is no such protection online.
Scammers, spammers, trolls and dolts have found Shangri-La. It is a world of unlimited opportunity for crooks, thieves, pedophiles, bullies, imposters and some really stupid people. There are no law enforcement agencies to protect us and no regulation to guide us.
And it is all controlled by the ridiculously and often very young Tech Barons and Princes who control the web sites we frequent and the software we use.
How often have you logged into Facebook only to learn that it has yet again changed its rules? How often have you seen a tweet asking Twitter to reinstate someone’s account after Twitter had closed it for some unknown violation of the rules? How often have you accepted the Terms of Agreement for using a piece of software or other technology only to have it changed arbitrarily on you by the developers?
I watched a video not too long ago produced by a fellow who ran a web site that ran afoul of Google’s rules to the point where they blacklisted his site. He contacted Google to ask what rules he had violated but they wouldn’t tell him. He was expected to know and if he didn’t know, he was expected to guess.
It took him a year to get his site reinstated in Google’s search engine during which he lost a considerable amount of time and business.
The difference between the rules on Facebook and in the real world is that we don’t get to elect who makes the rules on Facebook or Twitter or anywhere else. In the real world, if we’re not overly happy with the behaviour of a particular government, we can vote them out of office. You can’t vote Mark Zukerburg out of anything. What he and his small cadre of regulators decide is what is going to happen. If you don’t like it – leave.
I used to think that people understood that virtual reality was not real reality and that people indulged themselves in it to take a break from their day-to-day existence in the real world. Now I believe that many have actually traded their real lives for cyber reality.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than on dating sites which seem to draw people into an almost addictive state. I personally know some people who have been on two and three sites for a period of six or seven years. It isn’t that they don’t meet anyone – it’s that they don’t meet anyone that can help them break the addiction of being online and looking. Sometimes it’s an addiction that is stronger than crack cocaine.
People now spend more time texting, tweeting, posting and connecting online than they do talking, sharing and connecting with their friends in the real world. Facebook friends and Twitter followers have become an integral part of how many define themselves now and there is even a new disorder that has evolved as some are completely crushed emotionally when they are ‘unfriended’ on Facebook while others feel that their lives are meaningless because they don’t have as many followers or online friends.
At the end of the day, the simple truth is that it’s not real. It’s virtual reality. One of the definitions for virtual is “ Existing in the mind, especially as a product of the imagination?” and that is where we live and play online – in the imagination.
Your Facebook friends aren’t going to come and stand with you in the real world when the storm rages around you. They’ll post some terribly sympathetic message and then get on to the next item in their timeline. That person in the real world that you’ve been ignoring while you were spending all that time online is the person in whom you should have been investing your time.
I’ve had people tweet me to ask why I’m not following them anymore. When that happens, my first thought is usually “Get a life. I’m not so important you need to worry about whether I follow you on Twitter or not.”
I like the Internet. It’s like a flea market of information; most of it’s junk but there are kernels of real value here and there. I’ve also connected with some great people in places as diverse as South Africa and Ireland; Japan and Brazil.
But I have no illusions about it. As much as I enjoy the interaction with the people with whom I connect online, we don’t really know each other. We’ve never really met. We’re just disembodied fellow travelers in virtual reality.
And virtual reality, my friends, is merely the illusion of reality.
We have become so confused by what constitutes freedom that we are even willing to trade away our online safety and that of our children in our vigorous resistance to any government regulation that might impose some sense of common order.
Sometimes, I have to remind myself to breathe when I see this irrational fear of regulation on cyber space. We’d rather allow a million sites devoted to everything from fraudulent information to child pornography than have an environment that provides us with a safe, meaningful and entertaining medium.
Free? I don’t think so. Prisoners of our own delusion is more like it.
At the end of the day, typing on a keyboard is not the same as talking to people we know in the real world. Wikipedia is not the sole source of the world’s knowledge and Facebook is not the ultimate expression of a free and open society.
It is all an illusion based on what we want it to be rather than simply accepting what it is.
© 2013 Maggie’s Bear
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