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Virtual Reality


Virtual Reality pixMy boss pursed her entire face and glared at me. "Jean Marie," she whined, "you're just not engaged in this job like you used to be." 

Not to put too fine a point on it, she was right. I no longer pour all my creative juices into a job where it's more important to spend 12 hours a day, every day, whimpering at one's desk, than to achieve meaningful goals. I never whimpered well, and the government only pays me for eight hours of brilliance a day, five days a week, excluding holidays and vacation. 

Besides, I need the time and energy to live my other life -- the one unfolding across my computer screen and yours. On the Web, I create and am judged by the quality of my products, not the form of my kow-tow. Here, I work with colleagues, not under supervisors who call themselves "superiors." In fact, the Hydra called the Internet eats such pretensions for breakfast. 

Many people go much further. They reinvent their names, their personas, their very physical beings. They transform themselves into superheroes and dryads, ogresses and trolls, and their Internet acquaintances accept them as such. Some programs even provide avatars, allowing users to create digital bodies more in keeping with the person inside their mind and computer. 

This goes beyond "virtual reality." For many people, the cyber-realities they create for themselves become their primary realities -- the places where their real selves live.

It's important to speak of these realities and places in the plural too. The personal universes we create on the Web stack and overlap as easily as parallel worlds in mid-century science fiction. Thanks to the ready interface of imagination and technology, no one is stuck any place anymore. You can move, create, destroy, reinvent, rebuild at will.  

And no one's personal reality carries any more or less weight than anyone else's. How can it, when every reality dissolves into the same electrical impulses, transmitted in the same manner from Maryland to Malaysia? 

A brave, engaging new world indeed, and much easier to colonize than the rocky, inhospitable coast of 17th century Massachusetts. A person can eat turkey and gravy here every day without inconveniencing a single indigenous person or species. I never imagined I'd find my own personal planet in a computer, but I'm profoundly grateful, notwithstanding. 

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Jean Marie Ward