[EAS] Virtual Reality or Real Virtuality?

Peter J. Kindlmann pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Tue Oct 17 00:40:24 EDT 2006

Dear Colleagues -

The essay <http://db.tidbits.com/article/8701> below, in a recent 
issue of one of my computer newsletters, comments on the shrinking 
difference between the real and virtual worlds. And there was an NPR 
interview today with the creator of Second Life 
<http://secondlife.com/> (also see below), a virtual environment 
where real estate investments can make the players (and certainly 
him) some real money. Is this an answer to slumping real estate 

That I find it all very confusing is probably a sign of my age. I 
wonder if I might propose a new role for Engineering: as guardian of 
real reality. Yes, engineers have long resorted to their own 
simulations, but I'd still like to think of them as grounded in 
reality, as real-world problem solvers. Or are they already mostly 
inhabiting the virtual world and smiling wryly at my discomforts?

Or maybe we should dispatch teams of poets into the virtual world, as 
guardians and enliveners of that domain, before, as an insufficiently 
unimaginative extrapolation of real reality, it wears itself out and 
resorts to virtual virtual reality?


(from TidBITS#850/09-Oct-06)

Virtual Reality or Real Virtuality?
   by David Strom <david at strom.com>
   article link: <http://db.tidbits.com/article/8701>

   The news of recent times has me confused, so let me see if I have
   this straight. We'll soon be seeing video games based on reality TV
   shows - you know, the shows that employ script writers to make sure
   the reality sounds real. These are different writers from those who
   were protesting that they weren't paid enough and had to falsify
   their time sheets to show that they worked fewer hours.


   Then there are people making real money by selling Second Life
   businesses that sell virtual goods to others inside their virtual
   world. There are others who auction on eBay virtual items that
   enable game players to advance to higher levels; these items are
   assembled by real low-wage workers who spend their days playing the
   games to accumulate them. There are fake Web pages for real people
   on MySpace, created by fans (or detractors). There are also real Web
   pages for fake people, some of which were created by advertising and
   PR people who want to push a particular brand or agenda.


   Earlier this month, a reporter for a national magazine was suspended
   when his employer found out that he was posting praising comments to
   his own blog under the pseudonym "sprezzatura," which means doing
   something without apparent effort. His blog was removed by the
   magazine's editors.


   One of the most popular YouTube videos shows a lonely teenager
   talking about her life. But it turns out that lonelygirl15 is really
   an actress playing a part. I don't know if she had script writers or
   if those writers have to fake their time sheets too. And this has
   created an entire genre of other popular videos - people who are
   tagging their creations with lonelygirl tags so others will view
   them. Meanwhile, college courses on ethics have already incorporated
   the whole mess into their curricula.


   Then there is a pseudo-documentary that ABC-TV aired recently about
   9/11, which interwove fictional dialogue spoken by actors playing
   real people, an approach that drew significant criticism.


   Finally, the chairwoman of Hewlett-Packard paid professional
   investigators to pretend that they were reporters to obtain the
   reporters' private phone records, so they could investigate
   boardroom leaks. One of these efforts involved emailing a reporter a
   Word document with a Trojan keylogger inserted.


   Am I the only one having a problem with all of this? Is it becoming
   harder to distinguish between what is real and what isn't? Remember
   those simple days of yesteryear, when a reporter for a national
   magazine who wrote a book of fiction under the pseudonym "Anonymous"
   was finally outed to much fanfare? Or magazine covers that had
   manipulated images were called on their Photoshopping? Or how about
   corporate CEOs who were satisfied with just falsifying their own
   books or stock option grant awards? Back then, all we had was the
   movie "The Matrix," which wasn't real either, but had some fine CGI
   to entertain us. That was nothing. Welcome to the new real


   I absolutely guarantee that I wrote this column with my own hands.
   Everything else is your own construct.

   [David Strom tells us that he is an author, podcaster, speaker, and
   consultant who has had real jobs as the editor-in-chief for
   Tom's Hardware and Network Computing. His blog can be found at


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