>> main

*just like 60s night at town hall

*other electronic consciousness
virtuality : lauria
MORALity : baum
PEOPLE : daly
IMAGE : mihalache
electricity : delamar
discuss this article on our discussion board
*contact us



*issue 7.0

enter your email address to receive information and updates

*current issue

archives page


Visto.com Links

by rita lauria

Murray Turoff designs group systems. He sees his work as designing social systems. He believes that ‘virtuality ’ may be a more appropriate term to use than ‘virtual reality’ when considering computers and reality generation. Turoff says that today "what is possible with computers is not a representation of reality as we know it but a new essence or a new reality that may be very different from anything we have known before."

Characterizing any virtual reality is the subjective experience of virtuality, or what might be considered electronic consciousness. Turoff sees virtuality as the property of a computer system with "the potential for enabling a virtual system (operating inside the computer) to become a real system by encouraging the real world to behave according to the template dictated by the virtual system." In philosophical terms, he says, "the property of virtuality is a system's potential evolution from being descriptive to being prescriptive." According to Turoff:

Virtual reality is a popular metaphor that, like all metaphors, can lead us astray if we are not careful about what we mean. It suggests that we are taking reality and creating a representation of it in a computer, whereas the computer itself may be creating new realities ... As a result, the term virtuality may be better than virtual reality at representing the discussion of how computer systems affect reality.

Brian Cantwell Smith has worked in computer science, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence for over twenty-five years. He has a similar view. Smith calls computational environments synthetic subject matter or synthetic sites. He says that computers participate in their subject matter. They are “general participatory systems.” For general participatory systems, Smith says the boundary between sign and signified and the corresponding theoretical boundary between syntax and semantics is about as "far from sharp as it is possible to be."

Computers, Smith says, are not at all separate from the worlds they represent. Nor is it possible to delineate their interaction with those worlds into the traditional distinct activities of reason, action, and perception, or even to generalize to a broader notion of experience. Computers, he says, "muck around in, create and destroy, change, and constitute, to say nothing of represent and reason and store information about, a hundred realms -- new realms, some of them, that owe their existence to the very computers that interact with them." Ironically, Smith says, computers are at the same time alleged philosophically in terms of objectivity as well as in the same moment are "candidates for a theory of what it is to be a subject" because of their "manifest intentional character."

Smith told me that to him the connection between virtual reality and reality was stronger than most people think. He said:

To my mind, the connection between virtual reality and reality itself is much stronger than I think most people think it is. So I'm very concerned about ... how we design. There is no doubt that the ability to design artistic works and to do things, like in virtual reality, where in fact you have an experience that transcends what can actually happen in the ordinary physical world, is tremendously potentially creative and powerful ... I think ... that both the ethics and the aesthetics of those experiences are much more continuous with our aesthetics and ethics of ordinary life. It isn't like a black and white distinction that there is sort of virtual reality, which is unreal and you can do anything and then there is real reality ... It's not a sort of false way of being in touch ... It's perfectly real and can be weighty.

Brenda Laurel, digital interface designer, researcher, and writer focusing on human-computer interaction, culture, and technology also recognizes the extent that computer technology "delivers similar experiences" with reality. She told me whether "with games, or Web surfing, or whatever, it continues to be disturbing." Laurel says:

The ability to synthesize images that are not representations of the world is heavy duty and digital media lets us create them more easily and transmit them more easily. So the sort of danger is that it is easier and easier to live in virtuality, if you will.

Software engineer William Bricken also recognizes these virtualities, these virtual realities, as more than real. Computers can generate entire multi-sensory environments that include us as interactive participants. Bricken says virtual reality is the body of techniques that apply computation to the generation of experientially valid realities.

McLuhan foretold this possibility in 1964 when he wrote that the content of any medium is always another medium. Virtuality identifies computers as no longer mere symbol processors. They are, as Bricken suggests, reality generators. Computers as computational media are now communications media.

‘Computer prophet’ Ted Nelson, whose work ultimately served as the virtuality theory, or design, for the World Wide Web, early on envisioned the potential of the virtual communication technologies. Enlarging upon Vannevar Bush's 1945 design proposal for a computer-based system that would serve as a tool to augment human intelligence, Nelson invented hypertext as a "way of linking up all the world's knowledge into a kind of automated network ... accessible to everyone everywhere."

In elaborating "correct principles of design for interactive systems," Nelson defines the deep meaning of virtuality as the "central concern of interactive system design." He describes virtuality, recognizing not only the conceptual structure of electronic consciousness but also its feel. Nelson describes virtuality as a structure of seeming. Virtuality is a structure of seeming.

By the virtuality of a thing I mean the seeming of it, as distinct from its more concrete 'reality,' which may not be important. An interactive computer system is a series of presentations intended to affect the mind in a certain way, just like a movie. This is not a casual analogy: this is the central issue ... A 'virtuality,' then, is a structure of seeming -- the conceptual structure and feel of what is created.

Copyright © 2000 Rita Lauria All Rights Reserved

Rita Lauria is a research associate of the M.I.N.D. Lab (Media Interface and Network Design LAB) at Michigan State University. Her research involves the philosophy and design of virtuality. This excerpt comes from her upcoming book Virtuality. Link to her Web page from the lab associates page at http://mindlab.msu.edu/mweb/people.htm

comment? discuss this article on our discussion board

copyright© 1999 - 2000 bravenewMEDIA