Monday, February 12, 2007

Rethinking real

We live in a society where the infotainment media inhabit much of our waking lives. So powerful are they that in many ways they define – or at least try to – what is important and what is real. No longer is it possible to easily see the difference between spin and fact. Celebrities led the way with airbrushing and cosmetic surgery and politicians are now valued because of their ability to deliver a 10 second sound bite rather than ideas of substance. Our airwaves are dominated with the sages and the stupid who are encouraged to pontificate on every subject known to mankind. But now we have technologies that further blur the boundaries.

According to Fortune magazine[1], in November last year IBM settled on a range of significant investments in a global meeting held within an interesting virtual world known as Second Life. In Second Life all the participants can develop personas known as Avatars and can meet in either open or closed spaces with other avatars to act out either fantasies or reality. So in IBM’s case they held their meeting in their virtual Second Life meeting room, owned by IBM, and the participants were avatars of IBM staff from around the globe. As virtual technologies like these evolve they will continue to challenge ‘what’s real’ with virtual relationships, virtual lives and virtual friends. These are communities where people are making real money from supplying virtual goods and services!

So have we in the process lost our sense of reality – a question much beloved by lecturers in philosophy 101? Does it matter? I would argue that it does only if the focus on ‘different realities’ takes our atention away from the significant challenges that face us and reduce our ability to debate as societies and civilisations how we might tackle such challenges. Lets hope that in five years from now Second Life will be credited as the single defining influence on reducing our environmental footprint. Now that’s the kind of ‘real’ I can live with.

[1] January 23 2007.


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