When I think too much about it, the virtual world becomes an indecipherable realm for semi-interactions, that merges in a very real way with my life. But at the same time it is so separate from real life that I convince myself it can’t be more than a tool—a way of making limitless connections, but no more a part of real life than a book.
And then I think things like, what if it’s like health used to be? As everyone who’s seen “Little Women” knows, doctors would treat sickness by attaching leeches to remove “bad blood.” That made sense to enough people that it was a common practice. Are we going to look back at this “experimentation” phase that we’re in with virtual worlds and scoff at the naivete of the collective thought?
Here’s a line I loved from another article that, like “Ethics in Second Life,” addresses SL “griefers.” It articulates what I cannot:
But the tricky thing is that it matters above all because it mostly doesn’t — because it conjures bits of serious human connection from an oceanic flow of words, pictures, videoclips, and other weightless shadows of what’s real.
I’d never thought of this as something that could be the difference between life and death, but apparently those virtual worlds carry many of the same risks as the real world. I know my virtual interactions with people are very real, but it still seems like a barrier from reality. Like the person who wrote that piece (Julian Dibbell) says, it’s a shadow of reality.
I don’t think it’s weightless though (but I understand that’s perhaps exactly what Dibbell is pointing out). The story of the rape on SL is an example that is enough to convince me of that. If a woman suffering from PTSD is subjected to such an explicit trigger, then yes, there are real possibilities for harm in virtual realities. That alone is enough proof that they matter.
But there’s more to it than the harm. Because I’ve always believed in (I think it was) Hegel’s theory that for every thought there exists the opposite (and a third that will synthesize the two). So for every horrifically criminal possibility on the Internet, there is the chance for something wonderfully philanthropic. I think Feed Me Bubbe is a small example of that.
But I believe that there will be more to come, more great ideas, innovations and important connections made that are as of yet unimaginable. It’s just that the opposite is true too, and that is also worrisome. Additionally, just as I believe is true for social media, I imagine the capabilities of virtual worlds to extend their influence to those who never even use a computer.
These are just a few reasons virtual words are worth considering, and giving credence to.