31 January 2008

We're all connected...or not.

One of the grand developments that we used to call the "information superhighway" or the "world wide web" or "teh internets" is that we have the illusion that we're all connected. Most notably, I can dress my avatar up in pretty clothes and head out to the virtual grog shop to meet virtual chicks on Second Life, or "I" can party with my virtual friends from Australia in some massive multiplayer online game like World of Warcraft. I don't need to live my life based on my physical geography or my physical proximity to my "real" friends, or lack thereof.

On a more business-like level, the "elimination" of distance has allowed us to outsource call centers, host companies' web presences thousands of miles from where the physical company exists (if the physical company exists at all anymore), and hold "face-to-face" conferences with colleagues around the globe, all without leaving the comfort of our swivel chairs.

In other words, as myopic and simple-minded Thomas Friedman would have it, the world is flat.

Except it isn't.

We like to forget that none of this is real. Yes, it's useful and/or entertaining, and therefore has value for us, but if it doesn't work, we're left with the realization that the world is very much round and France and India are very much on different continents than the U.S., and that isolated hick backwaters (like where I'm from and love very much) really are in the middle of nowhere, instead of next door to the Metropolis on the big bad internet.

If you were psychoanalytically minded, you might call it the return of the repressed. Zizek might liken it to the Real overwhelming the Symbolic.

And it happens.

It's perhaps most fitting that it has happened to Dubai, which is virtual reality par excellence, a land that has recently been advertising a playground of a housing development/community that makes Disney's Celebration look authentic.

I expect to write more about Dubai's "FalconCity" in the future; however, Dubai's efforts to overtake Las Vegas as the Capital of the Simulacrum is only a side point -- the main point is that our world as we imagine it is utterly reliant upon bundles of cables doing their job properly. Banking and air travel, for instance, have developed to their stages based upon assumptions of secure and stable access to interconnected networks. Of less importance, blogging relies upon this access.

We are in a brave new world, until what...human voices wake us and we drown?


Washington Cube said...

Well written, as ever. It's interesting you are tackling this subject, because I was talking to two friends this past week about others I knew who had gotten heavily into Warcraft and SIMS and Second Life. They all wanted me to join them in their little alter worlds, telling me I'd be "great," but I've never had the slightest interest to veer off in that direction.

I'll tell you a funny story I told Phil of Playaz Ball...and no, Phil doesn't play those games. I knew a women who was part of our social set, yet in truth a very lonely little soul with not much of a social life. She discovered SIMS and went off the deep end; even to the point of cutting off her real life social ties and communications to come home from work at night and play this game.

Then things got VERY strange. She created this "house," in her SIMS world...she had multiple houses...but this one was all of us...her real life friends, and she had us doing things we didn't do in real life (in terms of occupation). She more or less made the figures look like us, only more faboo, but same coloring, etc. But Cuff? Pause here. She got into controlling us. She would send out emails to our group (and trust me, we flipped) with captured screens of what was going on in her little world. She gave us fake pets, she had certain people engaging in sexual acts. One character hit a glitch and froze...she couldn't manipulate it, and rather than delete it out (as non-functioning) and risk losing the entire level of the game, she left it there, but she constantly referred back to it in feeling thwarted by it.

You still with me? It got worse. When we discovered this game of hers going on, and she stupidly spoke quite openly of it to our open mouthed horror, I told her immediately I did not want a character created of me at all. She did it anyway. Then I insisted she have my character commit suicide. She refused to do that either because "I don't know what will happen." I persisted, and she finally killed SIMS me off.

Since I've never played the game, I don't know the command, but my character drowned in the group home swimming pool, while she had another character (a real life friend) sitting next to the pool watching me drown. He was SO pissed off she had his character just idly watching me die...as if he would ever do such a thing in real life. She also did odd things like have SIMS Paco dog peeing on his leg. As I said..it got VERY weird.

Here's the best part, if you haven't snorted cocoa out of your nose yet, it gets better. She killed me off, and SIMS created a little tombstone behind the group house. She didn't create it. It just popped up. That creeped her out too. But the best? A while later, she was playing her sick little game, and I reappeared...a green ghost. And when she was relaying all of this to our group? And not knowing how mentally unsound she sounded? She expressed frustration at me because she couldn't control me as a ghost. I came and went at random and without player control. She hated my ghost. :)

I was talking to the leg pee guy the other night about this; telling him I had told Phil, and we were wishing we had saved some of those screens from her emails, so I could show you Heather frozen in the back yard all jittering and not able to follow her commands, and me popping up out of my little RIP marker and haunting people.




cuff said...

That's hilarious in a really creepy way. I have a great interest in these virtual worlds from a theoretical perspective: I've never been on Second Life or World of Warcraft or SIMS, but I have dipped my toes in Half-Life which has its own "community" of sorts. Part of my interest stems from my brother-in-law's friend who became so wrapped up in WoW that he would ditch his real life friends so he could go to "parties" with his WoW friends, who happened to be from Australia and therefore his sense of time was all screwed up (he physically being in California) and his real life suffered (physically, socially, mentally), but in those shining moments of digital bliss, he was whole.

Washington Cube said...

Cuff: I'm working on a piece today, based on all of this, including the ditching of friends. So thanks for the inspiration.

Washington Cube said...

I posted my piece, Cuff, and thanks for the inspiration. Now I need to lay low and wait for the dog poo to fly in my social group.

Washington Cube said...

Don't forget to leave a poem on your site for Reya's poetry project.

Foilwoman said...

You mean the people I chat with online don't really know and love me? God, that's so disillusioning. What will I do?

WC (if you're blog is read in Europe, sorry about the abbreviation), okay, Cubette: Wow, that is weird. And scary. Did anyone ever suggest counseling to Simswoman?

Washington Cube said...

Foil: No one speaks to SIMSwoman anymore. She moved this past month to Delaware, to be closer to two gay men she knows. Getting a 25/7 dose of her may prove "interesting," for all parties, but we'll never know. She did other oddball things: she rented the same apartment for a loooongg time, complaining about lack of laundry service, parking, all of it, but never thought to move (even though she could afford to.) Now she's purchased a condo (in a bad market) in a beach community where she only knows these two men (a couple.) She also lacks certain easements in her personality that allow her to get along with others: hypercritical, only wants to talk about what she's interested in, highly opinionated in a negative sense (see critical), I could go on. She did send me an email alerting me of her move. I sent it on to her former social group, where the news was received with a huge yawn.