Learning to live in a virtual world
I think the first time I consciously noticed the power of “living in a virtual world” was about ten years ago when a girl I was mentoring seemed to be far more conversational when we would “talk” via email than when we talked on the phone or in-person.
I could barely get her to speak two sentences to me in the real world, but when we would “talk” online, she could go on for pages.
When I questioned her as to how she seemed to open up via email, but barely spoke in person, she smiled and shrugged.
This girl was sweet and terribly shy, so I was grateful that she had an outlet where she could express herself. Still, I discerned that something was just not quite right about her choosing only to communicate via email.
I think my relationship with her was a preview into the Virtual World Revolution comprised of multi-media technologies and online environments.
Those of us who lived before the Internet explosion remember a time when our escape from reality consisted of watching some TV or a good movie. These shows typically reflected characters and situations that were similar to those of our daily lives.
However, I have noticed that entertainment, especially in recent years, has become much more “grand.” And rather than reflecting on situations we can relate to, they create other worlds that are epic in scope.
The typical theme of these movies is to make a seemingly insignificant character able to alter the world by his/her actions and choices.
For example, the two leading box office hits this past weekend are, “Oz, The Great and Powerful,” and “Jack the Giant Killer.”
Think about some of the most popular movies these days and see if this theme does not re-emerge. This idea of an epic hero is taken to another level and becomes interactive with popular video games like “God of War” and “Halo 4.”
And there is still another level to this virtual world. For, while the change in entertainment has evolved over the past 20 years in terms of degrees and emphasis, the dynamic between the viewer/player and the medium remains fundamentally the same.
The real “virtual revolution” seems to be taking place in the online world in the form of social networks and communities. Sites like Facebook and YouTube become the forum whereby one can project their most intimate thoughts while allowing them to be exposed to millions without inhibition.
Texting, tweeting, Instagramming, blogging, and if necessary, emailing, are not simply forms of communication. They have become the very life blood whereby the virtual world continues to grow and thrive. So, to be unplugged for an extended period of time, for those who are connected to this world, seems almost inconceivable.
This virtual world is also the primary way in which many receive information and learn new things. News is filtered through social sites, and for the teen or pre-teen who has a report due, Wikipedia is their best friend.
The virtual world today, in essence, is no longer a forum for simple entertainment one enjoys for a brief time. It is how many understand and interact with the real world around them.
In a very real sense, the virtual world, is shaping and becoming the real world. And for many, this relationship is far more gratifying because in the virtual world they feel a greater sense of control, significance, and fulfillment. I suppose this is what my nephews experience when they are on their phones for hours on end.
I predict that as this virtual world becomes more and more engaging and our physical world becomes more and more challenging and uninspiring, people will turn to the virtual world to unplug from reality.
This begs the question, however, is there a need to escape this virtual world? And if so, how does one go about accomplishing such a seemingly impossible task?
The honest and pragmatic answer to the latter question is that unless you live in a location without any technology, you can’t escape this world.
Because the real world and the virtual world are so intertwined I don’t see how one who desires to be a functioning member of our society can ever completely escape the virtual world.
Rather, we have to learn to navigate through it and thoughtfully create a hybrid of both the real world and the virtual world.
This is what I am trying to build for myself and my family. As such, I try to unplug every once in a while (i.e., no phones, no computer, no TV); I try to engage in physical activity and live conversation (without technologies); and finally, I try to give my family what I know the virtual world is unable to give — great big hugs!
In so doing, I hope that we are able to build truly meaningful and healthy relationships.
[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children.]