"BRAVE NEW VIRTUAL WORLD" 1989
by Nicole Stenger
(Published in SCAN Proceedings. Philadelphia)
In an irrepressible urge to see the unseen, humans are entering the Virtual Worlds of the computer. Will this new trespassing of the limits provoke the fall of our ancient notions of space, time and identity? Shouldn't we celebrate?
Just when travelling through the Solar system had become a boring video, the magical doors of the Virtual Worlds are opening to you,
just when you were desperately running short of time, the computer delivers a slice of the "real" one to your door,
just when you were adjusting to the bliss of being single, medical algorithms reconstruct your exact replica.
Don't worry about the soft fall of those antique notions of space, time or identity, a flashy replacement world is ahead, with little cost or ethical concerns, and for Eternity.
In 1945, the human species as a whole had found in the Atomic Bomb its own means of committing suicide, as Jean Paul Sartre put it. Today, it's using the virtual world of the computer as a massive emergency exit.
Cities like Tokyo had already flirted with the idea, by integrating video screens almost anywhere in their urban texture. Walking down their streets would give you a strong feling of living on 2 levels of reality at a time.
But this is nothing compared to the huge cloud of virtual smoke that is now forming from the innumerable graphic computers at work, and changing the climate of the human mind. We are entering BRAVE NEW VIRTUAL WORLD.
BRAVE NEW VIRTUAL WORLD is a synthesis of hallucination, God, and graphic design. It's endless, eternal, virginal. And moreover, it is!
It's the product of this unbelievable urge in the human race today, of seeing the unseen, all the unseen, and nothing but the unseen, all at the same time, and with the utmost acuity. This in turn can only trigger permeability, obscenity, circularity, sociability, and eternity, as follows:
That there should be screens, doesn't prove that there are no leaks. As a matter of fact some mind substance started to ooze out of people's heads 25 years ago or so, and to take shape here and there.
Until recently, people would transfer their mind ghosts through primitive language into the virgin arena of the computer, and watch them dance. Little by little, we got used to the fact that holograms and stereoscopic videos could feel at home on our lap. But another barrier has fallen: special gloves literally lead you by the hand into the Maze of Virtuality. The screen is there, but it has become permeable. And so have we.
Wouldn't the Virtual World qualify for the Helmes' Amendment? For can you think of a more indecent material than the Immaterial?
That projects the inside of your mind out, only to reveal its most sexually explicit functions since brains produce sex hormons too, that that has no respect for anything? Is the Virtual Worls a world of absolute obscenity, where everything becoming obvious, mystery can't survive? Or as virtual spaces open on more virtual spaces, does mystery rebuild itself where it gets revealed?
Hackers break into codes, computer viruses infect programs, what vicious perpetrators will trespass into your virtual space? Will you install a burglar alarm? will you be the alarm?
A human being used to be a self, or a self within itself, occasionally tripping out on ecstasy, or if a Saint, wearing his head under his arm, but certainly never existed outside onself on a daily basis. *
Becoming data inside a computer, either through a special outfit, or through the 3D reconstruction of scanned pictures of your entire body,( including flesh, bones, organs, and veins: a program developed by professor Hohne of Hamburg), makes you both real and unreal, mortal and immortal at the same time.
Inside the infinity of virtual space and time , watch yourself becoming your own Guardian Angel. You have become circular.
Being circular today already means living through the 4 seasons with a sleeping bag under your computer desk and some potato chips, occasionally grumbling at some unseen interlocutor. So will there be social life after Virtuality?
Data gloves could of course shake hands and play cards in a virtual Cezanne. Maybe rubbing them might produce some Rock n' Roll. But will ever spaced out individuals with data gloves and goggles ever meet in the virtual World to bake a loaf of bread, smell the smell, feel the steam, and break the crust together?
The human spieces is slowy adjusting to the virtual world of the condom. Could the endless rapture of cloning oneself inside the computer be a danger to the species? A substitute for the hassle of human reproduction? While couch potatoes slowly produce meat, will Virtual World users produce milk?
Dying in the Virtual World would of course be very elegant, and as clean as after a Neutron bomb party, but will you be declared virtually dead, or virtually eternal and stored foever in the computer memory of a mountain?
Virtual Worlds have always been. Poets, gurus, and even businessmen in their sleep have been the sacred messengers of their existence. We're only getting a new joystick to tackle them. A situation Mircea Eliade had foreseen, when he talked of these sealed areas of the sacred ready to be unsealed.
With a simple wire, a capacity to float in space, and a permission to dream one's dream off, we're only going back to where we belong. And in a way, we knew it from the start.
The more acute the vision, and the penetration of the vision into those worlds, the more vivid the sense of 'deja vu'.
We may lose the sharp boundaries of our restricted identities, a notion that is enough in itself to deprive Cartesian philosophers of sleep forever. But we may gain a sense of our true selves, return to the Poetic and achieve fusion.
The computer has only set the conference table for the True Reconciliation.