A journey into the virtual

26 Mar

I am exploring the virtual this week and the many ways that it is present in the world. Firstly, there is great potential in the virtual, some may call it idealism because when you experience the virtual you may not be experiencing material reality as you know it (Murphie, 2012, p. 29). However, there are those that say that the virtual brings out the dynamic nature of reality and opens up a new world of opportunity: ‘the dynamism of material reality (Murphie, 2012, p. 29).’ If this is true then it becomes more difficult to answer the question: How do we know what is real? The virtual is further examined in Andrew Murphie’s article on The Network Society and Experimental Ecologies. In the article he claims that the virtual comes about thorough the individual in a network (Murphie, 2004, p. 121). This is because in the process of striving to be distinguished from the rest (individuation), the individual has an excess of expression. It is this excess of expression that creates the virtual. Thus the virtual has its own ecology and becomes part of the network society (Murphie, 2004, p. 121). This leads to new technologies interacting in the virtual, which creates a myriad of connections and processes (Murphie, 2004, p. 121). It is this virtual ecology that can give rise to so much innovation and technological opportunities.

Virtual reality is an example of this; it is an environment that simulates physical presence in real and imaginary locations (Anon, 2012).  It is primarily a sensory experience, which can involve sight, hearing, touch and so on (Anon, 2012). One way that virtual reality is used is in the treatment of phobias and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is effective in treating these conditions as it allows a person to be gradually exposed to their fears, which then makes them desensitized to them (Anon, 2012). Moreover, virtual reality is also helping disabled people. At the Duke University Centre for Neuroengineering they have trained two monkeys to use their electrical brain activity in order to move a virtual hand avatar over virtual objects and then tell the difference between the textures of the different objects (Anon, 2011). This could have a huge impact on people who are paralysed as they can recover some mobility and rediscover their sense of touch (Anon, 2011). I think this links in with what Andrew Murphie was saying about the virtual and how much potential it has in the network society, it has the power to positively change so many different areas of society, in this case people with disabilities. This coincides with an article I found about virtual medical appointments. Two organisations called Cisco and UnitedHealth Group have created the ‘Connected Core’ (Singel, 2009). This involves patients getting, check ups through web chat. The benefits of this are that doctors can become accessible to people living in remote areas, makes it easier to get referrals and medical tools improve as they become digitized (Singel, 2009). It is particularly beneficial for children, people with chronic health issues, follow-up visits and behavioural counselling (Singel, 2009).

Another example of virtual reality, which I think demonstrates the potential of the virtual, is the ‘autonomous plane’ that the navy has created which can land on an aircraft carrier (Hennigan, 2012). It is primarily an independent flying device called X-47B and it is flown through the use of computers. It has the ability to enter into combat situations and cause destruction. This raises ethical dilemmas, which needs to be looked at by policy makers. Additionally, these drones are said to react faster than human pilots and they can reduce the number of war casualties (Hennigan, 2012). This I believe changes our conception of what is real and possible.

Virtual innovation is not only limited to the military, it can also be seen in social relations. For example, researchers at Barcelona University have come up with a virtual reality device that enables men to empathize with females who are victims of violence (BBC News, 2012). The participant puts on the head mounted display and is transported to a virtual room where they begin to identify as the female in the room (BBC News, 2012). When another person in the room physically abuses the female, the participant feels the shock of the assault due to the fact that they are beginning to see themselves as the female being assaulted (BBC News 2012). As this example and the previous ones have illustrated the virtual is full of possibilities. It is also linked to the network society and the different ecologies that are evident in this society. It is these relations that make me feel hopeful about the future of the virtual and what reality will be conceived as in a couple of years time.

Barcelona University research that is helping men empathize with females


1)   Anon. (2011) ‘Monkeys ‘Move and Feel’ Virtual Objects Using Only Their Brains’, ScienceDaily, October 5, [online]. Available at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111005131648.htm [Accessed 24 March 2012].

2)   Anon. (n.d.) ‘Virtual Reality’, Wikipedia [online]. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_reality [Accessed 23 March 2012].

3)   BBC News (2010) How virtual reality is building empathy in the real world, August 16, [online] Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/click_online/8918754.stm [Accessed 25 March 2012].

4)   Hennigan, W. J. (2012) ‘New drone has no pilot anywhere, so who’s accountable?’, Los Angeles Times, January 26, [online]. Available at: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-auto-drone-20120126,0,740306.story [Accessed 24 March 2012].

5)   Murphie, A. (2012) Course Outline and Readings [online]. Available at: http://arts3091.newsouthblogs.org/course-outline-and-readings/ [Accessed 23 March 2012].

6)   Murphie, A. (2004) The World as Clock: The Network Society and Experimental Ecologies in Topia, 11: 117-139.

7)   Singel, R. (2009) The Future Is Now For Virtual House Calls, July 29, Wired [online]. Available at: http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2009/07/video-chatting-killer-medical-app-of-the-future [Accessed 25 March 2012].


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