Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Lure of the Virtual


One attraction of virtual worlds is that they look safer, less risky than the real world. But the greatest appeal of virtual is the expectation of control. All these, however, are only appearances.

The reality of the virtual is that it is never what it seems to be. You may think you’re the only human in the virtual world of a game, but you have no way of knowing if other humans are masquerading as bots or possibly observing your behavior.

You might feel you can lose yourself in an online game, but the identity of your computer (or tablet or phone) is known to the Internet. GPS tells the Internet exactly where you are (without GPS, the Internet still knows your latitude and longitude).

The biggest problem with virtual is the disconnect between what you know and what you feel. You know about GPS, but you ignore what you know and feel invisible when using your phone.

Communicating by phone (or whatever computer) may feel ephemeral and inconsequential because it’s virtual. Yet it uses the Internet, which is eternal and never free of consequences.

Speaking of consequences, many prefer texting to talking because it is more virtual, less real and therefore less consequential. Or so it appears. However, the bits of texting, like email, are easier for the Internet to save (and search) than voice.

The word “Lure” in the title of this post has the general meaning of attraction, but it also means enticement. Then there is the specific meaning of lure as bait—as in fishing, for sport or food.

Fishing lures are very specialized products, designed to deceive and ensnare fish. In sport, caught fish are often returned. As food, fish are cooked. Fishing is not about choices for the fish.

Whatever virtual may appear to be, we cannot know the extent to which it is designed to deceive and ensnare. Like the fish, what we know of virtual is only appearance. Regardless of what we know, virtual can make us feel safe even as it puts us at risk.

The greatest illusion of any virtual fabrication is that we are in control. This feeling of control is merely a construct to make us believe, to make us buy into the virtual and avoid the real world.

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