Digital Sensations: Space, Identity, and Embodiment in Virtual Reality

Digital Sensations: Space, Identity, and Embodiment in Virtual Reality

Digital Sensations: Space, Identity, and Embodiment in Virtual Reality

Digital Sensations: Space, Identity, and Embodiment in Virtual Reality


Virtual reality is in the news and in the movies, on TV and in the air. Why is the technology -- or the idea -- so prevalent precisely now? What does it mean -- what does it do -- to us? Digital Sensations looks closely at the ways representational forms generated by communication technologies -- especially digital/optical virtual technologies -- affect the "lived" world.

Virtual reality, or VR, is a technological reproduction of the process of perceiving the real; yet that process is "filtered" through the social realities and embedded cultural assumptions about human bodies, perception, and space held by the technology's creators.

Through critical histories of the technology -- of vision, light, space, and embodiment -- Ken Hillis traces the various and often contradictory intellectual and metaphysical impulses behind the Western transcendental wish to achieve an ever more perfect copy of the real. Because virtual technologies are new, these histories also address the often unintended and underconsidered consequences -- such as alienating new forms of surveillance and commodification -- flowing from their rapid dissemination. Current and proposed virtual technologies reflect a Western desire to escape the body Hillis says.

Exploring topics from VR and other, earlier visual technologies, Hillis's penetrating perspective on the cultural power of place and space broadens our view of the interplay between social relations and technology.


But of all the sciences Optics is the most fertile in marvelous expedients.

Sir Daniel Brewster, Letters on Natural Magic

The world conveyed by the interactive computer has been dubbed “vir
tual” because its location or features cannot be pinpointed in the tangi
ble world. It exists within the relation between the machine and the user.
We cannot place it inside the machine, because it is not there unless we
invoke it, and it is not wholly within our minds because we do not possess
the hardware necessary to conjure it up.… In the computer… we can
move throughout a constructed universe of our own making, on virtual
paths invisible even as we tread upon them.

David Rothenberg, Hand’s End: Technology and the Limits of Nature

Over the last few years, Virtual Reality, or “VR,” has become something of a household term. Discussion in the popular media abounds, and a number of speculative, promotional books on the subject have achieved mass-market success. Promotional writing is a part of the hype surrounding VR. Barrie Sherman and Philip Judkins, for example, find that the technology and the experiences VR affords are “a proxy for the American dream—to be at the centre, the President, a star in your own Hollywood movie” (1993, 29). Despite VR being accorded the hype of celebrity status—facilitated in part by cultural fictions such as Max Headroom, VR5, Johnny Mnemonic, and perhaps most importantly the holodeck on Star Trek: The Next Generation—a lack of theorization exists that would provide greater understanding about why VR, both as a technology and as an idea, has emerged at this cultural moment. This book is an effort to help close that gap. A critical approach to VR is crucial at a time of a . . .

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