Possible Worlds: The Social Dynamic of Virtual Reality Technology

By Ralph Schroeder | Go to book overview

6
The Spirit in the Machine

In recent years, computer-related technologies, including virtual reality, the Internet, and artificial intelligence, have given rise to new ways of thinking about the role of technology in society. This new mode of thought can be labeled cyberculture, and central to it is the notion that new technologies can radically alter the way we live. Here we shall examine cyberculture mainly in relation to VR, as these ideas are bound to shape the image of VR technology, much as the ideas of "hackers" shaped the image of the personal computer. But cyberculture is also part of a wider shift in our conception of technology and I shall argue that even if the cybercultural worldview is closer to science fiction than to the current state of science and technology, it is nevertheless worth examining, since this wider shift may have far-reaching implications.

Cyberculture has a number of incarnations, including academic theorizing and youth culture. What they have in common is a vision of the future in which technology radically alters the relation between humans and machines and thus gives rise to new cultural possibilities. Some of the pioneers of VR technology, including Brenda Laurel and Jaron Lanier, have been among the principal exponents of cybercultural ideas, suggesting that the creation of virtual worlds and of shared cyberspaces will have revolutionary social consequences and allow hitherto unimagined forms of human expression.

Laurel and Lanier's view is echoed in the work of academic theorists like Donna Haraway and Alluquere Rosanne Stone, who believe that new technologies may have radical political ramifications, an idea they pursue through the image of cyborgs that blur the distinction between humans and machines. 1 Within youth culture, these themes find expression, for example, in magazines such as Wired and in cy-

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