Is Virtual the New Reality?

By Michelle Boule | Wenzel Denver Post article

While in Denver for LITA Forum recently, I read an article in the Denver Post entitled “We are our friends, our friends are us: MySpace and its offspring have transformed our link' thinking.” I found this article interesting for two reasons.

First, the author, John Wenzel, stated that MySpace will make $1 billion in ad revenue this year. One billion dollars. I had no idea, but I am not surprised. With all of the money we spend on things everyday, why wouldn't MySpace's 200 million members be clicking on those ads?

The second reason, and the one that really caught my attention, was this line:

Why collect and monitor your friends virtually when you can do it for real?

Is virtual not real? What is unreal about it? Friends who are connected online are no less real and important because distance separates them. I subscribe to an RSS feed of all of my contacts' Flickr photos and those people are as real to me as my neighbor. I would argue that for many of us, the people we know online are more real than some of the people we see every day. My Flickr contacts know more about me than my neighbors do.

I am terrible about keeping up with mail (the old-fashioned kind) and phone calls. I am not bad about email, IM, or any of the other places I live online. My friends with whom I can interact with online receive more of my time and more quality time than my friends who live their lives offline, and our relationships are stronger for it. By contrast, I only talk to my best friend in Dallas once every couple of months on the phone. She does not email often, and she cannot IM during business hours, when I am most likely to be signed in. She is on MySpace, but I have no interest in that. We are not as close as we could be, if we had a common, virtual space.

So what makes something real? Can virtual be real?

Something is real when it affects your life. Something is real when it touches your heart and mind. Communication and sharing are real. Communicating ideas. Sharing feelings and experiences. We do this online everyday, and it's real. I wonder how long it will be before interactions online are regarded to be as real as those of the physical world.

Face-to-face communication will always stand out. It is difficult to send a hug, kiss, or hand squeeze over the Internet. We still need direct human contact. We are wired for it, but we should never underestimate the strength of the online ties that bind us. They can make you cry, laugh, sing, and yell as easily as the person in the room with you. Some of my closest friends I see more online than in person. The times I do see them in person are rare, sweet, and cherished.

All aspects of our life are real, even if they are virtual.