Living Virtually Through the Internet

The idea of a virtual reality is a new one, one that has come vibrantly to life with home computers and the Internet. With pcs and “cyberspace” now a critical part of day-to-day life for many of us, we’ve become comfortable with the idea of an alternate version of reality. Until just recently, however, the idea of an Internet “cyberspace” seemed like a mind-blowing concept out of science fiction.

The term “Cyberspace” (a term coined by science fiction writer William Gibson in his classic 1984 cyperpunk novel “Neuromancer”) is a place that exists somewhere “out there.” It’s an illusory idea space where a version of us exists in another space, time and reality. It’s a broad concept, actually. Whether you’re sending an email with an “Avatar” picture of yourself attached, or wearing 3D glasses to enjoy Tim Burton’s take on the surreal world of “Alice in Wonderland,” these days we’re all involved in cyberspace. It’s an endlessly intriguing notion that is imaginative and intoxicating at the same time.

Gibson first described the idea of the Internet in “Neuromancer,” as “Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.” Gibson’s description of the “cyberspace” — a place that is a real place but also a non-place– is especially compelling in its poetry.

But is “virtual reality” a completely new concept? Isn’t it, instead, an Internet version of what has always been in our minds? The first virtual reality comes from our brains, to the places we go in our imagination, when we are reading, thinking or dreaming. Books are a kind of engine for our imaginative powers. They help us create a virtual reality in our minds, taking us to the places authors write about, where they inspire our own vision of a story’s reality. Books don’t have to be between covers though. Their ideas exist online as well, on Internet sites and now on electronic books like Kindle.

Ultimately, “virtual reality” is the power of our imagination to take us places we’ve never seen before, whether online or just inside our heads.