Once upon a time, “virtual worlds” were the stuff of science fiction novels. Back in
the 1940s, 50s and 60s — and even as early as Jules Verne in the 1800s —
progressive, futuristic writers like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick
captured our imaginations with ideas about the modern world. They proposed futuristic
worlds where people were no longer limited by time, space and the simple function of
mechanisms and objects. In this future we would have the ability to speak into little
machines to communicate, and we’d have big screens in our living rooms that would
allow us to see other places in real time. We would communicate with almost anyone, anywhere, at anytime. We would no longer be limited by physical reality. These progressive thinkers imagined “virtual” worlds, places that would allow us to live in an alternate reality that would co-exist with our plainer, everyday selves.
These fascinating creative fictions expanded the minds of young readers in years past, and the power of their ideas flowed into the population at large, flowering in the 60s as society opened itself up to new and ever more mind-expanding thought patterns.
Back in the 60s, ideas were running rampant, but no one had ever heard of the Internet. The Internet, what was that? A tool that let you look up virtually anything and connect with almost anyone, and let you create an ‘Avatar” of yourself that existed in a web netherworld? It wasn’t real; it was just the stuff of science fiction, wasn’t it?
Today it is real. Some of the most compelling ideas from earlier eras have become reality, in part because they inspired young readers who later became inventors. Today, millions of people use the Internet to communicate. Facebook connects long-lost friends and relatives who’ve been separated for decades. A website called “Second Life” enables players to exist in a virtual world, have virtual relationships, do virtual business and conduct a very busy virtual life.
Mind-blowing, yes. Science fiction? No.