In societies where modern conditions of production prevail,
all of life presents itself as an immensive accumulation of spectacles.
Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.
by Morten Søby, Research Fellow
Institute for Educational Research, University of Oslo
International Symposium on Virtual Reality and New Technologies in Computer Simulation
Vienna December 1-3, 1993
The growth of information and the development of digital media and virtual reality have brought about the fulfilment of the ideal belonging to the age of enlightenment. The information explosion and implosion cause a communicational stoppage - a profusion of pictures and signs. Speech, text, TV, film and digital media can no longer keep up with all the signs which run amok in the simulation stream. Virtual reality is not avant-garde, but rather a delayed and necessary updating of symbol exchange under the electronic mode of information. Finally, with this new medium one can have ambitions to impart the complexity and chaos of the present time. With virtual reality we can all play God.
Just as Alice in Through the Looking Glass stepped through a mirror, so can we now enter through a computer screen to a virtual world. Even if we find our way back again, the point of departure will never be the same.
An experience that people often have when they come out of a high-quality virtual reality system is experiencing the physical world as being hyperreal...I think virtual reality does have a remarkable quality in that it gives people an experience that is rather angel-like, floating as the consciousness point in this variable world (Lanier & Biocca 1992:163).
In the perfect virtual reality game, the player is an astronaut in his bubble, isolated in a position of perfect sovereignty, at an infinite distance from his original universe. He exists in a state of weightlessness which compels him to remain in perpetual orbital flight and to maintain sufficient speed in zero gravity to avoid crashing into his planet of origin (Baudrillard 1988).
The Eyes And Ears Of The World
The first time I experienced virtual reality was in May 1990 in San Francisco. I was invited as a speaker in a panel about On-line collaboration in the global 90's. One of the exciting sessions during the conference was Televirtuality and Telecommunities with Howard Rheingold as chairman. Later he published a book: Virtual Reality (Rheingold 1991), which gives an excellent summary of the virtual reality field. In the book Rheingold describes virtual reality: Imagine a wraparound television with three-dimensional programs, including three-dimensional sound, and solid objects that you can pick up and manipulate, even feel with your fingers and hands. Imagine immersing yourself in an artificial world and actively exploring it, rather than peering in at it from a fixed perspective through a flat screen in a movie theatre, on a television set, on a computer display. Imagine that you are the creator as well as the consumer of your artificial experience, with the power to use gesture or word to remould the world you see and hear and feel (Rheingold 1991:16). A person who experiences virtual reality is able to move around in the virtual space and see it from different angles. He or she can reach into it, grab it and reshape it.
Virtual reality is the logical next step in the long evolution of media. We can observe a development toward greater sensory vividness and involvement. More unexpected perhaps is the technological realisation of the desire to reach out and touch and interact with the media images we create. What truly sets virtual reality apart from other media is the technological imperative to directly put the body of the user inside the illusion, to surround the user with a space that stretches infinitely in all directions, a world of unexpected experiences.
With appropriate interfacing equipment, users can visit, navigate, and interact within the interiors of these 3D environments. A head-mounted display, for example, provides a high-bandwidth interface to the visual sense so that it creates the perception of space within the mind of the participant. Attach a head-mounted display (looks like a scuba mask) and data glove to a workstation and suddenly your eyes begin to focus on a digital space. You turn to the left and right; the old world is gone. You look down and see your hand floating in front of you, fingers stretched and pointing toward a seemingly infinite cyber horizon. Virtual reality will change the way we communicate and the way we learn.
The user can freely move around a virtual model of the building, go in any direction, and open virtual doors. The users also might have the illusion of picking up a virtual baseball and throwing it - but the baseball may, or may not, obey the rules of gravity. At a still higher level of interactivity, the user may experience computer graphic representations of other users <<inside>> the same virtual space. The rise of virtual space and communities represents not just an extended world of telecommunication services but a somewhat unusual social experiment in which Jaron Lanier plays a prominent role.
In 1985-87, Jaron Lanier, director and founder of VPL (which stands for Visual Programming Language), coined and developed the term virtual reality to bring all of the virtual projects under a single term. VR is shared and objectively present like the physical world, composable like a work of art and as unlimited and harmless as a dream. When VR becomes widely available, it will not be seen as a medium used within physical reality, but rather as an additional reality. VR opens up a new continent of ideas and possibilities (from: VPL product brochure). Lanier, the first major star of the virtual reality firmament (from Wall Street Journal to Rolling Stone), has come to symbolise the virtual reality industry.  I met him during a conference in 1990 in San Francisco. He talks fast and apparently in parallel, several lines of thought being expressed at once. He does not care much about suits and business formalities. So for the moment he is out of the virtual business and he still wears dreadlocks. VPL was the premier virtual reality company and supplier of head-mounted displays and gloves to the rest of the virtual research and development industry. The company underwent a reorganisation in late 1992 that left Lanier out of the company's operations and French capital in control of VPL's patents.
Power To The People
Lanier's goal of virtual reality is still the goal for the simulation business: to create a simpler, more effective, human-computer interface. As virtual reality consolidates in its various applications, it presents itself in many technical forms as doorways to virtual spaces. Types of interface equipment used in bringing about virtual experiences include:
* Visual displays (monitors, goggles, periscope booms, and direct eye scanning)
* Body movement and gesture tracking devices (data gloves, body suits, or infrared tracking)
* Mobility devices (motion platforms, treadmills, trackballs, flying mice)
* Verbal interaction through spoken commands.
Definitions and technologies vary and often generate debates. Most professionals in the field agree that virtual reality is a way of enabling users to participate directly in real-time, 3D environments generated by computers (Mecklers 1993).
Another factor in virtual reality is the relationship of personal contact which the users experience. The relationship from a first or second person point of view defines their ability to move around within their virtual space and defines how much the users participate directly in the virtual world. In a first-person relationship the user has direct control (as much as possible) over her involvement within her virtual environment with the ability to create change and react to it with demonstrable results. Examples include any head-mounted display, hand manipulated 3D monitors or cab simulator environment (Mecklers 1993). A second-person experience is one where the viewer stands outside the imaginary world, but communicates with characters or entities inside it. In the third-person scenario, the viewer is outside the <<action>> all together, and is merely an observer, such as movie or theatre audiences are today.
Meckler's Virtual Reality 93 Conference, May 1993, in San Jose demonstrated that a variety of virtual reality technologies (based upon access devices and type of inclusive experience) are currently being researched and developed. During the Meckler Conference the following seven categories or applications were in focus:
1) Immersive 3D in first person. These systems are the standard and include the full-immersion systems which provide first-person interaction within the computer-generated space via the use of equipment such as head-mounted 3D displays, hand manipulated 3D visual displays (for example BOOM; Binocular Omni-Orientation Monitor, from Fake Space Lab), gloves and audio systems providing binaural sound.
Virtual reality can increase the simulation possibilities by supplementing with advanced equipment: Body sensors attached to one's dress (<<body condom>>) which receive stimuli and send signals will increase the interactive movement and precision in navigation. Mobile capsules will strengthen even further the simulation of speed and movement. With the use of such advanced equipment, the body movements can co-ordinate with the 3D representation.
2) <<Through the Window.>> With these systems, the user sees the 3D space from <<outside>>, through a computer screen and steers his way through the virtual space using a control device such as a spaceball, or a <<flying mouse.>> This is the poor hacker's version of virtual reality. Among the essential components of desktop virtual reality are the stereoscopic display glasses that perform the same function as a head mounted display, while allowing the user to see clearly everything else in the room. One example is CrystalEYES, stereoscopic display glasses from StereoGraphics Corporation.
3) <<Artificial Mirror World.>> With this type of artificial reality system, users see electronic or video duplication of themselves which they control by manipulating their image. This provides a <<second-person>> experience in which the viewer stands outside the imaginary world but communicates with characters or entities inside it.
You can be interactive with your projected self and virtual objects on a big screen. With this type of artificial reality systems the user sees electronic or video-projected duplications of himself in an imagined room. Myron Krueger's classical installations from the 1980's are an example of this. Here you yourself can see and manipulate the projected picture of yourself and communicate with artificial objects, but all the time you are <<outside>> the imaginary world (Krueger: 1992a). Krueger was the first, in the early 80's to launch the concept of artificial reality. He is one of the central forerunners of virtual reality. The Mandala System, devised by the Vivid Group is based upon Krueger's concept, and allow the user to play music within the virtual world simply by touching objects observed on the video monitor. It is all done by physical motion, without touching any input device.
Night-clubs in Los Angeles and San Francisco have adapted Krueger's concept for the dance floor. In Dragonfly in LA for example, you can dance with beauties and beasts. LA Times (Mon. Feb. 22 1993) reports as follows: There was a virtual reality erotic playground. Step onstage and you're incorporated into a <<video projection environment>>...Modern Primitives and cyberpunks rubbed elbows...for a night of <<TechnoErotic Stimulation>> , <<SimStim Overload,>> and other <<cyberorgasmic >> phenomena.
4) Virtual Reality-games. Of increasing importance to the virtual reality industry - particularly within the location-based entertainment field - is a type of <<first-person>> 3D immersive <<standard>> technology that includes the cab simulator environments. The experience is directed towards the user as though he were in the middle of the activity.
In London, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo there exist <<virtual>> arcade amusements games supplied by the English firm W. Industries. Currently there are more than 350 units installed in 17 countries (Brill 1993). The games are marketed under the name Virtuality, and Cyber is marked on the machines. The virtual reality games have simple 3D graphics and are experienced by means of headset. In spite of simple graphics these new games are a potent expansion of the old arcade machines from the amusement centres.
W. Industries released a game in January 1992, where multiple users are linked through four networked Virtuality units. In this new game Legend Quest, located in Nottingham, the players fight as a team against the villains created by the computer. All players share the same virtual space, where they can see and speak to each other as they explore forest, castle and a multilevel dungeon. Players can choose among 18 possible characters - available in both genders - among different professions. Further character customisation is made when the player signs up. Height and hair colour are programmed to personalise the player's appearance. Players can also use a vocaliser to change voice to match the character. The more the players collaborate , the more they score in the game. The Battle Tech Centres in Chicago and Tokyo also feature virtual games (from Virtual World Entertainment) for six players. Visions of Reality's first centre will contain 18 pods and opens this autumn 1993 in San Francisco.
Virtual reality video games will be superhot next Christmas, when consumer virtual reality finally hits us. Watch for Sega's Virtua Sega a 32-bit colour 3D virtual reality helmet for video games ($150-200), plus the Activator, a full-body interactive controller for Genesis ($80). Nintendo will also produce virtual reality games for the home market in the near future. From a Press release, August 1993: Nintendo, the world leader in video games, and Silicon Graphics, Inc., the world leader in visual computing, announced in August 1993 an agreement that will transform video entertainment by developing a truly three-dimensional, 64-bit Nintendo machine for home use. Nintendo's <<Project Reality>> is the first application of Reality Immersion Technology, a new generation of video entertainment that enables players to step inside real-time, three-dimensional worlds....The product, which will be developed specifically for Nintendo, will be unveiled in arcades in 1994, and will be available for home use by late 1995. The target U.S. price for the home system is below $250. ...The <<Project Reality>> effort will create Nintendo's next-generation system featuring realistic graphics, high-fidelity audio and record setting speed. At the heart of the system will be a version of the MIPS Multimedia Engine, a chip-set consisting of a 64-bit MIPS RISC microprocessor, a graphics co-processor chip and Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs). For the first time, leading-edge MIPS RISC microprocessor technology will be used in the video entertainment industry creating new levels of speed, realism and excitement. The graphics co-processor and ASICs provide the specialized audio, video and graphics capabilities. The same MIPS RISC microprocessor family today powers computers ranging from PCs to supercomputers.
5) Virtual Telepresence (telepresence is a temporally or spatially distant <<real>> environment - for instance, a distant space viewed through a video camera, or an animated space synthesised by a computer, for instance, the animated space created in a video game). Within virtual reality, these technologies include the telepresence technologies with remote-controlled mechanical manipulators where an operator is remotely connected in real-time by a head-mounted display or another sort of remote manipulator.
6) Tele-virtuality - the convergence of telecommunication and virtual reality. Two or more persons <<meet>> each other's representations in a 3D virtual reality space via high capacity supernet: for example, Brenda Laurel from Silicon Valley, Izumi Aizu from Tokyo and Paul Virilio from Paris can visit a virtual art gallery together. Two or more persons can reside in the same virtual room at the same time. They can alter the objects in the room as required and they can interact. Virtual reality via supernet is for the time being in an experimental stage; it is a long-term goal for the research and development in virtual reality business.
Carl Loeffler (Carnegie Mellon University/The Norwegian Telecom Research/ University of Oslo) has investigated the basis for multiple users located in distant geographical locations to conjoin in the same virtual, immersion environment. His projects employ telecommunication hardware, as well as the hardware associated with virtual reality: data eye phones and multi-directional navigation devices. Loeffler's first technical demonstration, based on modem connection (9600 baud), was conducted in September, between Carnegie Mellon University and the EXPEDITION 92 conference, Munich, Germany. Users at the participating sites had independent viewpoints and ability to move objects within a shared immersion environment - a Networked Art Museum (Loeffler: 1993). Visitors at either end could see each other and move through the museum independently. Visitors can enter several galleries. In one called Funhouse the user chooses a body to move around in. Having a complete body is fun, especially in the room where the user parade past virtual mirrors that warp the image of the user's body.
7) <<Voomies>> - is Jaron Lanier's name for Virtual Movies. Collaboration between virtual reality freaks from the Bay area, San Francisco and Hollywood is on the verge of creating a new concept - <<voomies>>. Lanier: They'll use high quality graphics and hardware, with head-mounted displays for the audience. We'll have live performers called <<changelings>> who will become virtual animals and other virtual beings. They'll also tell jokes, help audience, and control the virtual world to respond to each group. It's a new genre of performance art (Lanier 1993:20). The <<voomies>>concept suggest the use of technology as an elaborate ritual space. >>Voomies<< will give the user both a second and third person perspective.
Here, There And Everywhere...
According to the dictionaries, virtual is an adjective which says something about relating to, or possessing a power of acting without the agency of matter.  The term says something about having the power or acting or of invisible efficacy without the agency of material or sensible part (Webster). Virtual also means almost, what is stated (Longman). (In English everyday situations virtual means effective or, being functionally or effectively but not formally of its kind). The concept <<virtual>> was used within optics in the early 19th century to describe the reflected picture of an object. At the beginning of the 20th century physicists were writing about virtual speed and virtual moment. The concept of <<virtual>> is still used by some physicists to describe movements of sub-atomic particles which are so quick that they cannot be seen. Originally <<virtual>> stems from the Latin meaning <<strength>> and later the Italian adjective <<virtuoso>> - a person who masters his/her art completely through a supreme skill. The echo from this original meaning survives in the ecstatic reports of virtual reality. Virtual reality has got a mythological power of attraction; here comes the technology where all your fantasies can be played out and edited - provided they are in digital format. Until now there has been a lot of <<hip(pie) hype>> and too little advanced simulation.
Virtual reality is both business and utopia. Much of the confusion in the debate on virtual reality stems from the meeting between technological rationality (the engineer and the enterprise) representing a concrete and practical side, and the cyberpunkers and post-modernistic philosophers from other galaxies. I myself am a constant commuter and travel in all directions between these two positions. Torn between technophobia and being a technophile I search for bits of fractals which can help in the configuration of virtual reality in the global hologram.
Lucy in the Sky with Data
In criticism of civilisation and debate on modernity, one operates with a human essence as a biological and physical being; the first nature. History is all about the interplay between the constant being in first nature and the social and cultural field in the man-made second nature. This simple nature-culture dichotomy is found in more refined and differentiated versions, but the basis of modern cultural theories is always the antagonism between first and second nature. Analytically this pair of contrasts has had an irresistible influence and power. With virtual reality the first and second nature is in the process of disappearing or merging into a synthesis: the third nature or culture's digital field. Behind the screen Alice enters a post-human state. The self becomes integrated as part of a junction in the global computer network.
The third nature has been featured in science fiction novels. The term cyborg, coined at the beginning of the 1950s, is a science fiction abbreviation for a cybernetic organism - a fusion between the human and the machine. The term portends a collapse of the classical /culture antagonism and accentuates the development which started with false teeth, prosthesis, hearing aid, pacemaker, face-lifting, silicon breasts, etc. The body is supplied with more and more artificial parts - the end of the development process is an <<artificial>> body. Parts of the brain's nervous system are connected directly to a computer network. The brain is gradually replaced by a computer. Cyborg is at present still a literary term and a topical theme in films such as Bladerunner, Robocop and The Terminator. Whilst science fiction novels and films depict man's path towards becoming cyborg, there occurs in parallel a real integration of the human machine. In research milieus, work is progressing on a neuro-interface to develop audio and visual prostheses, functional neuro-muscular stimuli and prosthesis control via implanted neuro-systems, etc. Bio-sociological research within complex self-generating and self-referral systems is another example. Information technology and virtualisation not only encompass humans, nature and culture, but are also about to outdate the genre of science fiction. We are in the process of realising science without the fiction.
In the 1970s, well-known science fiction authors felt research and technology were breathing down their necks. A blaze-trailing attempt to renew the science fiction genre took place in 1984 when William Gibson's novel Neuromancer appeared. The famous opening passage shows how the distinction between the organic and the artificial merge together : The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel (Gibson 1986). Here the term cyberspace is introduced as: A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts....A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the non space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights...(Gibson 1986:67). In this post-industrial landscape the natural space has disappeared - everything has become a digital space. Mankind is not, however, completely lost in cyberspace. Gibson's term cyberspace is a reduction of this overloaded and all-embracing digital space into something which the post-humanist can comprehend: Gibson's fiction-inspired designers of virtual reality. The novel can be read as a description of virtual reality in a high-capacity network.
The metaphor cyberspace is a source of power which permeates the whole novel and constructs the scene where the antagonistic integration between man and machine is unfolded: Human <<flesh>> versus metal, human memory versus computer memory. The world is dominated by the global data network - The Matrix - with a tremendous abstract interaction of data and pictures: dance of data. Workers in information technology and data bandits use their sim stim decks (virtual reality system) to link up to the Network and to travel the data roads. Access to information regulates the power hierarchy in Neuromancer - either when it is a question of the least sub atom's or zaibatsus' (multinational corporation's) game or forceful paranoia. Access to information gives elite status, control and possibilities.
The story itself in Neuromancer is based on familiar clichés: The hero Case, who exhibits points of similarity to Chandler's and Hammet's heroes, is an urban computer cowboy in a mythical post-industrial landscape. Case wants revenge on those who have put him out of action. He does not wish to live like the "little man" with office job, office worship, office burial (Gibson: 1986). Such a life on earth is an imprisonment in a wretched body. His body only exists when the hero meets his "femme fatale" and <<e-jaculates>> into her body. Everytime he connects up with the Matrix, his body is separated from consciousness and the post-human Case travels in cyberspace. Gibson's original style in this novel and the presentation of the surface texture in the electronic manner provide the main theme of the cyberpunk genre: denaturalisation of the body and how man tackles information technology (McCafferey 1991).
Gibson's melancholic techno-irony started an international subculture for young data freaks: cyberpunks. Gibson's literary colleague and friend Bruce Sterling has characterised the cyberpunk as a post-human hybrid who offensively operates in zones of the post-industrial society. According to Sterling, the cyberpunk novels belong to the near future, while the cyberpunk himself belongs actively to cyberspace today. "Cyberspace is where your bank keeps your money". ( Statement from Sterling in a panel debate during the Third International Cyberspace Conference, University of Texas at Austin, May 1993). The New York stock exchange (Wall Street) is busily occupied in developing a virtual reality system - and believes it can give a synopsis of the world economy. He also mentions the expansion and activity taking place in 45,000 BBS systems (Bulletin Board Services) in the US as an example of a part of today's cyberspace. Global Data Network is another example. In Mirrorshades Sterling argues that information technology is radically changing human nature and redefining the self (Sterling 1986). He says in the preface to the book that technology is not on the outside of us, but the next thing in us: Under our skin, often on the inside of our mind. Cyberpunk literature has as its theme virtual reality's hold on man and culture.  What the flâneur is to modernity, the cyberpunker is to postmodernism.
Today the cyberpunk, like other adolescent subcultures, is torn between the subversivness and conformity - where irony, idolisation and commercialisation circulate. Gibson - who is really the father of the subcult cyberpunk - denies his paternity. Timothy Leary, however, the zeitgeist chameleon, lays claim to the spiritual paternity. Leary proclaims the cyberpunks as the new heroes of the information era, for it is they who use all available data to think for themselves (Leary 1991:245). They are wise, creative and brave reality pilots who with high tech will transport us to a new social order distinguished by self-realisation and self-rule. The slogan is: <<Free access to information and the network>>! Did the most euphoric cyberpunkers forget melancholy and irony when their stamp collection was replaced by a PC and a modem in their teenage bedroom? Melancholy in this connection is the brutal lack of a feeling of belonging which comes with the saturated systems. One realises this when the hope of balancing between good and evil, truth and falsehood, has disappeared.
Gibson and Sterling have at any rate managed to maintain an ambivalence in their relationship to technology. Information technology is determining and penetrating, but at the same time they both emphasise that the man on the street uses information technology in his own way. Amongst the leading cyberpunkers the technological determinism is united with social de/reconstruction. It has fallen to cyberpunk to narrate a new subject that repeatedly narrate a <<new subject>> that can directly interface with and master cyberspace. This subject has become a terminal identity - or a virtual subject (Bukatman 1993). A virtual subject is an unmistakably doubled articulation in which we find both the end of the subject and a new dispersed subjectivity constructed in cyberspace.
The cyberpunker is aware of control and loss under the conditions of post modernity, but channels his resources into creative use of information technology. The development of cyberspace and network of high capacity can, according to Gibson and Sterling, lead to accentuation of a cultural free determination - and lead us outside a formal regulated world and into the unknown virtual world. We can then be liberated from the presumptuousness which characterises earlier known meanings. Advanced versions of cyberspace can in the future help to develop our sense of curiosity and the pleasures of astonishment. The individual can interact over distance. The whole of history's arsenal of figures, milieus and styles can circulate in and out of the virtual systems in step with the trends and pleasures of the moment. We are still waiting for Gibson's advanced stage of Cyberspace and the Virtual Man, but we can already explore the wonderful world of Internet today.
The only responsible intellectual is one who is wired
Whenever new media technologies emerge, predictions arise about the creation of mediated communities. The melting pot of Internet, BBS-systems and networked multimedia applications has already given the inflorescence to a collective imagination of another world; cyberspace - where bodies, self and cultures constitute in a new geographic landscape; or a trans-space: Collective structures risking themselves in novel circumstances, reworking the structure of sociality, inventing a geography of elsewhere - and in the process, reinventing the links and tensions between bodies, selves, and communities. The alter-space within the vast electronic webs by means of which most of the symbolic exchange of the world already takes place is the first of many elsewhere. This (un)real estate, supporting a different mode of existence from face-to-face sociality...is already home to thousands of communities whose impact outside the nets is only just beginning to be appreciated. The inhabitants of these virtual communities thoroughly internalize the Homo ludens mode of sociality - working from narrow-bandwidth cues, acting as if they inhabited common social territory (Stone 1992: 620-621). Allecquerre Stone is convinced that what is happening now marks a major change in <<mental geography>>. Maybe it is too early to say precisely what cyberspace will look like in the future, the outcomes may include new forms of democratic, totalitarian, and hybrid governments. Optimism about the information revolution should be tempered by a constant, anticipatory awareness of its potential dark side (Ronfieldt 1992:243).
Internet and Usenet, also known as Netnews, are the closest the telecommunications community has come to cyberspace or networked virtual reality, so far. Internet is a large collection of computer networks throughout the world that provides electronic mail services. Usenet is a distributed computer mediated communication system in which a subset, holding about one million user identities, of the Internet community participates. [4 ]The Internet, a loosely organised international collaboration of autonomous, interconnected networks, supports host-to-host communication through voluntary adherence to open protocols and procedures defined by Internet Standards, a subset of which is commonly known as <<the TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) protocol suite. Currently there are well over 1.700.000 hosts connected to the Internet, in more than 50 countries. The Internet electronic mail connection stretches even to 127 countries around the world and perhaps as many as 25-30 million users world-wide are connected.
In order to participate in Usenet, one must have access to a node which allows newsgroups. Not all Internet nodes have Usenet available for its users because newsgroup information uses much storage space. The common goal of Internet and Usenet is the exchange of information. There is little governmental control over either group. Issues pertaining to the entire Internet-community are decided in work groups and newsgroups, respectively. The only absolute power is held by the site owners of each local site; it is at their discretion to decide who has an account and who does not. It is at the discretion of the site owner which newsgroups are represented in the site's Usenet space. Internet and Usenet form a decentralised and complex space with a weak central government and local rulers.
When one enters cyberspace, one enters a different place which need not conform to the laws of reality as we know it in everyday life. Cyberspace communicates information over spatial and temporal distances. This information may be used for training, simulation, education, or entertainment, in other words, anything for which information is currently used and more.
Cyberspace purely consists of symbolic interactions between <<wireheads>>. There is no real physical component corresponding to the virtual representations with which one interacts. If it is true that social reality has a subjectively defined existence, rather than what in some objective sense exists, then cyberspace is a new form of a social reality space because people accept it as 'real' when they are in it.
Cyberspace is not only about the enabling technology of virtual reality, 3D user interfaces, networking, data visualisation, high speed computer graphics, and so on, but also the nature of cyberspace as such, conceived of as an independent realm, a shared virtual environment whose inhabitants, objects, and spaces are data, visualised, heard and (perhaps) touched. My paper seeks to reach an understanding of how the components of cyberspace already <<under construction>> in the development and design of graphic user interfaces, knowledge navigation, <<cyberpunk>> discourse, cultural studies, MUD's (Multi User Dungeon), Internet, hypermedia and virtual systems might someday function together. Will the future create a trans-public cyberspace, as well as private, special-purpose cyberspaces: viable, 3D, alternate realities providing the maximum number of individuals with the means of communication, creativity, productivity, mobility, and control over the shapes of their lives within the new information and media environment?
The first MUD (or <<Multi User Dungeon>>) was already developed in 1979 as a multi-player Dungeons and Dragons game. By the Autumn 1992 there were 207 multi user games based on 13 different kinds of software on Internet. MUD's provide worlds of social interaction in a virtual space, worlds in which you can play a role as close or as far away from your real self as you choose. The self is not only decentred but multiplied without limit. According to Sherry Turkle, this gives an unparalleled opportunity to play with one's identity and to try out new ones. In this text based cyberspace that already exists today, people are exploring, constructing, and reconstructing their identities. Players and <<wire-heads>> are creating ...communities that have become privileged contexts for thinking about social, cultural and ethical dilemmas of living in constructed lives that we share with extensions of ourselves we have embodied in program (Turkle 1993).
What are the impacts of cyberspace on the social structure, education and human experience? Who or what are you on the Net? Are cyberspaces themselves <<nature>> for post-modern man? How do cyberspace communities differ from real-space ones? How might they develop in the future? The paper will give a report on work underway or achieved in the area of innovative human-computer cyber-interface which promises or delivers spatial immersion at different scales and subjective distances. Theory of modes of electronic information and theories of meaning as extended from the purely cybernetic realm to the realm of human perception and communication will be discussed. Can cyberspace be decentralised and individualised? As visual images, texts and sounds circulate in cyberspace, we may expect a thorough exteriorization of knowledge.
In Medias Res
The term <<virtual reality>> tickled a different giggle in me every time I heard it...The researchers are reinventing the world from scratch, at least pieces of the world...The connection of kids and animals and Disneytype animation...was starting to make sense. We are banging our heads in the playpens of another level of understanding (Brand 1987:113).
McLuhan's mediascape seems to be another vision of cyberspace: Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned. Rapidly, we approach the final phase of extensions of man - the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society....(McLuhan 1964:19). Virtual reality may develop a variety of new cognitive skills, changing the mapping of the senses in terms of the way you act, and the inferences you derive from what you are getting back from environment.
In the earliest pilot studies on the potential of virtual reality, one of the common areas noted is that virtual reality seems to be the perfect learning environment. Simulations in virtual reality make experience a composable medium with implications for education. Rather than simply automating the teaching process, it could transform what we teach. Rather than teaching facts or even concepts, virtual reality could present a rich variety of casual laws, communicating that there are many ways that objects, actions, and events might be related, that there are many possible ways of looking at them.
At the University of North Carolina a virtual reality computer is being used to simulate particle docking in chemistry. Rather than studying the abstract properties and then determining the vector strengths of attractive and repulsive forces, the students may actually feel these forces by manipulating the molecules in virtual space. Sensor feedback in the hand-mounted device provides resistance and allows the user to manipulate molecules and develop an intuitive feel for docking procedure, a skill that used to be taught in theory by using diagrams and formulas. The educational goal for virtual reality will be a simulation based environment that minimises interface, or the distance between user and interactive content of the external pedagogical intention. Virtual reality can, for example, give a 3D response to the following situations: What if you could fly like a bird? What if you were crawling around inside the mouth of another person? What if you took all the measurements and the movements of your physical body and somehow put them through a mathematical function that allowed you to learn to control six arms at once with practise?
Two crucial ontological and epistemological questions emerge from virtual reality and cyberspace: The ontological question is about being: What is real? Is there a reality behind appearance? The epistemological question is about knowing: what is truth? Is knowledge the product of reason or of experience? For most scientists, neither question is particularly relevant, because they operate in working systems that are used to tell reality from appearance, truth from falsity. In virtual reality, reality is no longer secure, no longer something we can simply assume to be there (Lanier 1992). Not even sex remains the same.
Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine (James Brown)
Sex is a virus that infects new technology first (van der Leun 1993:74). Interactive CD-ROM pornography is already big business. Most famous in the first generation of cybersex is Virtual Valerie created by Mike Saenz. Future Sex, a magazine from San Francisco has already presented a prototype for the second generation of cybersex, including software and hardware, 3D display, 3D input device (glove), advanced interaction and realistic video/audio. The magazine describes the love machine, which has one model for the man and another for the woman, as a very active simulation.
The idea of virtual sex is not new. Nam June Paik (avant-garde video artist) gave a description already in 1965: Someday more elaborated scanning system and something similar to matrix circuit and rectangle modulations system in colour TV will enable us to send carrier band. e.g. audio, video, pulse, temperature, moisture, pressure of your body combined. If combined with robot made of rubber from expandable - shrinkable cathode ray tube, and if it is <<une petite robotine>>...please, telefuck! with your lover in RIO (Nittve & Helleberg 1988:109).
Later in 1974 Theodor Nelson (central in the development of hypertext and designer of XANADU) coined the term teledildonics, which means interactive tactile sex-simulations. Later Rheingold developed the term: Picture yourself a couple decades hence, dressing for a hot night in the virtual village. Before you climb into a suitably padded chamber and put on your 3D glasses, you slip into lightweight bodysuit...with the kind of intimate snugness of a condom. Embedded in the inner surface of the suit...a mesh of tiny tactile detectors coupled to vibrators of varying degrees of hardness, hundreds of them per square inch, that can receive and transmit a realistic sense of tactile presence... Your partner(s) can move independently in cyberspace, and your representations are able to touch each other, even though your physical bodies might be continents apart. You will whisper in your partner's ear, feel your partner's breath on your neck. You can run your hand over your partner's....(Rheingold 1991:346). Rheingold describes a technology that does not yet exist. There are several current approaches to the problem of how to create sensors and gloves which <<push back>>, but with enough computer power and with advanced high-speed telecommunication it is possible to develop teledildonics with <<smart skin>> in future. Do we want more virtual sex? We already have phone sex, Internet- sex and CD-porno.
Is it a virus, a drug, or a religion? What's the difference?
There are many examples of persons undergoing tests in flight simulators and actually fainting when they <<crash>>. Nausea and dizziness during use of virtual reality can arise when there is: ...a compelling sensation of self-motion without any corresponding visceral cues (Aukstakalnis & Blatner 1992: 263). I experienced dizziness after active participation in the game Cybertron. The game offers a total physical immersion inside a computer generated space from its colour head-mounted display to its four channels CD quality audio subsystem to its gyro mechanism using one's body weight and inertia. Virtual reality can create problems connected with sense intake and consciousness; we do not realise today the extent of such problems (Biocca 1992b, see also Appendix). In the future researchers have to do a better job discriminating between the effects of virtual environments generally and the specific consequences associated with particular pieces of gear. We should keep this perspective in mind when we judge conclusions from different reports:
Regan and Price (members of the Special Psychology Research Group at the Army Personnel Research Establishment, Farnborough, UK) have investigated the frequency of occurrence and severity of side effects when using an immersive virtual reality system. The equipment used in their test included a Division ProVision 200 system, a Virtual Research Flight Helmet, a Division 3D mouse, and a Convolvotron 3D audio system. The environment was a corridor with doors and rooms behind them. Subjects visited the rooms and moved objects around. Subjects were volunteers and included both military personals and civilians. The results of the study show that out of 150 subjects, 61 per cent reported symptoms of malaise at some point during a 20-minute immersion and 10 minute post-immersion period. The discomfort ranged from symptoms such as dizziness, stomach upset, headache, eyestrain and light headedness to severe nausea (Regan & Price 1993).
3D images can be critical for our eyes. The strain of watching 3D images disrupts the eye's ability to refocus normally and could cause long term eye damage. Kageyu Noro (of Waseda University, Japan) launched his study on the effects of watching artificial 3D images after finding himself abnormally tired after watching them. He found that eyes took more time than normally to refocus after 3D images for an hour (Source: the English version of The Daily Yomiuri newspaper, July 7, 1993, Issue 15454).
In cyberspace speed transforms the meaning of the human race
(Taylor & Saarinen)
Every second millions of bits of information are absorbed through the sense apparatus. Advanced virtual reality will accentuate the flood of information. How much can we receive through our senses? There is controversy about this in neurophysiology and cognitive psychology, but there is agreement that we can absorb in our senses many millions of bits per second and that our consciousness or imagination only <<translates>> a few pieces. This means that out of all the information which streams into the brain from the sense apparatus, only a marginal amount is consciously perceived. One estimate of the ratio between the sensory channel's capacity and the conscious perception is one million to one (Nørretranders 1991:165). In that case, only a millionth part of what the eye sees, the ear hears, the nose smells, the tongue tastes, etc. remains in our consciousness.
Virtual reality is about to become an automatic perception generator, even though smell and taste, inter alia are fundamentally lacking. Advanced virtual reality can give skin a sort of touch. Virtual reality will in the future be perfected so as to optimise the sense intake. It is difficult to say precisely what and how much will reach consciousness or sub consciousness. Here, the direction and design will play a decisive role. Also, we should ask: What happens over time with apperception - the further interpretation and working out of the perceived in virtual reality? It is at any rate clear that the self, the language and the body will literally be the fields in which virtual reality is engraved and reproduced.
What consequences will virtual reality have for perception? If we assume that many people use advanced virtual reality often, then there will be limitations on how much of the breadth and intensity in the visual, audiotive and tactile simulations can be absorbed by the senses and further processed. A bombardment by virtual reality will strike against a threshold for the individual's perception and cognition. According to Michael Heim: The deepest peril of the interface is that we may lose touch with our inner states. He means:...not to lose the acute sensivity to our bodies, the simplest kinds of awareness like kinaesthetic body movement, organic discomfort, and propriosensory activities like breathing, balance, and shifting weight....this awareness constitutes the background for the psychic life of the individual (Heim 1993:81).
The process of perception and cognition can be <<stressed>> between <<over-load>> and selection. A direct result of stress from the info-sphere can be a overloaded <<cyber-self>>, located in no organ of perception yet created, with the desire to cross the human/machine boundary (Pesce 1993). Maybe our perspectives on virtual reality are constrained in modern knowledge based on a perceptual vernacular. Perception is re-configurable, and perception will perhaps be developed and mediated from cyberspace itself. Cyberspace means entering a space with unspeakable complexity - we can only hope that we have the capacity to develop and to reconfigurate a more sensitive cyber-sensorium.
The debate on virtual reality should quickly change its focus from hardware and software to the individual's perception and cognitive experience. In relation to our consciousness we can say that virtual reality simulates the reality processes <<direct>> into the brain. Through virtual reality the <<outer>> world begins to think inside us. Virtual reality generates <<real>> experience in an electronically mediated world for the self.
Benjamin Woolley in Virtual World has given us a thorough introduction to the fascinating sides of virtual reality. At the same time he makes this critical comment: Empowered by the personal computer, liberated by virtual reality, the individual becomes the God of his or her own universe. The sight of someone wearing a virtual reality headset is the ultimate image of solipsistic self absorption, their movements and gestures meaningless to those outside (Woolley 1992:9).
Virtual reality is like all technology - ambivalent. This <<ambivalence>> of technology is distinguished from neutrality by the role it attributes to social values in the design, and not merely the use, of technical system. On this view, technology is not a destiny but a scene of struggle. It is a social battlefield...a parliament of things on which civilizational alternatives are debated and decided (Feenberg 1991:14). Virtual reality can be a <<cultural atom bomb>> one of history's finest inventions in the right hands, but a dreadful weapon and means of power in the hands of villains (Schade & Steiniche 1993:117).
Bruce Sterling argues that in the near future : ...the American military-industrial complex have migrated entirely into Cyberspace (Sterling 1993:99). The market for virtual war simulation is estimated to $ 2.5 billions per year (Sterling 1993). Military virtual reality is not a toy or a joke. There is a lot of vapourware in <<virtual reality>>, but this technology definitely will help people kill each other. Virtual reality happens to be very fashionable at the moment, with some ritzy pop-cultural overtones, but that is accidental. Whether or not VR becomes a major new medium of commercial entertainment, or some vital new mode of artistic expression, it still will be of enormous use to the military. Thriving civilian VR will probably make military VR expand even faster; giving the virtual battlefield better and glossier set designs (Sterling 1993:98).
At the Combined Arms and Tactical Training Center in Fort Knox (USA), the troops enter SIMNET - a virtual war delivered via network links - they can interact in a virtual war. Simulations (non immersive) in SIMNET of actual battles are now available showing the actual training of tank, helicopters and jetcrews. The American precision bombing of targets in Iraq was possible because the pilots had already carried out the war operations several times in virtual reality. The Gulf War was the world's first virtual war - from screen to screen. Computer simulations played a major part in the technical armoury of both sides in the war. Virtual training in SIMNET paid off. The American pilots had flown over the areas and let loose their bombs under virtual training.
Mark Pesce (from Ono-Sendai Corporation) has been involved in the design and implementation of Sega's Virtua (virtual reality game for the home market). He is also concerned and argues that virtual machines can be employed in malevolent ways: ... either by themselves or through the agency of others, they can speak to and subvert us at our most vulnerable inner selves. We have created the most potent technology for mind control since the advent of human culture; if we remain ignorant of this potential we will inevitably pay a heavy price for it. The potentials for addiction and enslavement do not outweigh the potentials for creative play and communication, but to ignore one and focus on the other is both short-sighted and foolhardy (Pesce 1993:29).
From a culturally pessimistic perspective, the consequences of virtual reality will be quite enormous, intensifying the impoverishment of aesthetic matter so drastically that by tomorrow the thinly veiled identity of all industrial culture products can come triumphantly out into the open, derisively fulfilling the totalitarian project - the fusion of all culture and arts into one work. This is a scenario already presented by Oliver Stone, in his totalitarian fable Wild Palms.
I Just Want a Decent Place - Where People Respect Reality
Oliver Stone's new mini TV series; Wild Palms takes place in Los Angeles in the year 2007, where the realisation of virtual reality, with its seductive 3D holograms, becomes a futuristic mind-control nightmare (ABC, May -93). The mini-series creator and writer Bruce Wagner, whose <<Wild Palms>> surreal comic strip runs in Details magazine, shares his dense insanity with the paranoia of Stone.  Stone's television debut further accelerates the blurring of traditional movie-making boundaries. In the film director's <<post-modern>> style making, with sixties fashion mixing with the Edwardian suits, all the characters in this cool family psychodrama overplay the obvious. In his show, about a dozen heroes and villains fight for control of a society that is rapidly becoming hooked on <<virtual reality>>.
As the Wild Palm story opens yuppie lawyer Harry Wyckoff (Jim Belushi) is leading the good life with his cosy wife Grace (Dana Delany) and two kids.[ 6] In the first episode Wyckoff gets a job at a TV network that is about to launch 'virtual reality' technology on to the viewers. The process converts television transmissions into three-dimensional holograph programs beamed into people's living rooms.
Tommy: Total immersion -- eighty million polygons per second! He creates worlds and projects them onto the glasses -- Stereoscopic; you see it in 3-D. The computer senses your movements; make adjustments as you turn. You're totally inside a synthetic world.
Harry: Too weird! The Web - so real! I mean, I've played around with virtual reality toys, but <<this>>! (Quotes from the Wild Palm's script)
The tech fantasy underneath Wild Palms involves a confusion of several technologies: virtual reality merges with nanotech, genetic engineering, psycho pharmacology, wetware, holography, data compression, televangelism and kid snatching. Combined with incest, revenge tragedy, racewar, corporate intrigue, addiction - we have all the key elements in the sunshiny menace of this imaginative eye-popping mini-series. And the evil senator who owns the network tries to use it for political domination - megalomania in megalopolis. As two cults battle it out, rhinoceroses keep reappearing and characters are rarely who they appear to be. The technology blurs the line between illusion and reality. It turns out Wyckoff's mind is being manipulated by a patriarchal mysterious movement; the <<Synthiotics>>.
Ted Koppel: (interviewing Senator Tony Kreutzer about the <<Synthiotics>>, [his support group], virtual telepresence, and his bid for the presidency): One social critic defined the quasi-religious movement as, and I quote, 'a dangerous cult of techno-shamanists whose members worship its billionaire founder while proselytizing dark visions of brave new realism'. Just what are the goals of Synthiotics, Senator, and what role will the group play if you're elected?
Senator (V.O.): Ted, you forget Time magazine. They called us the <<riptide for reality surfers>> (from the script).
The mainstream and the <<Hollywood-subversive>> meet in Wild Palms. On one level the nightmare scenario is delivered with an ironic wink to the viewer. TV is oppressive, but you have not been taken in by it, since you are watching this show. Television is the opiate of the masses, and a new more advanced television will be even more addictive. Stay cool and smart - because after TV comes virtual reality - a much more dangerous medium. On another level none of us is fooled by this obvious sophistry in this dark soap opera. Media can jokingly speak the worst truths about itself and remain TV. This is a transparent paradox - reassuring all viewers that they are too smart to be duped by TV, and simultaneously reassuring them that they are part of TV's community of simulation. The ironic paradox itself is a topic in Wild Palms - a TV show about TV. Wyckoff is a hero and too smart to be controlled by virtual reality TV. The final shot is a sunset-drenched ode to the American Family. Hero Wyckoff gives a <<when all this is over>> speech about : I just want to find ...a decent place where people respect reality. Wyckoff's romantic declamation is a message from a luddite: Too hot and late - media merges with reality already - and virtual reality is here.
Our senses are fooled in one way or another all the time. There is no surprise in finding virtual reality can do it even more elaborately. The real scene has been lost. No screens are more real than others, no bodies more real than their images on screens. There is no more auratic body. We cannot resort to nature or society and locate reality. We have from now on in our societies, with the media, the computers, the circuits, the networks, the acceleration of particles which has definitely broken the referential orbit of things (Baudrillard: 1988). We used to live in a modern world with a personality based on real-space, where the ideal situation operated at a co-present level of contextual self-monitoring talk. Today the real scene and the mirror have given way to a screen and network. The modern <<original>> universe is disappearing. In the image of the connected computer in the Network the surrounding universe and our bodies are becoming monitoring screens. The digital society develops the drifting self in a private imaginary time of parallel worlds. Each individual sees himself promoted to the control of a machine, isolated in a position of perfect sovereignty, at an infinite distance from his original universe (Baudrillard 1993). We no longer exist as playwrights or actors, but as terminals of multiple networks (Baudrillard 1988:16). The Baudrillardian theorising of the drifting fractal subjectivity in the global virtual process describes the same phenomenon as cyberpunk literature: We are becoming cyborgs. The post-modern Alice is in cyberspace.
Stone's hysteria with theatrical staging of the autonomous subject and <<the real thing>> misses the point that in the terminal history of cynical sign only the virtual world of technical culture can materialise, and only those cultural codes coming under the sign of a cynical rhetoric are imminently reversible, and thus always put in play in cyberspace. The simulacrum takes the place of virtual reality...And why not? In the simulacrum, reality itself disappears, just vanishes, and what takes its place is a mediascape infected by the dynamic logic of hyper-reality. A society of the hyper-spectacle with such intensity that the commodity-form finally breaks free of its grounding in materiality, becoming a sign-form in a circulating machinery of immaterial desires. And not a static world either, but one which can be ruled by the language of seduction: where things are only interesting when they can be flipped at terminal speed to their opposite extreme, forced to undergo a quick cycle of imminent reversibility. Cold seduction, then, for cool hallucinatory culture of special effects' personalities moving at warp speed to nowhere (Kroker 1992:64-65).
Reality sucks, get virtual!
In the modern era, legitimisation took the form of a narrative in a set of stories about the growth of knowledge and culture. Big Science! The collapse of metanarrative as a legitimising or unifying force marks the end of the modern era. Cyberspace emphasises language and the world of <<post-modern>> knowledge can be represented in the game whose goal is the creation of new and ever-changing social linkages.
It is perhaps fruitful to see society as an advanced virtual reality installation where everybody is linked together through supernet, but the installation lacks a central head mounted display so that everybody can see and hear everything. God and the central perspective are dead, after all. It is no longer sufficient to communicate sensibly as if we still belonged to one public sociocultural unit (or in German: <<öffentlichkeit>>) with rational patterns of actions and traditional linguistic expressions. Virtuality is the dominant sign of contemporary techno-culture. Virtual reality is the recoding of human experience by the digital codes of computer wetware. Virtuality is a challenge and belongs to a different heterogeneous passage.
Virtual reality can promote both what is known and unknown. The designers or <<space-makers>> of virtual reality must take representations or maps which we are familiar with. Only a pre-defined world can be represented by symbols in a designed virtual reality. The virtual machines and software which will enter the market in the years to come will probably be characterised by familiar maps and rule orientation. User areas can be games, instruction or training and research. Such machines are cheaper to produce than machines with more intelligence. Only the very intelligent machine will be capable of tackling the complex quantities of information and so develop readjustment capabilities. Such machines linked to a supernet can lead us outside a world of formal rules and into an unknown, maybe <<postsymbolic>> space. We can then be freed from the arrogance which lies in the earlier known meanings.
Advanced virtual reality at its best can in the further contribute to developing the joys of curiosity, astonishment and the process of unusual learning (Ziehe 1984). The whole historic arsenal of figures, environments and styles can circulate in and out of the virtual systems keeping pace with the trends and desire of the moment. The individual can live <<many lives>> and interact over distance. At its worst, advanced virtual reality will absorb the subject totally. One's response to virtual reality will not be characterised by distance and judgement, but perhaps only by the fascination of the moment.
Virtual reality as a technocultural bricolage swings between order on the one hand and chaos and complexity on the other. Virtual reality must be understood using concepts which can embrace the manifold diversity of virtual experiences and which can tackle firmly the ambivalences between the following contrasting features: tactile and digital, fixated and flexible, centred and dispersed. Or like the phrase of a reply made by the android Roy Batty in the film Bladerunner:...if only you could see what I've seen with your eyes!
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Future Sex (1992): Issue 2
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Usenet: sci.virtual-worlds conference
Videodrome (Director: David Cronenberg, 1982)
Blade Runner <<Directors Cut<< (Director: Ridley Scott, 1982)
Until The End of The World (Director: Wim Wenders, 1991)
The Lawnmover Man (Director: Brett Leonard, 1992)
Wild Palms (Director: Oliver Stone, 1993)
Sega game could cause eye damage
- By Steve Connor and Susan Watts
(From Independent 6th September, 1993)
A new toy that allows children to play computer video games in
'virtual reality' could permanently damage their eyesight.
The equipment - a headset which beams stereoscopic images on to both
eyes - is already in use in such hi-tech amusement arcades as London's
Trocadero. Sega, the Japanese computer games company, intends to
launch a home version in the United States later this year, and in
Europe next year.
Tests of virtual reality headsets on adults produced visual problems
which scientists believe could be far more serious in young children.
One fear is that the toys could lead to permanent squints.
Two groups of researchers, one at Edinburgh University and one in the
Ministry of Defense, have detected side-effects in adult volunteers
who wear the 'head-mounted displays', which produce an illusion of
reality by giving all-round, three-dimensional vision of moving
objects. Such equipment is already used by the military and by
commercial designers who want to see their work in three dimensions.
The Health and Safety Executive has set up an investigation of the
headsets because of fears raised by a research team led by John Wann,
a lecturer in human perception at Edinburgh. 'Our results suggests it
seems particularly unwise to introduce them as a toy for children,' Dr
Wann said. 'If they are spending more than a few minutes with these
headsets, there are serious considerations for their eyesight.'
Mark Mon-Williams, an optometrist, said that people who used the
headsets for 10 minutes showed similar visual disturbances to those
who spend eight hours at a computer screen. 'It's amazing what you are
asking your eyes to do inside the headset,' he said.
Of 20 young adults who took part in a 10-minutes test, 12 experienced
side-effects such as headaches, nausea and blurred vision. Mr
Mon-Williams said that a particular concern is that the headset puts a
lot of strain on binocular vision, which is fully developed in adults
but is more liable to break down under stress in children under 12
years, causing squints.
The Edinburgh findings are supported by researchers at the Army
Personnel Research Establishment at Farnborough, Hampshire. In a test,
61 per cent of 150 volunteers reported symptoms such as dizziness,
headaches, eyestrain, light-headedness and severe nausea.
Mr Mon-Williams said the main problem stems from the headsets severely
straining the eye muscles, leading to slightly cross-eyed vision. A
slight misalignment of the two images in each eye produces a visual
disparity that the muscles try to correct.
Andrew Wright, software product manager for Sega in Britain, said that
the new product would be tested extensively before coming on the
Other health problems associated with virtual reality are beginning to
emerge: a form of travel sickness is affecting people who spend too
long in virtual environments. Symptoms such as nausea and
disorientation are brought on by the slight time-lag between people
moving their head and the scene they are immersed in 'catching up'.>>
University of Oslo,
The Faculty of Social Science,
Institute for Educational Research
P.O. Box 1092, N-0317 Oslo 3 Norway
Tel: + 47 22855383
Fax: + 47 22854250
Beneath it nothing but a great simulacrum. (Thackeray)
 In fact, "virtual" has since 1972 had a specialised meaning in computer science, attached to memory. A "virtual memory" system is a system of storing data not in the machine's fast or random access memory(RAM), but "on call", to be brought back as needed. "Virtual reality", then, is an image of reality, stored in memory and accessible to the computer, without quite being on the spot. A second feature of "virtual" is that it might not in fact include any text written by its author. It could instead be a collection of links into interesting sources.
 Already in 1967 Guy Debord describes, in La societe du spectacle, the growth of the " play-acting society" where the "real" and "natural" and everything which was directly living has moved away and in the representation, into the skin. Jean Baudrillard has later developed this perspective from Debord through the theory of simulacra.
 Today, more than 43,000 of these inter networks are used by countless educational institutions, enterprises, and government agencies in every major country of the world for daily information sharing and collaboration of staff. It has grown very rapidly to constitute a multibillion dollar market. In addition, nearly 13,000 are connected together to form the vast information mesh called "Internet". The Internet is a fast growing network, expanding from what used to be a researcher's network into a network that serves all kinds of organisations.
 "JFK" is considered by many to be a classic in the annals of contemporary paranoia. In a mischievous cameo role, Mr. Stone briefly appears in Wild Palms as himself, being asked by a talk-show host if he finally feels vindicated now that all the "files" have been opened.
 At a party near the beginning of Wild Palms ,sci fi author William Gibson is brought on like visiting royalty for a cameo performance part. "Neuromancer" , another character helpfully jogs viewers' memories, adding: he invented the term cyberpunk. Yep, Gibson is nodding with winning sheepishness. Gibson : - and no one will ever let me forget it.