Imagine when you go to a grocery store to buy toothpaste. Will you buy the brand which often shows up on TV commercials or the one that you have never heard of but with lower price? I assume that most people, including me, will buy the first kind of toothpaste. Is it really better than the second one? Not really. Economists probably might say that the first one is more expensive is not because it is actually better than the second one but is because it has TV commercial cost. Then why are people still buying the first brand? Is it the magic of advertisements?
Sherry Turkles in her article “Virtuality and Its Discontents” , Virginia Colwell in her article “Mail-Order Brides: The Content of Internet Courtship” , and Charles Baxter in his article “Shame and Forgetting in The Information Age” all talked about how virtuality affects our lives. TV creates a virtual world where everything is perfect, and more importantly it is controlled. All the commercials are talking about the good aspects of a product but never the bad ones. People even name some products as the brand name, like Kleenex for tissues.
People then use that virtuality when they go buy things at stores because they think the products will make the reality perfect like the virtual world, but they never do, since virtuality is created reality, and should not be confused with life. They can complement each other, but they are different in many ways. At the beginning of her article, Turkles describes a scene of people having coffee in an internet cafe. Why do people prefer sitting in front of a computer “talking” to someone they have never met rather than going to a real cafe, sitting and talking with real friends?
She later makes a valid point saying that women are actually building a world when they read novel, which suggests that a virtual world is helping people create a dream which can never or hardly come true in real life: “Romance reading becomes a form of resistance, a challenge to the stultifying categories of everyday life. ”(56) Virtuality, as mentioned before, is a perfectly created reality and everything in the virtual world is imagined by people’s will. In these circumstances, people prefer the virtual world rather than the real world where unexpected things always happen and rule people’s actions.
From above, we can now understand why people regard virtuality as a way of escape from real life. As Turkles says in her article, “MUD friendships are more intense than real ones, and when things don’t work out you can always leave. “(57), but if they have a fight with others in a real cafe, they cannot leave the situation unsolved. This results in the consequence that more and more people are indulging in virtuality. When people come out of it, they can no longer get used to reality so that they prefer not coming out at all.
Though virtuality brings us relief and helps to release us from stressful work, it also makes our generation selfish and less concerned about others. The more time you spend in virtuality, the less time you share with friends and family since we only have 24 hours a day. Think about the virtuality-indulged kid in a family that always pretends to be deaf when parents tell him that dinner is ready. People don’t care about anything when they are in virtuality. Therefore, virtuality creates a lack of responsibility in our society. In virtuality, everybody is just a created persona without human emotions.
Consider online shooting game is an example. Teenagers, especially boys, love guns. As technology develops, they can easily play shooting games online with other people. People try their best to “kill” each other, which cannot cross over to real life. It is dangerous when they indulge in these games and mix the virtuality and reality up. One won’t be shocked or sad when he killed someone else in the game, but if the guy keeps that cold feeling to real life and shoots whenever he wants or when he is not happy, people will be gone forever.
It is not a game where one can always press the quit button when he fails or is unsatisfied. The vivid example is that before the virtual shooting games became popular, campus shootings did not happen as often as they do today. It is not a coincidence but definitely related. The most recent campus shooting happened in Northern Illinois University last month and the biggest one throughout American history in Virginia Tech should arouse the attention of our society. People are relying on the information in virtuality but not their own experiences in reality.
Colwell provides another form of virtuality in her article: “In the format of the Internet what emerges is an imagined array of sensations which merely compensate for a lack of reality undermined by hyper-reality. ”(730) Here, girls are like labeled products with name, height, weight, occupation, etc. , and are ready to be picked by men. Men use the provided information to form their own image of the girls, and then choose the perfect one according to their preference. Baxter also mentions in his article that the more data information we get, the less experience we can have. It is true because the capacity of our mental space is limited.
Here in the mail-order case, we might think in this way: suppose all the information about the bride is true, it indeed can help a man find the significant other, but he still does not have the sweetest memories of falling in love. While we recognized the bad aspects of virtuality, it is not entirely harmful. One example is that our life is becoming more and more convenient due to e-mail contact, online-shopping, etc. The question is, how can we use good advantages of virtuality to improve our reality? Our goal has always been to make our real lives better so we create virtuality, but since people over use virtuality, our lives get worse.
Turkles answers the question how to use virtuality as blow: Having literally written our on-line worlds into existence, we can use the communities we build inside our machines to improve the ones outside of them. Like the anthropologist returning home from a foreign culture, the voyager in virtuality can return to the real world better able to understand what about it is arbitrary and can be changed. (57) We should always go out of virtuality with what we have learned and use that in reality. If we don’t leave our mind out of virtuality, we cannot lead happy lives.