Home / Blog / What if …Reality+Digital Reality becomes … Reality – II

What if …Reality+Digital Reality becomes … Reality – II

Second Life took the headlines of magazines and newspapers several years ago. It has now faded from the everyday perception of most people although it is still being used by several people and even companies. Image credit: Second Life

I mentioned at the end of last post situations where digital world can represent a reality that is not to be found, pinpoint, in a specific physical objects. There is much more.

Remember Second Life? In a few years it created a world wide mania where everybody wanted to develop a “second life” in the cyberspace and several companies created offices and shops in the cyberspace. Mind you, those representations were, are, clearly artefacts and no-one could mistake them for real life. Yet, from a psychological point of view a few people felt they were living a second life in the cyberspace. That is another way of looking at Digital Reality, creating something in the cyberspace that can be -psychologically, emotionally- perceived as reality. People met in Second Life, spent time sitting on a bench looking at (the avatar of) other people walking along…

The peak of interest faded away (in a very few years) partly, I think, because the visual representation was too “cartoonish” to support a feeling of reality. You can get a feeling on how Second Life looks today by watching this video.

It was interesting to note, and that is why I am referring to Second Life, that some people fled from the physical reality to find a cocoon in the digital reality. This is not the only case. Actually, there is a lot of concern about youngsters preferring to retreat in the cyberspace, finding there their reality, rather than facing and living in the physical world interacting with real people. As technology progresses and becomes able to deliver real-life experiences in the cyberspace some feel this problem will become worse. Communications has already, to a certain extent, shifted to the cyberspace, people meet in the cyberspace, develop an attraction and quite often when it comes the time to break a relationship they do that in the cyberspace. This loss of the human touch is clearly disturbing. Other prefer to see the glass half full and say that the cyberspace provides and “additional” reality where people who have problems in expressing themselves in the physical space can find a support, possibly training themselves to live a better life in the real world.

Second Life has faded away from the spotlight,  but the need of people to have a second life in the cyberspace is still very much a … reality. Facebook, Tinder, you name it, have in a way taken up the needs fulfilled by Second Life, getting rid of the “cartoonish” part and letting people create their second life, or second personality, using images, voice and text. Facebook is not underestimating the role that VR can play and has acquired Oculus Rift investing, and keeping investing significant money in the hope that VR could eventually provide a stronger feeling of community and more sophisticated, actually more natural, sharing. Tinder, and other apps facilitating people connection, have the ultimate goal of bringing people together in the “real life” but I won’t be surprised to see them extending their biz model to facilitate virtual encounters, as soon as digital reality becomes more… real.

In this view the Digital Reality is opposing the Physical Reality.

  • Shouldn’t we focus our endeavour to create a better reality, rather than wasting resources on creating a Digital (fake) Reality?
  • Are we pursuing Digital Reality because it is easier to create a pleasing (sellable) digital reality than improve the Physical –real- Reality?
  • Isn’t Digital Reality a parallel to the LSD movement of the 60ies in societal terms, with technology replacing chemistry to provide an alternative world (it is not surprising, in this view that there is a call for detox from the cyberspace, Apple’s latest features on the iPhone to provide awareness on the time spent on line are aimed at responding to this concern)?

All these are tricky questions, but, in some ways, they are moot questions since this is what is happening, and some people are starting to wonder who will be the winner in this fight.

Really, I am no expert. What I notice is that all of this is often providing a bad halo on the idea of pursuing a Digital Reality. The very fact that we are calling it Digital Reality highlights that it is not the “real thing”. This is the first reason why I am no longer comfortable with the name.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.