Is social media creating a dystopian virtual-reality, as foretold by so many sci-fi films?
A lot of people think so. They are afraid that this virtual world will somehow render the real world obsolete, leaving us to live through our online avatars.
But do we not already live in a virtual world?
It may not seem quite as sci-fi, but language acts as a virtual reality through which most of us see and understand the world. We categorise and label everything, and have rules of how to join these labels together. This creates a whole host of connections leading to abstract ideas and concepts on which we base our world view.
But words are not the same as the objects or the concepts they represent – easy to forget when we use them so constantly.
So the digital world may become a pervasive virtual world, similar to language, but still the question remains: Is that a good thing?
Let's look again at language:
- It has helped us decipher some of the greatest mysteries of the universe.
- It allows for a deep level of social interaction.
- It allows us to think in new and abstract ways.
When language is carefully crafted it can have astounding effects on us. Think of poetry, or even advertising and sales. These all use the interaction between language and the individual to evoke a response. So could a virtual world endow us with an exciting new level of interaction?
We already owe this virtual world for the development of digital photographs and video, not to mention all the creative energy that has found a place through graphic and web design.
Social media, then, is surely just a place where you can collect, store, and share these aspects of the real and digital world. You can connect aspects of your personality with digital media and link these with your friends, relatives and co-workers – or not, if you choose not to.
Can all this be as evil as some make out? Especially if it leads to greater understanding of each other, and a greater connectedness.
Perhaps the danger of social networks is that we could become too identified with our virtual avatars, perhaps to the point where we lose sight of the real world.
But let us leave you with this question: Can you separate the real world from the language you use to describe it?