Spice of life: Deep into the net of virtual reality
Today, we live in a world where virtual reality has come to define our lives more than anything else; and it is this small gadget in our hand that leads us by the nose into the world.punjab Updated: Mar 12, 2018 18:20 IST
Last year on a trip to Goa, we had just settled down in our hotel and I opened my Facebook when a message flashed on the screen. It read, “It seems you’re in a hotel in Goa, why not write something about the place?” I was stunned! How do these people know where I am? Am I being followed by some kind of paparazzi though I know I’m no Princess Diana!
This is the price we have to pay for being active on social networking sites. Today, we live in a world where virtual reality has come to define our lives more than anything else; and it is this small gadget in our hand that leads us by the nose into the world. An oxymoronic phrase explains the common scene around us, “Together, yet alone. Alone, yet not lonely!”
We are so comfortable living this chokingly customised life that we have become wary of direct conversation with people, because we don’t have any control on it; we are not sure what we are going to say next; whereas in the virtual conversation -- texting, posting, email -- all these allow us to present ourselves as we want to be. With the options of edit, delete, restore, retouch, photoshop, and filter in our hand, we give the best of ourselves: the best face, voice, text. We don’t regret sacrificing conversation to mere connection. American TV host Stephen Colbert has aptly put it in a question, “Don’t all those little tweets, don’t all those little sips of online communication, add up to one big gulp of real conversation?”
A feeling of disconnect with the real world takes us to connect with people on social networking sites, where we feel we can have a good number of automatic, patient listeners; and thus share our joys, grief, pictures, and activities on these pages, hoping to win appreciation from our friends. All this leads us to spend time with machines that seem to be caring about us; and with our virtual connections with whom we can experience ‘pretend empathy’.
Now the paparazzi side. These sites, not only provide their services to us; but in their hands, from customers, we become the product. Using the data that we provide them, they deconstruct us bit by bit, deeply studying our likes, comments, pictures, our choice of friends, and the common traits we share with them. And then reconstructing us into a new being, they sell to us our own standardised image - ‘what one quality defines you; what is the meaning of your name; who is your best friend’ etc.
They feed our ego by making us the most beautiful, most charming, most loved one, most successful and ‘young forever’ person. I have seen a number of my friends, just in three quick photoshopped pictures, turning into Bollywood/Hollywood stars! So enamoured are we by all this that we go on to spend more of our time on these sites; and this is what they want! Though I have not succumbed to these baits, yet at times I wonder on whose face my bifocal specs would fit in best — Madhuri Dixit, Madhubala or Marilyn Monroe!
The writer is a Patiala-based retired associate professor