What happens when the virtual feels more real than the actual?

“From the early days of manned space travel comes a story that exemplifies what is most fascinating about the human encounter with modern technology. Orbiting the earth aboard Friendship 7 in February 1962, astronaut John Glenn noticed something odd. His view of the planet was virtually unique in human experience; only Soviet pilots Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov had preceded him in orbital flight. Yet as he watched the continents and oceans moving beneath him, Glenn began to feel that he had seen it all before. Months of simulated space shots in sophisticated training machines and centifuges had affected his ability to respond. In the words of chronicler Tom Wolfe, “The world demanded awe, because this was a voyage through the stars. But he couldn’t feel it. The backdrop of the event, the stage, the environment, the true orbit … was not the vast reaches ofthe universe. It was the simulators. Who could possibly understand this?” Synthetic conditions generated in the training center had begun to seem more “real” than the actual experience.

– Langdon Winner

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