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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Who are the world-makers?

“World makers, social network makers, ask one question first: How can I do it? Zuckerberg solved that one in about three weeks. The other question, the ethical question, he came to later: Why? Why Facebook? Why this format? Why do it like that? Why not do it another way? The striking thing about the real Zuckerberg, in video and in print, is the relative banality of his ideas concerning the “Why” of Facebook. He uses the word “connect” as believers use the word “Jesus,” as if it were sacred in and of itself: “So the idea is really that, um, the site helps everyone connect with people and share information with the people they want to stay connected with….” Connection is the goal. The quality of that connection, the quality of the information that passes through it, the quality of the relationship that connection permits—none of this is important. That a lot of social networking software explicitly encourages people to make weak, superficial connections with each other (as Malcolm Gladwell has recently argued1), and that this might not be an entirely positive thing, seem to never have occurred to him.”

– Zadie Smith

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