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Virtual is NOT the Same as Real – As Seen on TV

January 23, 2015

For most people, the word “virtual” has become a synonym for the Internet or the computer world, as in “occurring or existing primarily online.” But the word virtual has an original meaning that is actually quite descriptive of a modern problem.

Prior to its application to the computer world, the word virtual meant being something in effect, though not actually, or expressly being such. In other words, something virtual has aspects of the real thing, but is not the real thing. So, in the sentence, “He is a virtual goldmine of knowledge on the subject,” one would be silly to look for a physical goldmine or to think that he is either gold, or a mine, or both. There is no actual, no physical goldmine. His knowledge has aspects of a goldmine (value, worth, depth) but he is not an actual goldmine.

The adverb “virtually” means, for the most part, almost. In other words, it is close to the thing, but is not the thing or quality described. So in the sentence, “He was so exhausted, he was virtually dead,” he is not, of course, actually dead, but, rather, shares some of the qualities of the dead (unmoving, unconscious, lying down, etc.).

So virtual may mean “almost,” “like,” or “similar,” but NOT “is.” The virtual is not the full reality. It is lacking in existence and other important qualities of the actual reality.

And this is a very important truth to recall in today’s “virtual” world of the Internet. Many people are substituting too much of the virtual for the actual. They spend more time interacting with Facebook friends than physically interacting with actual friends and family members. Many people digest large quantities of virtual Internet life and only small amounts of real life. In an actual meeting with real people present, many have their heads in their phones and are only vaguely present in the real meeting (see photo above right).

I have noticed some tourists here in DC so buried in their phones (perhaps reading about a particular monument), that they spend little time looking at the monument itself. Some fiddle so much to get the perfect picture that they miss the actual moment. A picture is not real, it is virtual. It shares aspects of the real thing but is not that thing. We spend a LOT of time with our eyes focused on a virtual world while often neglecting the real world among us.

A strange migration has happened for many today wherein we interact more “virtually” than really. As a result, old-fashioned things like dating, marriage, meeting new people, and just getting together with friends have declined.

Another problem with the virtual world is that it is, most often, self-defined. We select our favorite sites and bookmark them. We set up Facebook filters, RSS feeds, Twitter feeds, iPod playlists, and the like. In effect, we create our own little virtual world. Meanwhile the real world, with all its diversity and less desirable things, is increasingly neglected. Our world becomes smaller and our personal formation more stilted.

Even more so, our ability to listen and be a “captive audience” has declined. We increasingly demand that everything should appeal to us quickly. Otherwise we should be able to click on a new bookmark, change the channel, or skip to the next song in the shuffle. But the real world is not quite so accommodating. Patiently listening and working with what “is” seems more odious as we start to prefer the virtual to the real.

Well, let the following video make the point. Enjoy a humorous look at how virtual notions do not work in the real world.

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Comments (8)

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  1. Abby Schult says:

    terrific Father. Thanks for reminding me how usage does and can change the definitions of words. Rather than definitions dictating usage. Great video.

  2. CT says:

    And that’s exactly why I am NOT on Facebook, Twitter, or any other of the now too numerous sites that falsely assume “friendship” or “conversation”. I don’t in fact, even have a “Smart Phone” (although my husband’s phone is much dumber than mine), i-pad, tablet, or laptop. We are left behind in the 90’s, old, madly in love and have actual hobbies that we are involved in, in addition to Church.

  3. one anonymous says:

    The video makes a point. Who wants to live in a artificially illuminated fish bowl with people watching all the time and even some tapping on the glass mocking you with little fish mouths… no one!

  4. Richard Connell says:

    I read this poem once, I was suppose it was all poetic fancy, about a man who spent five years of his life in a bar, from opening to closing. Things would happen in the bar such as Chuck’s arm catching on fire, and people would say things like, “hey, look, Chuck’s arm is on fire.” This is just my vague recollection. Then, the bar owner put a tv in the bar and people stopped amusing each other and just sat there watching the tv. The poem ends, as best I can recall, with the poet saying that he spent the next seven years of his life on a Greyhound Bus.

  5. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    Some people have even developed a virtual language by habitually using the word, “like” in their conversation. It’s as though what they are telling you really didn’t happen or isn’t true. It’s similar to what they are trying to describe but not exactly. We have a young priest who is the vocation director in residence. He habitually ends statements in his homily by saying, “Right?”. I wonder if he has some doubt about what he saying.

  6. TomD says:

    Father, I’d never quite thought of it as you’ve described it . . . the distinction between virtual and real and how it relates to our approach to life today. It is as if we create our own reality – virtual – in order to escape, and perhaps hide from, that which is real.

    Often when I observe people in public places, I find myself, more and more, observing three/four people sitting together, not talking with each other, but interacting separately with some mobile device. I’ve always found it both strange and sad.

    What you’ve written is quite illuminating and has given me pause. Thank you.

  7. Peter Wolczuk says:

    It seems as if people have lost trust in the tangeable world. As conveniences which make tasks easier and creature comforts furhter evolve it seems like they are somehow flawed in that they take us away from the real meaning of what was done or what was made because the conveniently made, or done, become more artificial and superficial than that which was made, or done, in the older (and more time consuming) way.
    Like the comforts and conveniences have robbed us of the subjective that makes achievements more real and, hence the increasing loss of trust.
    The loss of trust appears to take much of society away from what’s real and head to the virtual and its instant gratification that short circuits away from the “captive audience” and its deeper, and more observant, focus. Hence, that which one kind find beyond the physical becomes less real. That would likely include intangeale scientific aspects like radioactivity, electric current in a wire. Sure, we can see the results of current when we flick a light on or read a volt meter or touch a bare wire when standing in a puddle of water. The current itself is not so obvious. Also, things of the spirit as one looks beyond this level but doesn’t exist above the virtual sidetrack.
    Like alert sheep who lived on the open ranges, but that have been moved to feedlots.

  8. Peter Wolczuk says:

    Entered the previous reply then, had a light lunch on Robbie Burns Day here. Ate in a leisurely manner and a reference drifted gently to me.
    The virtual, it seems, is like the adulterous woman in Proverbs 7 who seeks to lure us away from our partnership from the world which God hath wrought and live in the virtual world of cyberspace where answers seem easier because there is no need to discern when instant, and false, gratification promotes an idolatrous faith in her.
    Followed, a bit after, by Isaiah 47 but, the fit didn’t seem so matching as in the proverb but; where the warning felt somewhat more impactful.
    The lunch was hardly Scottish, Bavarian smokies and vegetables, however I made a point of having oatmeal for breakfast in honour of the day.