How the Virtual Eclipses the Real – As Seen in a Commercial

The word virtual has become, for most people, a euphemism 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, it 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 physical gold mine or to think that he is either gold or a mine, or both.  There is no actual, no physical, goldmine. Rather his knowledge has aspects of a gold mine (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 in some of the qualities of the dead (unmoving, unconscious, lying down, etc). But he is not dead.

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 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. Many people spend more time interacting with Facebook friends than physically interacting with actual family members and friends. 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 will be seen to have their heads in their phone and be only vaguely present to the real meeting (see photo above right).

I have noticed some tourists here in DC so buried in their phones (perhaps studying about a particular monument), that they spend less time looking at the actual monument. Some fiddle so much to get the picture that they really miss the actual moment. A picture is not real (it is virtual, it shares aspects of the real thing but us not that thing). We spend a LOT of time with our eyes focused on a virtual world, and often neglect 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 has 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 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 and our world becomes smaller and our personal formation more stilted.

Even more so, our patience at listening and being a “captive audience” has declined and we are increasingly demanding that everything should appeal to us quickly. Otherwise I should be able to click on a new bookmark, change the channel, of 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 our obsession with the virtual while the real passes by.

13 Replies to “How the Virtual Eclipses the Real – As Seen in a Commercial”

  1. No internet is needed for this problem. We get a good dose of it merely by being human and spending much of our time anticipating the future or remembering (often with nostalgia or guilt) the past. Some of us have the problem worse than others as an occupational hazard. I find myself drawn into books and thinking about conceptual problems that draw me away from the few short years that have been allotted to me. I force myself to really notice how blue the sky is from time to time; I don’t think I have the ability to just *imagine* a shade of blue like that.

    But do you remember the song “Pure Imagination” from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”? I have thought for two decades that it is a chilling description of Hell: a life of pure imagination, with possibility of reaching reality. One of the most disturbing dreams I have ever had, which I only know of having experienced once, was a dream in which I knew I was dreaming, but I could not wake up. (In the dream I put on a recording of Haydn’s “The Creation”. I awakened when it finished saying (in German), “And God said, ‘Let there be light.” And … there … was … LIGHT!!!!”)

    1. That should have been, “… a life of pure imagination, with NO possibility of reaching reality.”

    2. I always thought of Willy Wonka as an allegory for Satan. Successful, mysterious man, has enslaved a small tribe of pigmies, makes his guests, who are mostly children, taste something he calls “snozzle berries” (which, if we read some of Dahl’s other works, will find out has a pretty disturbing meaning).

      “Hell, in short, is a place where you have nothing to do but amuse yourself.” —George Bernard Shaw

      Satan likes to prevent us from going on real adventures. He wants us to be fat kids dreaming about being super heroes instead of real ones.

  2. Thanks for reminding us that all this modern gadgets are just for us to get into an immediate access to friends but they are not substitute to actually talking to them face to face. Listening to them most especially face to face, seeing their actual expression and speaking to them face to face and heart to heart will build a relationship that is real. I know of a Filipino Priest and in fact a Vicar General of our Diocese and a Shrine Rector too, don’t use a Cell Phone and has no Facebook Account. Yet he is a mellow Priest, i consider him holy, and he is dispensing his mission great. His only way of communication is the Telephone and if you need to contact him urgently, you go see him personally. In using this modern gadgets, i must see to it that it will not control my being human. And i must use it for mission of spreading God’s words and to choose the links that will empower and inspire me towards the greater glory of God. Therefor it means i must be sensitive to share the good and battle the evil.

  3. eAddiction is a real problem. In a prophetic statement about 10 years ago, the Pope and the Vatican talked about this becoming a tremendously harmful situation. Our ability to interact in real time is how we were created. It is how we spread God’s love and care for others. It is how we toughen our ability to endure that which is not necessarily “perfect” for us and become more resilient.

    Instead, we see an increase in sedentary lifestyles sitting in front of a computer leading to obesity. Texting and phone related surfing leads to more and more accidents and as you can see from the commercial examples, serious injury. In our own local news, a student was surfing his phone while on a bike and in spite of his helmet, suffered a traumatic brain injury when he had an accident because he wasn’t paying attention.

    Our devices are tools, not umbilical cords. They need to be under our own disciplined control, not the other way round. Let’s pray for this generation to break the bonds of eAddiction.

  4. Re: Martha & Mary of Bethany (Luke 10:38-42). I love this story. I can imagine Martha on her iPhone, pulling up tantalizing menus and pictures of the perfect place-setting layouts and floral arrangements, twittering that Jesus was home for dinner, maybe even snapping and sending e-photos of Him. In contrast, Mary would have had the good sense to leave her electronic gizmos behind and sit at the feet of Jesus, mesmerized. …The saints have warned us to live fully in the present moment, with childlike wonder, for this is where we find God, if only we would listen.

  5. All things on earth are good. Whether any one of these become a source of death is a choice made. Once upon a time Monsignor you wrote about moderation. Using moderation everything will be in good order and life giving/promoting.
    In one of the movies that celebrate virtual life ie The Matrix Trilogy there is a relevant statement. ie “You need to jack out.” Yes jack out. Hopefully Monsignor does jack out off his blogging apparatus to live in the real world often, doesn’t he?

  6. People often appear stranges as they walk around texting, but I don’t think that is the big problem. I think the government is the big problem.

  7. I’d like to recommend the book,

    “At the Interface: Theology and Virtual Reality” (Tuscon, AZ: Fenestra Books, 2004) by Sr. Mary Timothy Prokes, FSE with foreward by Cardinal John P. Foley.

    Sr. M. Timothy is also a professor of Systematic Theology formerly of NDGS of Christendom College and now posted in Belgium.

  8. Seems like all this this virtual (long existing and new) will end up creating an illusion of randomness that confuses the light of truth which would otherwise makes us free.

    1. After an unusually busy shift at work I forgot to put in part of my original. In Exodus 13:14-16 there’s a bit about the Passover that seems to tie in. It concludes with a comment about something that will be like a mark on the hand and a symbol on the forehead then, in 1 Kings 10:14 and in 2 Chronicles 9:13 Solomon’s annual income in gold was cited as 666 talents. Other incomes, in spices and other, were not mentioned in quantity.
      But, in Revelation 13:18 there’s a mention of 666 as being on hand/forehead,
      This, and the thought of artificial randomness that confuses, seemed to come as a unit and perhaps there’s warning(s) about imitations of God’s ways to confuse us.
      Every time I see something about that which truly appears random( with exception of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle that I don’t understand yet) I eventually find that there’s no randomness, just that I need a closer look at God’s natural creation to, at least, grasp the mystery.

  9. The virtual world has grown to be a really exciting “world” I must say. However, there a number of cons to it too that we should be aware of.

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