Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Reality: Worst Game Ever

I can’t help but be reminded of the great film Tron when I think of cyberspace and cybertime. It reminds me of my youth when anything was possible (For those of you who are not familiar with the movie Tron, it is about a guy who gets trapped inside a computer game):

-----------------Click image for link to Tron Trailer---------------

But as I contemplate the innocent fantasies that movies like Tron conjure up, I come to realize reality is less lyricle and more like this :

My point from the above illustrations is that cyberspace can create a cyber-reality, a pseudo-reality in the sense that it tries to imitate our physical world. The problem is that this pseudo-reality can affect time and space, blurring the lines between our physical world and the world of wires. As professor Strate points out, “Immersed in the microworld, time seems to slow down relative to the outside world”. He then goes on to highlight a statement from Rifkin in his 1987 book, Time Wars:

“The really good video game players are able to block out both clock time and their own subjective time and descend completely into the time world of the game…they become victims of a new form of temporal schizophrenia, caught between two distinctly different temporal orientations”.

What Strate is alluding to and Rifkin states is that cyberspace has a different time then our physical world and this difference can have profound affects on our human behavior. I can completely relate to this because one of my friends has had an issue balancing cybertime with everyday time (by this I mean time based on a 24 hour period and the calender). My friend used to play world of war craft online. It was not unusual for me to be over at his apartment at 6 in the evening and come back the next day and see him still on the computer. I would protest that he was spending too much time on a stupid game but he felt like no time had passed at all. The cybertime created by cyberspace warped his sense of time in the physical world. The same thing happens to people who love facebook. They can spend hours browsing facebook and feel like minutes have gone by. This can have negative consequences.

My friend who lived on cybertime, spending it interacting with people via the world of war craft lost valuable human relationships. He became distant from many of his friends and almost lost his girlfriend of over 5 years. And what did he get for all this time spent online? An online game character that is well known around the globe and pseudo friendships with people he has never even met face to face (I call these friendships pseudo because none of them embody the characteristics of a true friendship which entails sacrifice, patience, loyalty etc.).

For the people who spend too much cybertime interacting with people on facebook, there is a real possibility that they will prefer this form of interaction over face to face communication. This in my opinion can be corrosive to the human experience of friendship because they lose out on the intimacy that physical interaction embodies. There is also a tendency for online communication to be short and to the point. This kind of communication is great for simple interaction but deep friendships are built on more. They need time, patience, comprehension and more then just a few words.

Disclaimer: When I talk about the negative affects of cyberspace and cybertime I have been referring to extreme cases. These are people who might already have some social “defect” prior to there engagement with the online world. All cyberspace does is help nourish this “defect”. There are plenty of people who manage there cybertime appropriately and build long lasting friendships via the web. What I am saying is more of a warning to keep things in equilibrium. Professor Strate says it best:

“We need not lose touch with the one-dimensional, but instead can use it (cybertime) as an anchor to a more stable and coherent sense of time. What is needed is a balance…”


  1. Good comments. Tron really was the first movie about a virtual reality, before that phrase was in use. It was an awful movie, with attractive special effects, and cyberspace there looked like videogames, which is also the way William Gibson described it in Neuromancer.

  2. I just bought Neuromancer but have not gotten to read it yet since I am in the middle of finishing Stranger in a Strange Land.