Virtual or physical: Which world is real?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - 19:00

Right up front I should admit that I’m often easily confused, especially about matters that concern computers and the cyber world.

I recently sent an e-mail to a friend who is about to relocate to the lower 48, asking if she had landed a job. She e-mailed back that she might “go virtual.”

Half kidding, I quickly bounced back by asking if she was going to be strapped in a chair and hooked up like the people in the movie The Matrix. “If so,” I cautioned her, “watch out for the guys in the black suits wearing sun glasses. They all look the same and they like to beat people up.”

I didn’t hear back from her, so I sent another e-mail: “If you are planning on doing this, the only way I’ll be able to see you or talk to you is if I get in one of those chairs myself, and I hate the way they do the head hookup. It looks like it hurts.”

I realize not everyone has seen the movie The Matrix, or any of its sequels. Basically, it’s science fiction based on two realities: some people live in a physical world and the majority exist in the cyber world. Those in the cyber world are hooked up in pods and their existence feels as real to them as the people in the physical world (actors Laurence Fishburne and Keanu Reeves, for example).

I actually do know a few people who believe that all of us are really in the cyber world, and that this reality — such as the political folly in Washington D.C (like the Sequester and IRS snafus), Black Friday shopping insanity and the New York mayor’s campaign against large soft drinks — is all in our heads. In other words, we’re all bolted into pods or chairs somewhere imagining going to work, sending our kids to school, filling out income tax forms, eating Haagen Dazs ice cream, etc.

Such an existence would certainly cut down on living expenses. Since you wouldn’t be going out often (actually, never) you wouldn’t need a car or much clothing. But I can’t imagine how a human body could stay healthy locked in some kind of module with no opportunity for exercise. Perhaps, reminiscent of science fiction movies, our bodies would shrivel away to nothing, leaving gigantic, disproportionately large, space-alien heads.

The difficulty about talking with folks who really believe we’re cyber beings is that I can’t prove we’re not. In fact, when I see how locked in people are to iPhones and other electronic gadgets these days, I’m starting to have doubts about our perceived reality.

I guess it really wouldn’t be so bad being hooked up in the cyber chair if I could kick butt like Keanu Reeves, fly around anywhere I wanted, get the girl and save the day. But with my luck I’d probably wind up as some kind of cyber drone assigned to janitorial work or passing out flyers at the airport...not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just as some computers can do more than other computers, cyber beings would probably have limits assigned by the Keepers.

That’s the chilling reality — the Keepers. Who would they be and how would they ascend to their role? A couple of major power failures like we have here in Alaska every winter and a whole bunch of we cyberites would be wiped out. A computer virus could be quite deadly, and would the Keepers really care about our well-being? I doubt they’d even give our pods individual thermostats. I’m sure they’d place travel restrictions.

I haven’t heard back from my friend who is planning on leaving Alaska and it’s getting me worried. She might already be out there in cyberland. If you are, and you see this column online, please send me some kind of computer message to let me know you’re okay.


Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer from Eagle River. Write him at [email protected].

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