Reflection for the 6th week.

Articles read:
Main Course
Eco, U. (1983). Travels in hyperreality. In U. Eco. Collection of essays: Travels in hyperreality (pp. 3-58.). Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.
Stone, S. (1995). Split subjects, not atoms. Or how I fell in love with my prosthesis. In C. G. Gray (Ed.), The cyborg handbook (pp. 393-406). New York: Routledge.
Sanes, K. (2002). Virtual realities: Then & Now. Available online at http://www.transparencynow.com/lascaux.htm
Side order
Sanes, K. (2002). Traveling Through Hyperreality With Umberto Eco. Available online athttp://www.transparencynow.com/eco.htm
Bradbury, R. (19xx). The Veldt. Available online at http://www.veddma.com/veddma/Veldt.htm

Eco, U. (1983). Eco applied a critical lens reflecting the phenomena of hyperreality happening in American's culture. The article started with the presentation of holography, one of the example of fake reality. Eco used a very skillful way to vividly describe the reproduced reality, some cases of which are more attractive than the real reality. Starting from the holography, Eco connected the Fortress of Sloitude, museum, wax museum, replication of arts, trip of paddle-steamer on Mississippi, the city of Las Vegas, Disneyland, Fantasyland, zoo in San Diego, etc. Across the great variety, Eco is making the point that the situation of hyperreality is driven by profit, by the desire of consumers. With this driving force, the hyperreality presentation generate the effect that "the Past is not distinguished from the Present" (pp.23), and the philosophy of "We are giving you the reproduction so you will no longer feel any need for the original" (pp.19) is widely practiced. All these make the Absolute Fake or the authentic fake take the unconsciousness form and permeate in people's daily life. Actually, Eco's article opens a door of understanding the reality related issue in a much wider picture, which is different from computer-based virtual world. Based on Eco's discussion, there are desire, curiosity, market-profit, ideology, and philosophy all involved.

What is Virtual Reality?
Before further my summaries for this week's reading, I need to understand the basic concept of Virtual Reality first. After browsing http://www.dictionary.com/, eight results show with very similar explanations. Example entry: The American Heritage Science Dictionary -- A computer simulation of a real or imaginary world or scenario, in which a user may interact with simulated objects or living things in real time. More sophisticated virtual reality systems place sensors on the user's body to sense movements that are then interpreted by the system as movements in the simulated world; binocular goggles are sometimes used to simulate the appearance of objects in three dimensions.

Similarly, on http://www.m-w.com/, the result shows:
Function: noun
Date: 1987
An artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one's actions partially determine what happens in the environment; also: the technology used to create or access a virtual reality.

Obviously, virtual reality by definition is computer origin. Our readings cover a wider picture of the issue. Here I need to clarify the Hyperreality from the dictionary version of virtual reality.

Umberto Eco is know as a philosopher. He defines Hyperreality as "The authentic fake". Besides him, Jean Baudrillard is another theorist who influences a lot for the development of hyperreality perspective. He defines Hyperreality as "The simulation of something which never really existed."

The following is some information helps me to understand Hyperreality (emphasis added). This information also helps me to recognize the different existence forms of virtual world in physical space and virtual world in cyberspace.

This article is about the concept of hyperreality as it applies to contemporary continental philosophy. For hyperreality in art, see Hyperrealism (painting).In semiotics and postmodern philosophy, hyperrealism (not to be confused with surrealism) is a symptom of an evolved, postmodern culture. Hyperreality is a way of characterising the way the consciousness interacts with "reality". Specifically, when a consciousness loses its ability to distinguish reality from fantasy, and begins to engage with the latter without understanding what it is doing, it has shifted into the world of the hyperreal. The nature of the hyperreal world is characterised by "enhancement" of reality. Some famous theorists of hyperreality include Jean Baudrillard, Albert Borgmann, Daniel Boorstin, and Umberto Eco.

Most aspects of hyperreality can be thought of as "reality by proxy." For example, a viewer watching pornography begins to live in the non-existent world of the pornography, and even though the pornography is not an accurate depiction of sex, for the viewer, the reality of "sex" becomes something non-existent. Some examples are simpler: the McDonald's "M" arches create a world with the promise of endless amounts of identical food, when in "reality" the "M" represents nothing, and the food produced is neither identical nor infinite.

Hyperreality is significant as a paradigm to explain the American cultural condition. Consumerism, because of its reliance on sign exchange value (e.g. brand X shows that one is fashionable, car Y indicates one's wealth), could be seen as a contributing factor in the creation of hyperreality or the hyperreal condition. Hyperreality tricks the consciousness into detaching from any real emotional engagement, instead opting for artificial simulation, and endless reproductions of fundamentally empty appearance. Essentially, (although Baudrillard himself would perhaps balk at the usage of this word) fulfillment or happiness is found through simulation and imitation of a transient simulacrum of reality, rather than any interaction with any "real" reality.

Interacting in a hyperreal place like a casino gives the subject the impression that one is walking through a fantasy world where everyone is playing along. The decor isn't authentic, everything is a copy, and the whole thing feels like a dream. What isn't a dream, of course, is that the casino takes your money, which you are more apt to give them when your consciousness doesn't really understand what's going on. In other words, although you may intellectually understand what happens at a casino, your consciousness thinks that gambling money in the casino is part of the "not real" world. It is in the interest of the decorators to emphasise that everything is fake, to make the entire experience seem fake. The casino succeeds in turning money itself to an object with no inherent value or inherent reality.

For further information on this topic please visit: http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/Hyperreality

This brief discussion cited above is in favor of Jean Baudrillard' definition, which is different from Umberto Eco's definition of Authentic Fake. For Eco, the hyperreality is created by professionals in arts, or technicians and craftsmen via reproducing historical scene, social creatures, or through presence of real physical and psychological experience of specific surroundings that individual can hardly experience otherwise.

After the Eco's article, Stone presented her discussion focusing more on computer based virtual reality.

Stone, S. (1995). Another compelling article. The article is actually discussing the cyberspace, about the computer-based "virtual". But Stone took another route, which is more vivid and deeper in unveiling the relationship of physical and virtual world. The discussion started analyzing the phone sex, by which Stone began her interpretation of mechanism of virtual reality: senses are involved and certain sense is heightened. Then Stone went back to the social change from mechanical age to virtual time. Under this environment, Stone's discussion on virtual reality experience is significant. Continuing the discussion on senses, Stone discussed the dual desire, "hypertactility" (physical) of technological objects and mysterious hidden organs (psychological). The discussion changed to "whereness" on cyberspace. Stone furthered her discussion by arguing that "a socially apprehensible citizen is a collection of physical and discursive elements" (pp.399). Then she developed the argument to virtual systems that "human act at a distance by delegating their agency to someone or something else that has the freedom to travel out of their sight, and if we follow that agency back far enough, eventually we can trace it to the original human's physical presence" (pp.400). At the second part of this article, Stone started on the paradigm of computers, and then focused on cyberspace related issues, such as prosthetic communication, multi-user computer games, and computer-generation. Comparing with people who support that there is nothing new for prosthetic communication and perceive the computer as barely information container, Stone implicitly showed her position in the "everything" camp, in which "computers are arenas for social experimentation and dramatic interaction, a type of medium more like public theater, and their output is used for qualitative interaction, dialogue and conversation. Inside the little box are other people" (pp.402). After that, Stone reminded the readers that the scale of individuals involved in cyberspace had changed dramatically which have been bringing around the importance of understanding the cyberspace, the developers of it and the generations of consumers of it. Finally, she alerted that virtual system might be dangerous because "the agent/body coupling so diligently fostered by every facet of our society is in danger of becoming irrelevant" (pp.404). To sum up, instead of a brief wrap-up, Stone tried to initiate more argument for the "good" of the cyberspace, "the troubling and productive space of desire, of play, and most of all, of possibility" (pp.405). This article is very enlightening to me to outline the multi-aspects involved in the computer based media research (which, in my understanding, is the main focus of the media research in education).

Sanes, K. (2002). It is interesting that Sanes used virtual realities as the title of this article. Basically he did not mention anything based on computer technology. He referred virtual realities to those generated by the symbolic codes, such as painting and words, etc. He interpreted the imitation realities creation of human beings as a way we bridge the world of nature and the human civilization history. Imitation realities (the realities created by taking the components of the actual world, and reshaped and recombined them, in conformity with its own fantasies and imagination.) "allowed audiences to physically and psychologically immerse themselves in the situations and environments that have been portrayed". Further, Sanes provided two reasons or motivations to why people create imitation realities. First, it may because of the inherent impulse of constructing our own versions of reality. Second, it may because of the sense of power we feel that enables us to recreate "a world in our own image". I think that might be the motivation of the popularity of Second Life. At the end, Sanes posted a question which is bigger than any single research: what will become of human nature in a world where we increasingly live inside lifelike fictions?

Bradbury, R. (19xx). This is a short science fiction with a lot of information. The story is about a family of four, father, mother, son (10 years old), and daughter, and their house, or to be specific the nursery room. The whole house is artificial intelligence enabled. The nursery room is equipped with high-tech simulation system which can be programmed easily and have the function of adaptation. The children have been living in the nursery room for a while, where they have been immersed in an "authentic fake" world. The spouse were scared by the Veldt environment in their children's nursery room. This event worked as a fuse for a series of critical reflection of the spouse, specifically the husband, to the whole issue of the new house and the way the spouse treating their children in this house. The ending is a typical revenge form spoiled and misled children. What an individual can reflect from this article linking his or her personal experience really depends. But some main ideas can be shared among readers. There are issues of simulation effectiveness, similarity of psychological reaction of hyperreality and real world experience, and children education, etc.

Sanes, K. (2002). This article is a follow-up of Eco's article in 1975. Sanes commented that what Eco observed and argued two decades ago is confirmed and even surpassed in some occasions nowadays. Sanes agreed that after observing the phenomena, one may be surer about the "characterization of the age, which is forever offering us something that seems better than real in order to sell us something" -- "the cultural shortcomings of America". Sanes re-summed the major points of Eco's narration on the " fake history, fake art, fake nature and fake cities". Sanes also pointed out the key feature of the re-created hyperreality by quote Eco that "Disneyland tells us that technology can give us more reality than nature can". So the question is if or not the consumers going to pay for those experience, for how long? Will there be one day that the consumers will pay to buy the real reality away from their life in hyperreality, just like what happened in the story of Veldt?

Focus question:
What is the difference between a "real" and a "virtual" experience?

After all the discussion above, the answer to this question could vary depending on the definition of virtual experience. However, there are some common features that could be shared by any experience caused by different reality, virtual or physical.

  1. Real experience vs. hyperreal experience. The virtual experiences caused by hyperreality involve many senses of the human body. There is hardly any difference of psychological reflection/reaction. A lot of times, it is really hard for individual to tell the differences between hyperreality and real reality.
  2. Real experience vs. virtual (computer-based) experience. In this case, I think the difference between a "real" and a "virtual" experience is mainly from physical experience than psychological experience. As I discussed, virtual experience, or to be specific cyberspace experience, is different from simulation experience in which all the senses could be activated, such as senses of touch and smell, or feeling of weightlessness, etc. In virtual experience, only sense(s) of sight and/or hearing are/is stimulated. In addition, the virtual reality can also provide different cognitive experiences. In this sense, there is potential strength that virtual experience can enable individuals to enhance their learning experiences for certain subject-matter, skills, and practice in a fairly short period of time. On the other hand, cyberspace based experience also provides possibilities for an individual to experience what he/she might never experience otherwise.
  3. Psychologically, an individual may not be able to feel the difference between real and virtual experiences, or even physically. For most of the time, I think we are talking about the real time reflection of the experience. However, after certain time (could be short or long), maybe with more education (formal and informal, academic and social), one may be able to tell which is real and which is virtual. This thought makes me recall a line repeatedly showing in drama or film: Do not trust what you see! So critical reflection may not be a direction difference, but it definitely can help to tell the real and virtual.
  4. The subjective vs objective angle can really change the answer to this question. If people take the constructivism perspective to interprete this question, there can be no difference at all. However, if we apply the external reality independent from our existing and use the objective lens, there is always difference in the reality of real and virtual experience.

Questions for discussion:

  1. There should be two different types of real reality, physical world of the Big Nature, and that of social existence of human being and all the civilization results/facts. Do you agree with this statement?
  2. If we combine the two types of realities, or only focus on social construct, will the hyperreality real reality in form of authentic fake, or product made based on real reality?
  3. There are different virtual realities as I discussed depends on different definition? If you do not agree with this, what is your position? Why?
  4. Linking back to our course theme of research on media application in education, will focus on hyperreality or cyberspace/virtual reality generate different research emphasis? What exactly are we, as researchers, concerning, considering, or caring about, the hyperreality, computer-based virtual reality, or both? I am asking because for most of the case I know of in the research in education relating with technology are actually computer-based environment instead of hyperreality.
  5. People use computers for different things: calculating -- students and professionals such as mathematicians, data analysts; substituting face to face communication -- MSN, Skype, email; Obtaining/exchanging information -- forum, online shopping, online surfing on google, or yahoo for news and information; gaming -- second life, other online or multi-user games or programs with gaming features. However, only the last category fits better for the virtual reality we are discussing. Do you think this brief category works to cover all the roles of computers? Do you agree with the comment? why?