The Virtual

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

What is virtual is almost real, almost. Even before technology gave an enhanced meaning of what is virtual, the original meaning of virtual was always that—almost or nearly as described, but not completely according to strict definition.

Modern technology, however, has made virtual more graphic, including more senses than just imagination, actively engaging sight and hearing, and tactile engagement. More importantly, technology today is pushing what is virtual to be omnipresent at great speed.

For almost half of the human population, virtual has taken on a new feature—online.  The Internet has created a virtual reality that, to many, is more powerful than physical reality.  If today can qualify to be the age of information, then what is virtual is the greater driver of life.

Of course, radio, TV and print had been there several decades before, and the telegraph and telephone even earlier. The interactivity of what is virtual today, however, makes it closer than ever to what is real. It is real, by the way, not just as completely real—according to definition, and according to human senses. Taste and smell remains absent, and even touch is limited to touching the medium between the virtual and the real—we can touch only the devices and cause them to operate, but we cannot physically touch the people to whom we send messages or information.

On the other hand, the speed and graphics of the virtual outpace the real and, for many, offsets the advantage of the real. This is especially true for those who are more mental or creative, or for older people who find greater value in what is beyond just the physical. Clearly, in the realm of communications, virtual is king.

Data gathered and reported early this year show that slightly over 44 percent of the 7.2 billion global population are wired or have access to the Internet. That means three billion people. That is a huge base for a virtual reality that has lots of common ground to become a global community regardless of race, color or creed. Satellites cover the earth and make it possible for everyone to be connected. The pace of connection through the Internet truly makes the world a smaller place.

The older generations, even those who wield great power and wealth, are now forced to adapt, adjust, and ultimately, submit. It is not that the virtual is more right, that it is better and wiser, but simply more powerful to a reality that has become very dependent on wealth and information. Many do not realize that the virtual had long overtaken the real in economics—not that it can but because we gave it the power to do so. When the representative of wealth became paper—cash, checks, notes bonds, or receipts instead of basic commodities like food and clothing, or even gold and silver—the virtual overtook reality.

What man needs to live are the fundamentals like, earth, water, air, food, shelter, and clothing. But all these are less important than money today, partly because money can buy the fundamentals more than the other way around. Therefore, in pursuit of money, man has downgraded the value of the fundamentals—even if human beings cannot survive with them. We cannot eat, drink or inhale money, but it is easy for us to pollute what we cannot survive without.

What is virtual that has magnified through technology is not so new, after all, when we realize how man had long ago devalued the real for the almost real. For those older than the millennials, or much older, we should not be overly worried that we are coexisting in a world that clearly favors them. We had invested through generations to build the virtual by rearranging our value system. Mankind had long shifted toward the imaginary over reality. We had lived in the virtual all our lives, and technology just makes everything more graphic, more visible and interesting.

In actuality, there are not two worlds. The virtual and the real have become so fused that it is hard to separate them. Much of human understanding today is grounded on information, or knowledge, and very much less on sensory experience. And this situation will become even more intensely so at a pace which will shock everyone who is not that young anymore.

Even superior physical force has been replaced with superior technological force. We have nuclear bombs for swords, missiles for arrows, and soon, robots for soldiers. It can be quite frightening to imagine all these in the near future, but the pattern is established and can be reversed only by death and destruction that is also as unimaginable.

At the same time, it is not as though the past has been that glorious for mankind. Recorded human history has seen more wars than years. Poverty was the standard as all wealth was owned and controlled by the few who ruled each country. There was less corruption, so to speak, because the rulers own and controlled everything and could not be accused of stealing what was theirs. Rebellions and revolutions were waged, not because the vast majority wanted ownership but because they could not take more abuse.

There are very encouraging signs that the younger generations are more egalitarian and less partisan. If that pattern holds, a pattern that we can also thank technology and the virtual world for promoting, then human existence can actually improve dramatically. After all, two-thirds of humanity is still poor despite the advances of the democratic over traditional centralized, authoritarian rule.

Politics, economics and religions are all threatened by the new virtual although the nature of the virtual had long affected them. If world leaders do not go crazy and kill each other with all of us, I see a brighter future ahead, courtesy of the new generations. What an exciting life, defined by changes galore, as though it is trying to make up for lost time.

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