Stephen Baker

The Numerati
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The appeal of virtual

May 18, 2010General

I took a short bike ride yesterday through Montclair. As I was riding along Bellevue Avenue, I took my hands off the handlebars and rode with what felt like giant footsteps. I felt the wind through my (helmeted) hair and steered with my hips. What would people pay, at Disneyland or Best Buy, I wondered, to have this identical experience?

Now many of you could come pretty close to replicating that experience simply by going out into the garage, or wherever, and taking a bike ride. But how much cooler would it be to experience it in a movie theater or some arcade booth?

My point is that everyday activities can seem very special if they're delivered by technology. In real life, it's no big thrill to hear the screeching of a car's brakes or a bottle shattering behind us. But when we hear such noises behind us in movies it's a kick.

What's the point? Reality itself too often bores us. But simulating it can seem magical. When this happens, we're not enjoying reality as much as the idea that someone is fooling around with it. What separates the two, it seems, is the knowledge that things are occuring out of the natural order. So we have to use the same powers of suggestion to convince ourselves that reality as we experience it is every bit as magical, and as weird, as the virtual version. It is.

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