There’s a movie titled Virtual Revolution. It’s not hard to find and you can watch it on YouTube, if you feel like it. I’m not going to recommend it, though. I’ll save you some time: It depicts a dystopian future world not so different from the background of Blade Runner. In this world, the majority of us peasant types have been seduced into a life online, preferring to live in virtual reality because it’s everything their real world isn’t.
In the story, our hero is one of the few who lives a hybrid life. In meat space he’s a private investigator employed by one the big gaming companies that keep the virtual world everything the players want. He’s hired to track down some “terrorists” who seek to destroy the virtual world and force everyone to live in the real world. They managed to manipulate the hero into helping them, but the whole thing comes apart, and the terrorists are killed in meat space by a lynch mob. Meanwhile, our hero had gone home and was in virtual space when it happened. Later he meets with the boss of the company that hired him. They have tense words and he’s given a counter story to the one that the terrorists fed him.
He doesn’t know who to trust; he can’t tell what’s real in the real world. So he takes the final payout for his services and opts to join the rest of his kind and stays in the virtual world. His final lines in the movie suggest that, since the human mind can’t tell the difference, who’s to say the virtual world is a lie?
I’m going to tell you that this story is by far more plausible than most movies dealing with similar issues. A world where the government is happy to save money by giving people the bare minimum to live plus a network connection would be a lot cheaper than modern welfare states, and is typical of government thinking. Big corporations that run the simulations as a sideline while taking government money to operate automated war machines also sounds realistic (even if that’s not all included in the story line). But the most realistic thing is seducing the peasantry into a virtual world so that their real world life expectancy is around 40 years is by far the most realistic part of the movie.
Worse is that technology research is already trying to minimize the boundary between real and virtual, so that meat space acts and feels like some programmed ideal, ready to cater to every taste. Do you see how this counterfeits the reality we know in our hearts?
People in the West are taught that reality is reasonable, or that it at least should be. But you and I know that reason is always deceived by individual personal lusts. You cannot trust reason to tell you much that matters. Reality is already fungible in ways the West refuses to acknowledge. And while I doubt that online virtual reality gaming is likely to capture quite the high portion of population as in the movie, the real danger is a blended semi-virtual reality in meat space being used on us without our knowledge or permission. It’s not a question of seducing folks into dropping out of real life; there is the risk they may never really know it.
Would I, could I ditch computers and the online world? Of course; I’ve left behind all kinds of things with bigger implications in my life when I heard the call of God. For now, that calling is to keep messing with computers and keep in touch with people online. Meanwhile, I teach that the West is one of Satan’s greatest accomplishments, but I think the coming Networked Civilization will be worse in many ways. I still believe the heart is strong enough to beat this thing, but the struggles and stakes will be higher than ever.