Thursday, March 4, 2010

Keeping It Real (Alternatively)

Even though I am well aware that the entire universe is simply the product of my wild imagination convincing my brain there are objects, sound and light all around me, at times this "reality" seems so convincing that I start to question less convincing realities like cyberspace.
With computers, the code driven graphical user interface becomes what seems to be a portal into another space. The light emitting diodes of my screen are real, and these words that I am writing are real words, but some might argue that the GUI displaying them to you is fake. Some may elaborate on this idea by citing that what is really behind this GUI is the computer code sending instructions to your screen's pixels. But these arguably fake spaces (those that comprise cyberspace) have become so thoroughly integrated into our physical world that I'm completely ready to call them real (like Pinocchio at the end of his story, only not a boy).
What is a "real" window? Something you look through to see a bird tweeting, or something you look through to see your friends tweeting? Since Facebook came out, poke-related injuries have drastically declined in frequency, and flirting in general has become less physically and socially awkward (but it's still real enough for you to be able to wake up and turn over and have no idea who you poked last night and why). What is a "real" scrollbar? If you were to see one in the physical world outside of computer screens, I assume you might chuckle and exclaim, "that's not a real scroll bar!"
In a class I'm taking on contemporary curating, one of my classmates, Lydia Magyar, curated an online exhibition titled old media. A few of the works she shows can be described as physical manifestations of arguably unreal aspects of what I would call our alternative reality digital cyberspace world. One piece shows scroll bars in a real world setting, where they are arguably less real then when they have a tactile intractability and function. Another piece shows a pixelated image, which in fact is not pixelated but made from crayons. That's just totally wack, you can't use crayons to create images, only pixels! Get real! The last she includes is a performance piece where real human language (a novel by Proust) is translated into real binary code (zeros and ones) then translated back into real human language by a fake CPU (i.e. a real human), emulating the digital process.
At times I find I can navigate cyberspace better than the physical world, and I've had lasting relationships with people (for me, most notably through my music) online who I have never met in person. The question of what is real in our new cyberspace-accepting world is a complicated one, but I feel unreality should be left to things that don't exist. We should stop being so disrespectfully matterist, cyberspace is space too (separate, but equal, to some even superior): alternative yet reality.

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