The Web is not virtual

The Web is not virtual. is an actual store. An online course is an actual course. Email is not virtual communication. Communities on the Web are not virtual.

Something is virtual if it is a mere representation of what is. My blog is a virtual notebook: it is not a notebook. But my blog is not virtual! It is a real blog! My identity on the Web is not virtual, but an avatar in a video game is a virtual me. A virtual community would be a representation of a community, so real people and real communication between these people would not occur. Virtual memory is virtual because we make software believe that there is memory, when really, there is none. We commonly work with virtual hardware: you make the operating system believe that it runs directly on a machine, when, in fact, it runs inside a software box emulating a machine.

Something virtual is not real. If it is real, it cannot be virtual.

The word virtual is a dangerous one used by reactionary folks who like to dismiss anything electronic as not being quite real. It is deeply rooted in reactionary thinking. For example, they sometimes suggest that electronic meetings have to happen in virtual rooms with virtual chairs. (Think Second Life.) Experience shows that in the electronic reality, it is often better not to virtualize the real world for the very simple reason that we can do better than setup a virtual reality, we can create an actual one that works better. The Web has no virtual chair, virtual corridor, and so on. The Internet has real Web pages, real blogs, real instant messaging, and so on. Virtual representation of people do not work well, it is better to build real Web identities.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

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