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Virtual Reality or Real Virtuality?

The news of recent times has me confused, so let me see if I have this straight. We’ll soon be seeing video games based on reality TV shows – you know, the shows that employ script writers to make sure the reality sounds real. These are different writers from those who were protesting that they weren’t paid enough and had to falsify their time sheets to show that they worked fewer hours.

Then there are people making real money by selling Second Life businesses that sell virtual goods to others inside their virtual world. There are others who auction on eBay virtual items that enable game players to advance to higher levels; these items are assembled by real low-wage workers who spend their days playing the games to accumulate them. There are fake Web pages for real people on MySpace, created by fans (or detractors). There are also real Web pages for fake people, some of which were created by advertising and PR people who want to push a particular brand or agenda.

Earlier this month, a reporter for a national magazine was suspended when his employer found out that he was posting praising comments to his own blog under the pseudonym “sprezzatura,” which means doing something without apparent effort. His blog was removed by the magazine’s editors.

One of the most popular YouTube videos shows a lonely teenager talking about her life. But it turns out that lonelygirl15 is really an actress playing a part. I don’t know if she had script writers or if those writers have to fake their time sheets too. And this has created an entire genre of other popular videos – people who are tagging their creations with lonelygirl tags so others will view them. Meanwhile, college courses on ethics have already incorporated the whole mess into their curricula.

Then there is a pseudo-documentary that ABC-TV aired recently about 9/11, which interwove fictional dialogue spoken by actors playing real people, an approach that drew significant criticism.

Finally, the chairwoman of Hewlett-Packard paid professional investigators to pretend that they were reporters to obtain the reporters’ private phone records, so they could investigate boardroom leaks. One of these efforts involved emailing a reporter a Word document with a Trojan keylogger inserted.

Am I the only one having a problem with all of this? Is it becoming harder to distinguish between what is real and what isn’t? Remember those simple days of yesteryear, when a reporter for a national magazine who wrote a book of fiction under the pseudonym “Anonymous” was finally outed to much fanfare? Or magazine covers that had manipulated images were called on their Photoshopping? Or how about corporate CEOs who were satisfied with just falsifying their own books or stock option grant awards? Back then, all we had was the movie “The Matrix,” which wasn’t real either, but had some fine CGI to entertain us. That was nothing. Welcome to the new real virtuality.

I absolutely guarantee that I wrote this column with my own hands. Everything else is your own construct.

[David Strom tells us that he is an author, podcaster, speaker, and consultant who has had real jobs as the editor-in-chief
Tom’s Hardware and Network Computing. His blog can be found at]

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