The so-called enormous change (the new forms of experience and communication) is only appearance or glimmer. There is no new or emerging paradigm. The driving force is exactly the same as with the former forms of communication: the experience of happiness.
First of all, one mustn't be a prophet to predict that this "dream-network" will mainly be taken by entertainment and not by information. And certainly not by ideas. The predominant commercial strategy aims at the development of a gigantic entertainment network.
In Japan, a recent national market survey on the distribution of multimedia software by product category found that entertainment accounted for 85.7 % of the value, while education represented only 0.8 %. Entertainment sustains the will to develop VRs. The whole world becomes a Disneyland. Witness the existential philosophy actually propagated by Nintendo: "Life’s a game".
It is time to reply to all these blind promises. This blind date with happiness. If all human dreams are fulfilled, do we stand then before the gate of the paradise? Is the experience of happiness in our reach? Will this artificial happiness then be the long hoped happiness? My answer to Nintendo is: "Life is not a game".
We do live in a real world. There is not some perfect world or cyberspace, some dream world we will be able to migrate to. Indeed, a real world will always continue to exist. We will remain subjected to it. In this real world pain, suffering, disease, hunger, violence, death, mourning, worries, sorrow, grief, injury, affliction, vulnerability will always exist (as Freud remarked: there are much more possibilities to be unhappy than to be happy).
How shall we respond to all small and big, but real existential dramas? Are we still matched for them? Against the bright, rosy, paradisiacal (designed) world, real existence might contrast particularly grey and drab. Depressing indeed. The World Health Organization predicts that within twenty years depression will be worldwide the second important affliction (number one remaining the cardiac affections). And that is remarkable. Materially and practically it has never gone so well as now. Everything is in our reach, we live in paradise – and in spite of all this, or rather because of all this, all of us are threatened by depression. Forty years ago, Bertrand Russell in "The Conquest of Happiness" asked this question: "What use has it to make everyone rich, if the rich themselves are unhappy?"
VR sells the limitless freedom as a consumer good. I can be everything in VR. I can during a few hours be the president of the United States, I can be the first astronaut to travel to Andromeda, I can win the Tour de France, I can score three goals in the final of the Champions League, I can climb the Mount Everest, I can do as much cruises as I wish on the Lüneburger Heide, I can live on a desert island...
In the real world exists something like "once and for all". Each choice of our freedom reduces our further possibilities to choose. Freedom is really tragic, painful. Everytime I make a choice in my life, about my life, I give up other possibilities. I cannot undo choices. I cannot be everything. In the virtual world this commitment to time does not exist. The more the Network persuades us for its artificial freedom, the more we drift apart from freedom and get estranged from it. Life has substantial, tragic aspects.
Life is not a game.

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Design Management
VIZO Workshop

“Design makes the Difference”
Brussels, Belgium - 29/30 November 2002

 
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