Wanderlust – On Virtual Worlds: Trust, Fake and Nature
By Dings Digital
(Not a native English speaker, so writing was a bit difficult)
Some problems, if not a lot of problems, of things and relations, between people being somehow virtual have to do with trust. Is this avatar trustworthy? Can I rely on my desire to possess this thing, this space, this service in the virtual world? Or is it empty, useless stuff? Are the stories this avatar is telling true or are they just lies? Should I work with these people on this project? After all, we had our good and bad experiences.
There are two totally different attitudes to deal with these kinds of questions. One I would call the loud but uninteresting attitude. It is all too common in disputes about the internet (and – depressingly – disputes in the internet). Once you are drawn into a dispute like this, you either have to be black or white, yes or no, friend or enemy. This attitude may gain more and more popularity, but in matters of understanding things it is useless. It is stupid.
The other attitude deals with the possibility that there can be both good and bad things, that some things we like may have a crack or that people we love may have their mistakes. And places – or worlds – may have nice people, but there may be some assholes too (as is described for example in Robert Sutton’s book “The no asshole rule”). Objects or people we admire may shine, but also may have a wrinkle here and there. So it is still great to hope for the best. But take care of assholes, or flawed things, or stupid engagements. You shouldn’t trust them.
But what then is trust? When is it justified? One of the oldest words of wisdom on trust were written down 2500 years ago by Democritus. Who?! Democritus was a Greek philosopher, an advocate of a cheerful way of life and one of the founders of Atomism – the idea that the world is made up of tiny particles (yup, atoms). He had an advice on whom to trust: “Do not trust all men, but trust the proven men; the former course is silly, the latter a mark of prudence.” This sounds like old advice, maybe too old. Nonetheless, what he seemed to have in mind is that trust can go wrong. There is a risk involved in trust. Looking out for signs that minimize this risk is a clever thing, Democritus tells us. Sounds familiar. You don’t need a degree in rocket science to come up with this. Parents tell their kids this stuff. Democritus added a hint: look at what people do and look at what they want. That’s the best information you can get about whom to trust.
Another Greek, Aristotle (btw teacher of the not so well behaved Alexander the Great), added another thing to the talk about trust. It is not only people we trust, he said, but statements about things and people too. We build our opinions on trusted information. He was clear about what makes opinions untrustworthy: manipulation. When people want to gain fame or power without having in mind what is good for their listeners, then they use means and information that cannot be trusted. He had in mind situations like teaching or political campaigns. Add marketing or a fight about some very important stuff on Facebook or Twitter – and there we are in the age of the internet.
So maybe we can sum up that which is untrustworthy in a single word: fake. Yes, but no. Not in every situation. When we rely on what we hear or get to be the real thing then fake is betrayal. We are duped. Not so when we know that what is presented to us is fake. Like in a romantic movie, or a movie with aliens and UFOs. Or some comedy and satire. We love to laugh. So making up things in comedy is fine.
I love nature sims (that’s what I call them). For me they are the digital equivalent to a landscape painting. I believe they really are a good thing for Virtual Reality. Maybe that seems odd. According to the loud and uninteresting view (see above) virtual nature scenes are a bad joke. What is as pure and direct as mother nature? What could be more artificial and alienated than a natural landscape in a virtual world? It is not even plastic, it is not even real! I disagree.
I don’t need to have the either-or view. “Natural nature” – the real thing – is awesome. It has the potential to kick butt. It can be friendly or unfriendly. It can be breathtaking, even healing. The virtual replication of nature can be inspiring too. Some say it is the most meaningless thing to do. I say, quite to the contrary. Since living in caves humans loved to replicate the world around them. It seems to be a basic need. But even if it is not basic, it can be fun, or inspiring, or philosophical or whatever. And it can look good. Like a painting from Monet or Fragonard or Friedrich. Or take van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. Faked nature! And what a beautiful painting!
There can be good things and bad things in virtual worlds. Of all the good things (like meeting great people, visiting events, listening to live music, learning things) nature scenes are among my personal favorites. I am looking forward to explore all the new beautiful landscapes with their details, composition, harmony, drama and atmosphere that people are constantly building in their artist’s workshops. Welcome to Wanderlust!