A study from Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, released on the 6th of March, put forth an interesting notion.

The study was about how the brain perceives and processes information, and how it will select relevant things, while ignoring irrelevant data. The example they gave was their if we’re looking at the doors of a house, we’ll also process the windows at the same time — but will ignore data from neighboring homes.

I suppose this is the same thing as sitting at our laptops or desktops and not focus much on things outside of the screen area with the same intensity.

But the part I found most interesting about this was that they found that memory works in a similar way to perception — and that we perceive imaginary objects that only exist within the framework of our own minds using the same tools we use for “real” objects. To the brain, they are treated identically.

So with that in mind, think of this virtual world we exist in. Those of us who have spent any amount of time here know that every avatar — or at least those that are not bots driven by a rudimentary AI — are operated by real people who are sitting down at keyboards not too dissimilar to your own.

With the results of the Frankfurt study, however, things go a bit further. Our mind may well see that avatar not only as a virtual representation of a person, but as a person. Our avatars may be as much “us” as the person sitting in front of their monitor. There is no distinction. This actually is real life.

A few years back I had the pleasure of going to Xerox PARC. They were doing a study about Second Life, specificially about the way collaborative building works in Second Life. They were really confused how it worked, and why people adapted to this “third person” form of building in Second Life so easily, versus more “traditional” first person “headset” style user interfaces.

They had not considered that we are seeing that avatar on the screen as “us,” and treating it as if we were in that environment, rather than an observer of that environment.

Here, tonight, we’re sitting in a coffee house that looks out on a park, in a city.  The walls are worn brick, the furniture is a bit old and mis-matched, and the place itself might be a little worse for wear — but here we are.

Even though we know that this place is a virtual construct made of of data sitting on a hard drive in a server farm somewher, eour experiences here are as real as those in any coffee shop in the physical world.

With that in mind, I welcome you to Espresso Yourself night, here in our little slice of reality made virtual.

(by Marianne McCann. Presented at Espresso Yourself, 2nd June, 2015.)


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