There were virtual worlds in the West before the advent on the internet. In the 18th century, it was a Jane Austin novel. In the mid-20th century, it was the films of, say, Hitchcock. These virtual worlds were more or less fully formed, teaming with people and events we could relate to and identify with. Fully formed, they were, but extremely well sealed.
These virtual worlds were closed worlds. No one ever from stepped from an Austin novel or a Hitchcock film into our lives. Yes, we might say someone in our actual world was a lot like Darcy or Roger O. Thornhill. But this was the work of imputation, with meanings transported across state lines, as it were.
The virtual worlds of the late 20th and 21st world are something else again. It is now routine to have someone we know from the blogging world or a role-playing game appear before us as flesh and blood. And when this happens it always seems to me like a scene from the movies in which a character moves from one dimension to the next, materializing as he goes. (What is that SciFi TV shows where they are always passing through that time portal? That’s it, thank you, Stargate SG-1. I believe they use even use that Star Trek "materializing" sound, now, I guess, the signature of cross dimensional transportation. If and when his machine is real, it will come with this sound installed.)
So today, I am going to meet a couple of people for lunch in Manhattan who are friends of a virtual friend, so the remove is even more pronounced. We do have a lot in common, our European friend. Will this be enough to sustain a conversation? Or will we all wish we were back on line in a more accommodating virtual world, where conversation and contact is too brief to awkward or onerous?
Eventually, we’ll learn to live in a new kind of social universe that consists of virtual and actual worlds living side by side. We’ll learn to negotiate sudden transitions back and forth. I guess eventually, we will have a protocol for negotiating these very odd social situations, but for the moment it’s all improv.