THE VIRTUAL DECADE
By Judy Nollet
In our buzzword culture, every decade needs to be labeled, its essence summed up in a catchy phrase. There is, of course, often no agreement as to what the label should be. And there is usually a big difference between the label bestowed at the start of the decade and the one given at its close. Personally, I predict the 90s will finally go down as The Virtual Decade. Webster's defines virtual as "not actual, but equivalent." In other words, close--but no cigar. The perfect adjective for those of us living in The Virtual 21st Century.
The Virtual Trend is apparent in everyday speech. A run-down house that's been on the market for over a year is a Virtual Steal. Computers have Virtual Memory, which, by the way, is also what we say about my father. Your child knows how to program the VCR, making her a Virtual Genius. (Oops, sorry. That would make her a real genius.) But that's not all. "Virtual" is popping up with increasing frequency. It's a handy word that can easily be used to mask our inadequacies, inaction, and indifference. Just think of the possibilities.
Politics is filled with Virtual Public Servants. Every year, Congress announces yet another Virtual Decision on the budget. This purports to include a Virtual Tax Increase for the rich and a Virtual Tax Cut for the poor. The middle class becomes the Virtual Upper Class, so they continue to get the same amount of Virtual Relief.
In the personal arena, couples are discovering the joy of making a Virtual Commitment. However, more and more couples are putting off sex--at least, until the lab reports come in. Surveys show an increase in what used to be called "heavy petting." Yet no one over 10 wants to use such a juvenile, antiquated phrase. No more need to be embarrassed; just say you're engaging in Virtual Sex.
Of course, as IICS members know, the Virtual Decade gets its real impetus from the world of computers, which can create graphic environments called Virtual Reality. Virtual Reality is ideal for training pilots and others who must learn to operate unwieldy pieces of equipment, such as tanks, school buses, and shopping carts. NASA is already planning Virtual Visits to the moon and Mars, though my guess is that Virtual Weightlessness would be a bigger draw for most Americans.
The entertainment industry, of course, is plunging headlong into Virtual Fun. Virtual Rides have invaded theme parks and arcades. Eventually, Virtual Tours will be available for home use from your local travel agent. No more worries about forgetting to pack your underwear. You'll never have to leave your house, and you can always pause the tour to use your own bathroom. Of course, this type of excursion will never achieve commercial success until they include a program to combine photos of the user with images of the tour. After all, you'll want to invite the neighbors over to show them your Virtual Travel Slides.
I predict that the Virtual Influence will truly take hold once Virtual Products are designed for common use. Ultimately, they will affect every aspect of our lives. For starters, no one need ever feel lonely again. Single? Staying home on Saturday night has never been as good as it will be with the Virtual Date. You'll be able to program the guy or gal of your dreams, including hair color, height, weight, and astrological sign. Ending the relationship will be as simple as changing the program disk.
Did you hit the snooze button when your biological clock sounded its alarm? No need to cry whenever you see a diaper commercial. With Virtual Children, every time is quality time. Endow them with only the best Virtual Genes, banishing forever the tendency toward receding hairlines and large ankles. Or, perhaps you're not interested in any children, but your parents have been expressing concern (otherwise known as nagging) about you not passing on the family name. Surprise them next Christmas with the perfect gift: Virtual Grandchildren.
Feeling the urge to binge? Eat anything and everything you want with the Virtual Diet. Then, get your heart rate up, without the sweat, by doing Virtual Aerobics. You'll not only receive the benefits of aerobic training, you'll save money on designer activewear. Simply program a new Virtual Outfit for each workout. For extra motivation, the Virtual Mirror will show you exactly what you'd look like with an extra 150 pounds, and then decreasing in 10 pound increments to your ideal weight (whether you actually reach it or not).
Finally, those who either can't or don't want to remember the way things were will be able to enjoy a Virtual Past. Aging baby boomers will re-live all the exciting adventures they never had, drastically reducing the use of sedatives in nursing homes.
What will be the ultimate watchcry of the 90s? "Get a Virtual Life!" And we'll all live in Virtual Happiness, right up until the Real End.
Copyright 1997 Judy Nollet. Judy Nollet is a freelance writer specializing in content for interactive media. She's a Virtual Believer and has graciously offered to test the prototype Virtual Mel Gibson.
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