Paul Virilio, regarded predominately (despite his disdain for labels) as a cultural theorist and urbanist, grew up in the French city of Nantes where he was heavily influenced by the Second World War and the devastating impact of the German Blitzkrieg on his home. He developed what he calls the ‘war model,’ a theory regarding the development of society and the modern city which maintains the events and progressions of military and technology are what ultimately shape history. Virilio also coined the term ‘dromology’ (from the Greek dromos meaning ‘race’) which regards the logic of speed or velocity as the foundation of technological society.
In Part I of Virilio’s Open Sky, a critique of information technology and mass media, Virilio expresses a rather pessimistic outlook on the future of technology and its impact on society. While his discussion is obviously a little dated (the book was published in 1997) and pertains mostly to television, Virilio’s arguments can easily be applied to today’s communication technologies such as those of digital communications.
Virilio’s ‘telepresence,’ the ability to appear in two separate places at once through teleconferencing technologies such as webcams and the Internet, is shortening the distance required to communicate. Today you can communicate with anyone in the world and acquire limitless information without even leaving your house, and, as a result, people are less inclined to go anywhere. Because of this, Virilio predicts society will gradually break down as technology advances and laziness, by consequence, thrives.
As Virilio states, telepresence will, before too long, destroy distance and thus destroy us. He speaks of NASA’s ‘Datasuit,’ a device designed to simulate another place, allowing one to experience the sensations of touch, sound, and sight as if he or she were actually there.
This reminded me in some ways of the Sims, a life simulation video game that allows you to create a virtual character that you then control throughout the game in the objective of simply fulfilling their (and your) goals and desires. Having spent countless hours playing the game when I was younger, I remember how I, after a whole three hours of playing, would glance at the time expecting just half an hour to have gone by only to be completely shocked when I learned otherwise. (Usually I then felt obligated to go outside and run around in the woods for at least an hour.) Even with something so seemingly inconsequential as a computer game, it is easy to fall victim to the seductions of simulation.
Because we have no cause to wait, we have come to expect everything to be offered to us immediately in ‘real-time.’ In the future, Virilio says we’ll have a static, ‘tele-existence.’ Personally, I’d like to think people will realize (as I did with the Sims years ago) that life would be incredibly boring without ‘real-life’ experiences – without witnessing things firsthand – before technology ever allows us to achieve such an existence.