sensory experience of physical interaction with another person,
or of a palm-rustling breeze, obviously. But like e-mail and texting, 3-D web is another virtual presence that makes demands
on our actual presence. We already spend so little time with our
girlfriends in our arms that Dentyne knows it’s reasonable to
remind us to put it on our schedule.
I’d forgotten, before my conversation with Rein about “
presence,” that in college, my best friend and I had gotten into a
wicked fight when my frustration about her answering her cell
phone when we were together culminated in my raising my
voice at her in the middle of a mall. Since the instant-interaction-technology boom, we’ve all sat down for dinner or drinks across
a table from someone who, despite available instant-interaction
A Book Said Dream and I Do
There were feathers and the light that passed through
There were birds that made the feathers and the sun that
made the light.
The feathers of the birds made the air soft, softer
than the quiet in a cocoon waiting for wings,
stiller than the stare of a hooded falcon.
But no falcons in this green made by the passage of parents.
No, not parents, parrots flying through slow sleep
casting green rays to light the long dream.
If skin, dew would have drenched it, but dust
hung in space like the stoppage of
time itself, which, after dancing with parrots,
had said, Thank you. I’ll rest now.
It’s not too late to say the parrot light was thick
enough to part with a hand, and the feathers softening
the path, fallen after so much touching of cheeks,
were red, hibiscus red split by veins of flight
now at the end of flying.
Despite the halt of time, the feathers trusted red
and believed indolence would fill the long dream,
until the book shut and time began again to hurt.
technology, just wanted to talk to us in person — and then pulled
out his BlackBerry to check his e-mail eight times during the
conversation. Or we’ve shaken our heads at an iPhone-wielding
hiker. The more sophisticated our online presence becomes, the
more compromised our real-life presence; the more present we
are there, the less present we can be here, as we sacrifice being
truly in touch for being constantly, relentlessly, everywhere all
over the place in touch. If 3-D web was going to be such a draw, it
could also further the trend of our being isolated from even the
people right in front of us.
“This is very much like the Wild West of the internet,” Rein
said. She teleported to Wishfest, a music and arts festival she was
helping to coordinate. Her friend Somatika Xiao, one of its programmers, met us there — a buff, blue-haired avatar. We fell down
a rabbit hole into an art installation. “Nobody understands it,
they’re scared by it, but it turns out there’s certainly nothing to be
afraid of. Just like the internet, people didn’t do it until they had to,
and then something changed.” The two avatars stood in the middle of a vortex of slowly circling glass shards. When Rein’s avatar
touched one, the floor turned into a swirling display of fractal art.
That was neat and all, but I couldn’t accept that she was
right, that I was overreacting—that it was useless, or beside
the point, to hate on how distracting virtual communication
is from real-life communication. Because that would mean I
needed to stop trying to fight off 3-D life. Because, logically, if
everyone’s going to be doing it, and it makes actually present
people less present, one sure way to not be distracted by virtual
communication is to stake your presence there, completely embrace it, become part of it, live and interact right inside of it.
And the idea of accepting that unsettled me right there in my
“Oh look!” Rein said suddenly, her eye caught by her computer screen.
A giant “HELLO” had appeared between the blue-haired avatar and Rein’s. “Aw, he’s saying hello to you.” She laughed.
I watched the screen, where the HELLO started flashing different colors. “Anyway, it has a lot of implications,” she went on.
The HELLO replicated, then started spinning, the culmination
of a series of complex original computer codes. From somewhere in California, Somatika Xiao had channeled a lot of energy
into making an animation — this total stranger, for me. His buff,
blue-haired avatar stood squarely in the center of the floor, waiting patiently amid his colorful greeting, looking at me dead-on
through the screen. As Rein continued talking, I looked back at
the avatar and intuitively, automatically, before I could hesitate,
smiled warmly. A