Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Distance Learning

One of the pleasures of having the time to read and reread aboard ship is having the opportunity to catch up on the prose of my own colleagues. Michael Heim, my fellow-teacher in the Humanities Core Course at UCI, has written about philosophical issues pertinent to cyberspace and electronic discourse for many years. Heim defines the word "virtual" more narrowly than I might in his book Virtual Realism (Oxford UP, 1998) and directs his attention to immersive CAVE displays and headmounted devices, but he raises interesting questions about the status of physical bodies in virtual worlds.

Virtual world design faces the crossroads: the tunnel and the spiral. The tunnel sucks us further into technology as a forward-thrusting, fovea-centered, obsessive fixation. The spiral moves us into virtual worlds that return us to ourselves, repeatedly deepening the awareness we enjoy as primary bodies. (77)

Many of Heim's examples are concerned with aesthetic experiences that are rarified by the context of artistic experimentation in new gallery spaces. However, in his chapters on "InfoEcology" and "Nature and Cyberspace," Heim addresses publicly-funded government efforts to clean up toxic sites and explore lunar environments through virtual means. Where public access is "limited or denied" (134), VR enables collective action.



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