For those who missed the Red Dwarf reference (shame on you), Better Than Life is a VR Total Immersion Video Game which inserts electrodes into the user's brain. Players don't realise they are in a virtual world, forgetting their family and friends in the real world. While their brain is living out their fantasies, their body withers and dies.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not jumping on the "virtual reality is addictive and evil" bandwagon, but I think there's some merit in looking at the lessons sci-fi such as Red Dwarf has to offer when it comes to living in a virtual world. Despite all the rubbish about "internet time" there are still only 24 hours in a day. Every hour I spend in a virtual world like Second Life or World of Warcraft is an hour I'm neglecting this world.
Yes, I know "there is no spoon" - but this reality is where I've decided to build my life. Jacking into the Matrix might be a social activity, but it's not socialising with the people around me. I struggle to make time to play with my two young children as it is, all too often they need to push the ThinkPad off my lap to get my attention. If I immerse myself in a virtual world, they can't follow. While I might see myself slashing my way across Azeroth with a host of dead Orcs in my wake, all my children see is a man withering away in front of a computer as real life passes him by.
So I've resisted the call off the virtual sirens luring me onto the rocks of virtual reality. Am I fighting the inevitable? Will an avatar become a necessary evil that one can't function without, such as a motor car or a credit card? Will a presence in Second Life become a prerequisite for living in the first life? Some people would say yes. Just as you can earn a living on eBay, people are already finding ways to make their livelihood in online worlds. Good luck to them, I'm not accusing them of not having a life - I'm just saying my life doesn't have room for another virtual one.
Personally I think it's just a fad, as with most things the bubble will burst in a few years time. The virtual world might be enticing, but people will find that it's not a substitute for the real thing. If I'm the last person to leave reality, I'll be sure to turn the lights off on my way out.