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Castells on real virtuality

From The Rise of the Network Society

Castells thinks that what is specific to new communications technology is not virtual reality but real virtuality. He defines his terms:

“virtual: being so in practice though not strictly or in name”, and “real: actually existing”. Thus reality, as experienced, has always been virtual because it is always perceived through symbols that frame practice with some meaning that escapes their strict semantic definition. It is precisely this ability of all forms of language to encode ambiguity and to open up a diversity of interpretations that makes cultural expressions distinct from formal/logical/mathematical reasoning. (1996: 372)

Thus complexity and contradiction are accounted for in communication (or miscommunication as Hall would have it). Any other unmediated notion of reality would be plain nonsense even if much new media commentaries express these views. What new media communication offers is an even clearer idea of cultural feedback. This evokes the earlier quote (that is worth repeating) but in heightened form:

The media tend to work on consciousness and behaviour as real experience works on dreams… It is a system of feedbacks between distorting mirrors: the media are the expression of our culture, and our culture works primarily through the materials provided by the media (1996: 337)

In other words, all messages of all kinds become part of the medium… The new culture both ‘transcends and includes the diversity of historically transmitted systems of representation: the culture of real virtuality where make-believe is belief in the making.’ (1996: 375)

from “The urban question and the rise of the networked society”

Real virtuality is a system in which reality itself (that is people’s material/symbolic existence) is entirely captured, fully immersed in a virtual image setting, in the world of make believe, in which appearances are not just on the screen through which experience is communicated, but they become the experience. The space of flows and timeless time are the material foundations of a new culture, i.e. the culture of real virtuality. What is new is not that reality as experienced is virtual, which it has always been. Referring to Postman, Castells claims that ‘we do not see reality as ‘it’ is, but as our languages are. And our languages are our media. Our media are our metaphors. Our metaphors create the content of our culture…’. Cultures are made up of communication processes and thus there are no separation between ‘reality’ and symbolic representation (Castells 1996 p 328, 372-73, 375; Postman 1985 p 15)

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Categories: hyperreality, metaphor
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