Letter from the Editor: A Shadow of the World to Come

Years ago, I watched The Net, a suspense movie starring Sandra Bollock. She portrayed a woman who lived much of her life through the Internet: She worked remotely from home as a programmer, she ordered everything online, she had few face-to-face interactions or relationships. Onto this backdrop fell the dark shadow of conspiracy and murder, as well as the danger of having no tangible connections by which you could tether your life.

I remember, after watching this film, carrying a negative perception of the way this virtual world was taking over the real one. And right there was the trouble: seeing these two things diametrically opposed.

The virtual worlds we live in today are actually quite similar to the one portrayed in The Net. We work remotely. We are able to order everything online. And we can disconnect from people, if we so choose. But I know few people who actually use the virtual world to completely disconnect from people. Most people use the virtual world to enhance their face-to-face relationships and expand their circle to include more people.

Most of us are successfully straddling the two worlds; it’s not either/or. It’s both. Few of us think of our virtual interactions and transactions as separate from real life. It’s all real. It’s all meaningful.

And God is present in it. Recognizing His presence changes everything. It even diffuses the fear stirred up in movies like The Net.

In this issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine, virtual worlds are explored and admired. These are worlds created by people, who are made in the image of their Creator. We create because it’s in our DNA. These are worlds created in film, music, social media, videogames, and more.

First is a historical journey of the virtual worlds depicted in film. J. Stephen Addcox’s “Virtual Reality on Screen: Paradise or Pandemonium?” addresses both the positive and negative feelings we might have about virtual realities:

“Perhaps the films that show virtual reality as so troubling suggest a concern with the idea of supplanting reality. In some ways the Christian story reflects the dangers of replacing reality with one of our own creation. The first sin is one in which Adam and Eve reject the ordering of their world in an effort to replace it with one in which they would attain equal footing with God. Of course, the opposite occurred, resulting in the world as we experience it now: broken but with whispers of glory. Like the deception of the serpent, many of the films that cast virtual reality as a dangerous technological tool, focus on the ways that it can be used to manipulate unwilling participants in the simulation.”

Addcox is right: The negative portrayal of virtual reality in film stirs our fears and points us away from the hope of redemption. But I think you’ll appreciate Addcox’s argument for the beauty that’s possible. Although it seems easier to write it off, back away, set up a safety zone, there are treasures in this darkness. Which is exactly what Charlotte Donlon details in her feature, “Scrolling with God.” Donlon speaks to our use of social media and how this virtual world may actually enhance our relationships:

“I’ve found that running into [my neighbors] on Facebook is almost like running into them while I’m walking my dog or when I’m grabbing a latte at our local coffee shop. Interacting with neighbors in real life is ideal, but those small bursts of online interactions enhance our time face-to-face. Social networking can show us additional blips of each others’ stories which aids us in the work of knowing and being known.”

Whether we chat with a neighbor across the yard or across Facebook, we have the same opportunity: to enter another’s world and to invite others into ours. Being known and seeking to know others is powerful. Keegan Bradford shows us in “Young Thug’s Tower of Babel” how music is a world unto itself:

“When we enter into the world depicted in Young Thug’s music, we are entering a created space: one man’s vision of a world defined by language that bumps up against itself and reveals its own limitations.”

In this way, virtual worlds have always been with us. Music and song is embedded in history; as musician Young Thug proves, the songs we create paint pictures of a world very like our own but often with a twist. The same could be said about other virtual worlds. Whether it’s a song, a videogame, a movie, or a social media conversation, all these virtual creations flow from the hearts of real people and take place in the world created by the Creator of all. There is much to enjoy, much to discover.

Illustration courtesy of Seth T. Hahne. Check out Seth’s graphic novel and comic review site, Good Ok Bad.