Joyce Walker examines the increasing inclination to incorporate “real world” interactions and events into the virtual world by studying the attempts to mourn the attacks of 9/11 in online communities and memorials. This idea of renegotiating physical connection by redefining the way we interact with time and space begs the question of: what constitutes a social connection or relationship? Walker would argue that, today, connection does not necessitate a face to face conversation. While I understand the social transition of community from the physical to the virtual, I would urge us to examine how this transition changes the way we percieve the purpose of human interaction and what this adds to (or takes away from) our collective memory and communities.
My first recollection of a physical custom’s transition to online was with Neopets. When I was in elementary and middle school, everyone had a Neopet. This was an online, fantastical breed of a pet which you could feed, pet, play with, send on play dates, build houses for and so much more. I loved Neopets, but I remember thinking even then: “This is a game, it isn’t like having a real pet.” It was meant, however, to constitute the relationship between a person and their pet.
What I questioned about Neopets then reflects my questions about Walker’s analysis of 9/11 online mourning and Jonathan Harris’s The Whale Hunt. As I interacted with the The Whale Hunt, I discovered the customizability of the experience using the various filters and the heartbeat monitor. This concept of conveying memory is fascinating, however, what would it be without our preconcieved understanding of the physical? Without having pet our own dogs, we would not understand the concept of petting our neopets. Without grasping what it feels like to have our heartbeat speed up, we would not be able to effectively interact with Harris’s interface. Our virtual interactions are fundamentally build upon our understanding of the physical. The question society must now wrestle with is: In our negotiation of relationships and memory, can we move past the physical or will it always form the basis for our concept of connection? If we can indeed move past it, what comes next? What is the step of human interaction that is beyond the virtual?