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Digital Sensations

Space, Identity, and Embodiment in Virtual Reality

1999
Author:

Ken Hillis

Digital Sensations

Considers the cultural and philosophical assumptions underlying virtual reality, and how the technology affects the real world.

Virtual reality is in the news and in the movies, on TV and in the air. Why is the technology-or the idea-so prevalent precisely now? What does it mean-what does it do-to us? Digital Sensations looks closely at the ways representational forms generated by communication technologies-especially digital and optical virtual technologies-affect the “lived” world. Ken Hillis’s penetrating perspective on the cultural power of place and space broadens our view of the interplay between social relations and technology.

Digital Sensations is the best critique of virtual reality’s implications we now have. Rather than breathlessly celebrating the limitless digital future, Hillis carefully explores its continuities with certain earlier tendencies in Western culture and shows their common dangers.

Martin Jay

Virtual reality is in the news and in the movies, on TV and in the air. Why is the technology-or the idea—so prevalent precisely now? What does it mean—what does it do—to us? Digital Sensations looks closely at how the “lived” world is affected by representational forms generated by communication technologies, especially digital and optical virtual technologies.

Virtual reality, or VR, is a technological reproduction of the process of perceiving the real, yet that process is filtered through the social realities and embedded cultural assumptions about human bodies and space held by the technology’s creators.

Through critical histories of the technologies of vision, light, space, and embodiment, Ken Hillis traces the often contradictory intellectual and metaphysical impulses behind the Western transcendental wish to achieve an ever more perfect copy of the real. He advocates that current and proposed virtual technologies reflect a Western desire to escape the body. Because virtual technologies are new, these histories also address unintended and underconsidered consequences flowing from their rapid dissemination, such as commodifications and the alienation of new forms of surveillance.

Exploring topics from VR and other, earlier visual technologies, Hillis’s penetrating perspective on the cultural power of place and space broadens our view of the interplay between social relations and technology.

Digital Sensations

Ken Hillis is assistant professor of communication studies and adjunct professor of geography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Digital Sensations

Digital Sensations is the best critique of virtual reality’s implications we now have. Rather than breathlessly celebrating the limitless digital future, Hillis carefully explores its continuities with certain earlier tendencies in Western culture and shows their common dangers.

Martin Jay

His discussion is ambitious; not only does he bring together multiple disciplines and philosophies, he traces history from the Renaissance to the present.

Technical Communication Quarterly

Ken Hillis has written a wise interrogation of the impact of virtual environments and the marriage of new digital and visual technologies. Carefully balancing between the dangers of all-too-common and too-easy skepticism and the risk of being seduced by the new medium, this book analyses the manner in which the use of technologies to produce virtual environments (VEs) changes the bases on which assumptions concerning democratic politics and identity flourish.

Space and Culture

Digital Sensations supplies an indispensable critique of mainstream VR practices, problematizing the simple assurances that have become a staple of virtual technology and cyberculture. In charting this particular course, Hillis’s analysis is simply revolutionary. That is, his critique takes aim at, works within, and overturns the terms of traditional metaphysical oppositions. Its analysis and critique of the ideology of VR is attentive and perspicacious. Hillis deploys nothing short of a revolutionary analysis that turns the tables on contemporary VR research. In doing so, he provides the critical apparatus by which to confront and challenge the seductive rhetoric of incorporeal interaction that has become commonplace in cyberculture.

Dale Bertelsen, Critical Studies in Media Communication

Digital Sensations

Contents

Acknowledgments
List of Abbreviations

Introduction: Digital Relations

1. A Critical History of Virtual Reality
2. Precursive Cultural and Material Technologies Informing Contemporary Virtual Reality
3. The Sensation of Ritual Space
4. Sight and Space
5. Space, Language, and Metaphor
6. Identity, Embodiment, and Place—VR as Postmodern Technology

Epilogue: Digital Sensations
Notes
References
Index