In a time where our reality constantly feels as though it’s turning into a video game, it may be normal for one to question what constitutes their existence in the 21st century. With this in mind, insinuating that in the digital age many of us reside in a form of virtual space more often than in “real space” may not be as far-fetched as might be first perceived. Not only do many of us engage in conventional thoughts of virtual reality such as video games, we also enter other forms of intangible space as well. These spaces, often caused by a collision of new and pre-existing forms of media with the physical world, will increasingly define our existence and possibly even redefine what it is to be human.
Of the multitude of “media spaces,” most apparent of these for the young scholar are social networking sites. In digital platforms such as Facebook, it may seem as though a user is simply viewing online profiles, but while snooping around for the latest gossip, the user subjects themselves to a series of spaces that are constituted by an array of words, pixels, and friend requests; a space that is defined by the human interaction that occupies it. When one uses the phone, that person loses their physical body and is reduced to a voice lingering in the abyss. As well, listening to digitally reproduced music (a Mozart concerto over headphones, perhaps), interacting with an in-car GPS system, watching television, and surfing the web are all additional forms of virtual reality.
We can also see examples of media space in immersive online gaming environments such as Second Life. SL is an online virtual world that enables users from across the globe to interact with one another. Unlike other popular social networking models such as Myspace and Facebook, Second Life places people, represented by avatars, into a virtual environment that in many aspects attempts at representing real life. Still, the possibilities in Second Life verge on endless due to the fact that, as part of its platform, it easily adapts to the needs and wants of its users. Because of this, the computer program is generating a great deal of commotion among analysts, scholars, etc. for the potential and implications of the game.
So in these new conditions, where does so-called tangible space end and virtual space begin? It’s apparent the distinctions are becoming increasingly blurred. The consequences this virtual phenomenon brings with it are central to the way we live. As Tor Lindstrand has commented, “…The profound effect that we live our lives in an accelerating rate through media is something that clearly changes our perspective and understanding of the reality around us.” In these situations the space we occupy is not comprised of the physical and tangible elements that surround us. Instead, we find ourselves in a paradox of place; an absurdity of our indication of position as one or more sensations acts as a deceit to the truth of our current condition. It is true that many of us live life through interactive media that, in some respects, places an obscure threshold between the individual and real life.
Moreover, the way in which we interact with real space is influenced by our connection to these virtual spaces. Take for instance wi-fi signal. As CityofSound recently examined, areas in which signal is strong, one can find a collection of illuminated faces toiling on unknown projects. Spaces where signal is weak or non-existent are considered undesirable, sometimes regardless of their physical spatial qualities.
In essence, our presence is constantly divided between two dimensions; one foot in the “real” world and one in the virtual. So what does this mean for the future of architecture and society as a whole? Will the succession of our lives into the virtual continually increase until we experience life in a wholly illusory environment? While life in the digital age continues to progress into unknown realms, experimentation in the world without limits becomes more and more legitimate and less ‘unrealistic’. In essence, our definitions of real and virtual could reverse, where what architecture now considers fantasy becomes the truer manifestation of human interaction and life as a whole.
For instance, in Second Life an enclosure is not meant for shelter from environmental elements; there is no rain. Rather, architecture here serves a much more abstracted role in the lives of the users of the game. In any virtual reality the “rules” of architecture no longer apply. Therefore, architectural dialogue has an entirely new dictionary. Of course, designing for the virtual is nothing new at all. Lebbeus Woods recently released a set of conceptual sketches done for the movie Alien III. Although the movie Woods was commissioned for was never realized, his design for a decaying world of the future dealt with conditions of an entirely different environment that is legitimized by the possibility that it could one day be our own.
In a world increasingly defined by degrees of virtualized space, considering the implications of virtual architecture, and at a broader scale virtual life, becomes more and more relevant. No one in the millennial generation can deny that our lives are experienced in both reality and a computer often simultaneously. If this is where we exist, then shouldn’t our spaces be informed by that juxtaposition as well? Whatever the case, it seems as though the newest frontier lies not beyond our atmosphere or even this solar system, but within the capacities of our technology and the little illuminated screens directly in front of us.
 Doesinger, Space Between People, p. 16
 Doesinger, p. 137