Screens have become a pervasive part of our daily experience.
Buildings are adorned with screens as exterior walls, sports stadiums add Jumbotrons, screens show games, fighter pilots and military strategists conduct maneuvers on screens with global positioning, televisions have gaming consoles, computers interface with other screens, PDAs browse the Web, cell phones take and transmit photos.
Our physically embodied and subjectively disembodied relation to the screen changes as we engage with the distant, large cinema screen with projected images; the closer and light-emanating television screen; and the even closer computer screen, one that we put our faces very close to, often touch, one that sits on our laps or in our beds. Camera phones, BlackBerries, and other “mobile screenic devices” add mobility to the screen’s face.
In the glare of a jargon-ridden present, the term “virtual” may have lost its descriptive power. By returning to the term’s definition and etymology, I hope to reclaim its considerable utility for making distinctions about the ontological status – and the materiality versus the immateriality – of an object. In this way, I find it necessary to challenge accounts that assume that “virtual” refers only to electronically mediated or digitally produced images and experiences, and to decouple the term from its unquestioned equation with “virtual reality.”