Steve Webb & Graeme McBeath: Virtual Culture, New Technologies and Globalisation:Towards a Phenomenological Perspective

This paper attempts to question whether it is always appropriate to use Heidegger's existential-phenomenological analyses, largely found in his `Being and Time' (1927), to understand or describe the relation of `involvement' between the human subject (Heidegger's `Dasein') and cyberspatial/virtual worlds. We argue that this widely accepted `reading' of matters wrongly assumes that VR is simply an `immersion' technology rather than one where VR users move in an out of VR worlds with which they are engaging. We will argue that for some applications of VR, the subject is not simply immersed, but reflexively considers relations between virtual objects, and also virtual objects in themselves. This can occur when one is using virtual technologies to aid architecture or interior design. We believe Husserl's descriptions of the relation between subject and object is a better fit in regard of the latter than those derived from Heidegger's work.

It may be noted that the context of the above arguments is that of the nature of future worlds such that the first half of the paper discusses the meaning of future worlds and utopias. For centuries man has designed such ideal places and spaces, but in the age of print utopias were highly structured, `stable-state' affairs, whereas VR technologies have allowed us to design future worlds/utopias and then revise them ad infinitum - they are flexible utopias. This very revisability requires human purposeful intervention - the creative process - and this is a reflexive rather than an immersed encounter with virtual representations. These initial arguments pave the way for the Husserl v Heidegger on VR debate we mentioned above.

Graham McBeath is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Nene College of Higher Education, Northampton. He previously taught at the Universities of Keele, Bath, and Oxford. His main interests are in Political and Social Theory and Intellectual History. He has published in the diverse areas of Anarchism/Libertarianism, Cyberspace and Future Technologies, and social policy. He is currently writing `Cyberspace and Social Theory' with Stephen A. Webb (Sociology, Univ. of Derby) for Sage Publishers.