Meatspace Vs. Cyberspace: What’s the Difference?
The term “Meatspace” is not new to our vocabulary. It’s actually been around for a few decades. It’s beginning to feel like the right time to start using this term with Oculus Rift units shipping and the coming dawn of virtual reality.
“Meatspace” simply refers to the physical realm, the tangible world, and it is the opposite of “cyberspace” . The term has its roots in science fiction and is thrown around in conversations about how we interface with the online world, although there is debate over where the term originated. An amusing story by Terry Bisson titled “They’re Made Out Of Meat ” doesn’t directly use the term but it does get at the heart of the matter: humans are just meatbags wandering around the Earth thinking about how our hair looks, if we make enough money, and if there’s something showing in our teeth.
The online world has come a long way since the days of “You’ve Got Mail” and Away Messages. Why should we give a new name to the same old idea, the thought that what occurs on a screen is completely separate from the lives we lead in real life?
Well maybe because virtual reality is going to be a game changer. Oculus Rift units began shipping last week, and HTC’s Vive and Sony’s Playstation VR are coming very soon after. Even though virtual reality is still a baby you have to realize that it’s not just a fancy ViewMaster. This medium has a chance to completely upend the way that we handle any and all content.
If you’ve never tried on a headset for yourself, it’s hard to understand what VR actually feels like. Being inside of a headset doesn’t necessarily make you feel like whatever’s in front of you is the real world, it’s more like it causes you to forget that it isn’t. Tricking a part of your brain is what VR’s all about. Our eyes and our brains are fooled pretty damn easily even though there’s a part of us that understands that what we’re looking at isn’t real. Virtual reality has come upon the mechanism for fooling us.
Virtual reality offers us an opportunity to interact with cyber worlds unlike any other we’ve ever known. We’ll be able to walk around and interact by touching things in digital space with things like controllers and the specially-designed treadmills. In the future, VR might become the place where we go to school, relax, watch Netflix, play games, and socialize with others. Virtual reality has the potential to one day become a place where we spend a lot of time like with television or the internet.
Why do they call it “meatspace”? Because it doesn’t give a value judgment. The issue with “IRL” is that it makes the assumption that our experiences in physical space have more value than our experiences in virtual spaces. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In the words of the great Albus Dumbledore “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
Using this term is as much about dragging us down to our silly, fallible, impermanent condition as it is attempting to describe a space outside of cyberspace. Don’t you think we could all use a reminder that we’re just a bunch of meat bags who have an expiration date. Let’s make an effort to go out and experience the meatspace in all of its tangible glory, after all, we’re all going to die someday.
The good thing about the term “Meatspace” is that it is so completely literal that it doesn’t have an expiration date. Although this term will start to cause problems if we ever actually begin to use surrogates in the cyber world like they portrayed in that horrible Bruce Willis movie. There is a clear difference between how we interact with our IRL forms and how we interact by digital or electronic means for now. But telepresence robots are changing that even as we speak.
Over the next decade we’re going to have to start thinking of something to replace this term, but at least for now we start by dropping “IRL” from our vocabulary altogether.