Virtual Worlds and War

In class discussion today, we watched a portion of a documentary by PBS Frontline called Digital Nation. The segment we watched was on virtual worlds and it helped built on the discussion we’ve been having all week. I’ve got to say, it totally blew my mind. Sure, I had some friends in college who played World of Warcraft, and I’ve got a friend that works for IBM who mostly works at home, but I had no idea that predator drone pilots are living and working in Nevada while dropping bombs on people in Iraq. Again, unmanned planes in the Middle East are controlled by pilots in the Air Force located in Nevada and they are dropping bombs from thousands of miles away. It seems absolutely crazy that these pilots go to work in the morning, virtually fly some real planes, drop some bombs and go home for dinner.

One of the pilots in the documentary says, “You’re saving people’s lives by employing weapons, that’s the business that we’re in,” and that’s a whole different issue and can of worms in itself. He hesitates and answers no when asked if he’s ever hit someone he didn’t intend to hit. But how would you ever know? You’re not actually there. It almost seems unfair to me too, (disclaimer: war is never really fair) that we could be on the other side of the world bombing people without getting so much as a scratch. What does this mean for the United States? Couldn’t the military in Afghanistan, or anywhere else do the same thing to us? I’m not sure what this means for the future of war (wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to worry about that?). That’s exactly what P.W. Singer, featured in the documentary, writes about in his book Wired for War. If I make it out of the iMedia program alive, I will definitely be checking it out. He goes on to say that soldiers still have the same symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome because the human brain can’t wrap itself around the concept of being at war and at home.

I watched more clips on the PBS Frontline website and Singer makes an interesting point about how disconnected the leaders who make the decisions in our country are from technology and how it’s being used. He describes talking to a senior Pentagon advisor and how he made a comment about how the Internet will one day turn into a 3-D space, much like a videogame. Singer was pretty much like: are you kidding? That’s happening now and it has been happening for five years. You’re describing virtual worlds.

It’s amazing to me how a subject (virtual worlds) that I had completely no interest in, has helped me learn so much, even without my own participation. I don’t have to play Second Life to know that virtual worlds are going to completely change my world.

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