The Great Simulator

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
3 April, 2018
Editorial: 189
Fecha de publicación original: 16 noviembre, 1999

Not born yet and already sneezing

Over the last couple of years, we have had to live with those bright new millionaires spawned by the Internet. And spawned is the right word because what they all have in common is that they are extremely youthful. All they had to do was arrive and go directly to kiss the feet of the saint for even the great Gates himself had to spend a few years adding all those zeros to his private bank account. The weird thing is that not even those with years of business experience, with more than enough knowledge in the art of selling, founding tentacular organisations and keeping their heads above water in the “management” jungle, have been remotely as successful as these young people. All these new millionaires (they don’t even have daddies to back them) have come up from nowhere and, the truth is, no-one really knows where they are going either, particularly because, at the moment anyway, their wealth is founded on something as fluid as the stock exchange. Nevertheless, this consignment of fresh-cheeked millionaires poses some interesting questions. Is age an important factor for triumphing in the Internet? Aren’t we missing something that we should be taking into account? Is this new “baby-boom” telling us something we don’t know how to read properly?

There are many different perspectives on and ways of answering these questions. However, it seems to me that the crucial factor contributing to the success of younger generations on the Internet is, amongst other very decisive ones, their proximity to “virtual culture”. Their vision of the world has been forged by video games, simulators, television, special effects, the Internet and, in general, by the visual representation of everything digital, not just from the consumer point of view but also from the appropriation of its logic, metabolised on an everyday (social) and personal basis. I talked about something related to this in the “The Bit Generation” editorial.

This generation, in the US as well as in other countries, has learned to learn far from educational centres. Their information, or rather the information they need to move around freely in a virtual culture, did not form part of their education, nor was it adequately represented in the media. They are very well-informed about what they are interested in but through their own communication networks. The proof is the way kids of 10 to 14 keep up to date with what is going on in the world of video games, despite their limited buying power and the relative lack of literature on the subject. Despite the odds, they know what games to swop as well as the tricks of the trade and shortcuts to use among other other ploys, and become impregnated with the mythology of this world at the same time. Their communication systems are based on an intricate web of personal relationships with a powerful osmotic factor woven into it as well: they absorb everything happening around them that belongs to the virtual world. And, vice versa. Their capacity for filtering reality through virtuality is equally powerful. The consequences of this relationship between the one and the another are another thing altogether.

The thing is, when we translate the younger generation’s “sentimental education in virtuality” into the Internet culture there are two things missing immediately. The scenery in the digital world of young people has always been three dimensional (3-D) and simulator based. And the Internet, in order to work in 3-D needs more bandwidth, something which is just starting to happen in some corners of cyberspace. Progressive incorporation of video into nearly all systems in the Net, from e-mail to the web, to chats and experimental virtual spaces, is acting as a kind of testing ground through which we can begin to get a different vision of how information could be represented visually in the very near future. But, as I said, bandwidth is holding things up and 3-D technology has not yet managed to overcome this obstacle except for a few rather crude and simplistic attempts. Swan, for example, have developed some 3-D pages to be viewed through the classical red and blue glasses which they send through the snail mail.

The other aspect, simulators, will undoubtedly become the prevailing “business model”, although it is only just taking off. In four years, the Internet has undergone a lot of changes, but one of the most interesting is this progressive move towards simulating real situations although, one must admit, there is still a long rocky road ahead. Nevertheless, from the new generation of shops, such as Facetime (thanks for the URL, Alfons Cornella) to city guides such as Yahoo’s, knowledge is being presented in a different way. In Facetime, for example, when clients are unable to find what they are looking for, a team of shop assistants appears on the screen, each one in charge of a different department and sales section in the store, and results are obtained via chats simulating customer/shopkeeper relationships. In addition, logically enough, this relationship adds to a data base orientating further contact with the sales team in the future.

However, simulators cannot be reduced to a number of data bases. Their most powerful ability is to visually represent all kinds of scenarios suggested by users. The Net can, of course, be seen as a giant simulator if we apply the metaphor of an inhabited space under construction in which every individual, whoever they are, contributes to the building and mapping out of their own digital territory. As this activity develops in accordance with the features of the medium itself, of its culture, the different simulators, whether they form part of the world of personal, educational, business, citizen, urban relationships, etc., they will shape the channels along which the journey backwards and forwards will have to take place: from reality to virtuality and from the virtual world back to reality. In other words, the way in which the virtual world will impact on the real world (“coming out of the Net”) will have a lot to do with the quality and fine tuning of the simulators we will be able to develop in the virtual world. Simulators will allow us to learn how (amongst other things) to:

Move around in scenarios which have been custom-made for us.

Incorporate very complex variables in systems that are simple to use.

Work in collaboration with other people (groups, businesses, organisations) and situations, real or otherwise, depending on changing scripts in the chosen scenario: education, estate agents, assistants in mega-shops/hypermarkets, tutors in the acquisition of knowledge, urban planners, models for consumers or energy use, exploration of new education systems, etc.

Access knowledge in a graphic, visual, navigable form. In other words, closer to natural forms than those mediated by technological interfaces.

Develop strategies for alliances and cooperation amongst participants in a chosen context and test out their possibilities before putting them into practice in the real world.

Design projects, develop them and experiment with different options to test their behaviour at different phases.

Visualise results long before getting them

Visualise the consequences of these results

Adapt personal conditions (intellectual, cultural, physical, familial, personal) to objectives connected to the simulated scenario.

And, we will be able to do all of this like a game, although we should not forget how serious these proposals from the world of virtual culture really are. If we think about how some of these feature apply to companies that are already successful on the Internet now, it is clear that many of them are those that come closest to the world of simulators. When we get to see them in 3-D (or as many D’s as we can manage), we will be able to say that the virtual world has begun to reach an interesting stage in its maturity.

​Translation: Bridget King​