I’ve always loved books and reading. As a kid, I could lose myself for hours in an exotic faraway place, transported by the combination of someone else’s written word and my own imagination. There was the real world I lived in, and a secondary place I could go. If given the time, I loved the solitude and power of a good book.

Reading has always been a participatory experience, as opposed to television, which is more of a spectator sport. Reading stimulates the imagination; television supplies it for you. Going online is also engaging and participatory. Content is not merely presented to you in twenty-minute increments. Instead, you determine where to go, what to take notice of, and what to disregard. You decide if you want to watch that commercial or not; you determine if you want to hit that link or view that page. You are in charge of your online content; it’s you, in the driver’s seat, choosing your own direction.

Gaming can be even more engaging. The graphic and audio sophistication of Internet games is truly mind-boggling. It both activates and tricks the senses. But it’s not just how things look and sound; it’s also how things feel. SO much of what is done on the Internet can stimulate reality because of how real it looks. This intensity of experience creates a virtual reality.

The word virtual is an interesting one. At one time, it’s primary meaning had to do with something having potential, something possible but not quite actualized. Merriam-Webster’s first definition of virtual is: “being such in essence or effect through not formally recognized or admitted.” To say something was “virtually impossible” meant it was almost impossible but not quite. Virtual meant as close to actual as you could get while still retaining the understanding that it was not.

The word virtual and the word reality were first linked together in the late 1930’s when describing the fictitious and illusory reality created on the theatrical stage. But the phrase has left the arts and is now firmly embedded in the techno-lexicon.

Virtual has become a computer word. Virtual reality has come to mean a computer-simulated environment of either a real or imaginary place. I remember hearing it the first time while watching people who wore what looked like welder’s goggles; they seemed to be randomly moving like puppets on strings, interacting with something only they could see. Now, there are entire virtual worlds; worlds that exist only as computer-simulated environments. There are even virtual relationships; relationships that exist only online with no physical interaction whatsoever. Virtual reality is almost like the real thing but not quite. The gap between the real and not-quite reality, however, keeps getting smaller in the virtual realm, as technology advances. These not-quite experiences are still good enough for many purposes for many people.

If you or someone you know is struggling with technology addiction or is stuck in a “virtual reality,” call The Center • A Place of HOPE at 1-888-771-5166 to speak with a team of treatment specialists. They will be able to help you evaluate your recovery options, and connect you with the help and support you need.