Incorporeal things and cognitive dissonance

dissonance-530

Most of the things which touch our daily lives are incorporeal. It’s been that way for so long that we’ve long since forgotten what it is like for it to be any other way, yet we’re suspicious when new incorporeal things intrude on our lives.

For many of us, money has been incorporeal for much of our lives. For your kids, probably for their whole lives. I rarely actually even carry any. A small plastic card that acts as an authentication token for a bunch of numbers in a database somewhere acts as my financial instrument, and buys me groceries and new slippers. Seriously, when did you last get your money in a small yellow envelope. I know I used to, but I can’t remember when that was, it was so long ago.

Paper money was so contentious in the USA at one time that it required a federal law to compel people to accept it as legal tender. Later that was overturned, but was again reinstated. We didn’t virtualise the value of currency very easily or very quickly.

So, the money I use to get groceries largely exists as the movement of numbers between databases, which is kind of fitting, since that money starts out as Linden Dollars, which Rolling Stone calls “fake money”.

Colour me failing-to-see-the-distinction, there. I perform services, I get paid, I buy groceries and pay taxes — although when I turn my computer on to do it, apparently I suddenly become a fake person, as WSJ tech writer Walt Mossberg would have it.

As for virtual goods (or fake goods as some would call them), what indeed are the uses of things that cost money that you can only look at?

Good question. Ask the Art industry for the last couple of thousand years. Or walk out onto the footpath and look up and down at all those yards and gardens that we spend so much money keeping up so that we can… err.. look at them.

The law happily accepts incorporeal things as property, indistinguishable under the law from things you can stub your toe on, or trip over in the dark. With virtual goods and property, the only real case-distinctions are about who actually has ownership over a given thing, which can be a tangle of contracts and End-User-License-Agreements.

As a culture we’ve taken to software, MP3s and podcasts and so on, but show us an avatar and a virtual pair of heels, and we suddenly get all nervous and standoffish. Why do you think that is?

“Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. … You need to believe in things that aren’t true. How else can they become?” — Terry Pratchett, Hogfather (1996)

Comments

  1. Anyone who has ever looked up the word “virtual” in a dictionary, might find it curious to discover that one of its definitions is “real”.

  2. TateruNino says

    That's one of the amusing parts to this. “Real in all but name”

    But then, where would the English language be if we stopped using words to mean five different, conflicting things? 🙂

  3. Oxymoron, anyone?

    From Webster's Open Dictionary:
    ox·y·mo·ron
    Pronunciation:
    ˌäk-sē-ˈmor-ˌän
    Function:
    noun
    Inflected Form(s):
    plural ox·y·mo·rons also ox·y·mo·ra Listen to the pronunciation of oxymora -ˈmȯr-ə
    Etymology:
    Late Greek oxymōron, from neuter of oxymōros pointedly foolish, from Greek oxys sharp, keen + mōros foolish
    Date:
    1657

    : a combination of contradictory or incongruous words (as cruel kindness) ; broadly : something (as a concept) that is made up of contradictory or incongruous elements

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/oxymoron

  4. Anyone who has ever looked up the word “virtual” in a dictionary, might find it curious to discover that one of its definitions is “real”.

  5. TateruNino says

    That's one of the amusing parts to this. “Real in all but name”

    But then, where would the English language be if we stopped using words to mean five different, conflicting things? 🙂

  6. Oxymoron, anyone?

    From Webster's Open Dictionary:
    ox·y·mo·ron
    Pronunciation:
    ˌäk-sē-ˈmor-ˌän
    Function:
    noun
    Inflected Form(s):
    plural ox·y·mo·rons also ox·y·mo·ra Listen to the pronunciation of oxymora -ˈmȯr-ə
    Etymology:
    Late Greek oxymōron, from neuter of oxymōros pointedly foolish, from Greek oxys sharp, keen + mōros foolish
    Date:
    1657

    : a combination of contradictory or incongruous words (as cruel kindness) ; broadly : something (as a concept) that is made up of contradictory or incongruous elements

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/oxymoron

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