Spi-Fi: Caprica, Call of Duty and the Descent into Virtuality



Non-US readers click here.

Caprica's Daniel Greystone is an alternate reality version of Jaron Lanier and vice versa. For those of you who don't remember, Lanier- like Greystone- became a techno-celebrity in the early 90s selling an idea without an application. "Virtual Reality" was nowhere near the application stage- not really- in those heady days of 80 MB hard drives and 2400 bps modems. There were a few attempts- lame arcade stalls and neck-breaking helmet/headset devices that no one in their right mind wanted to wear. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that we'll probably bypass the headgear stage entirely and phase into some kind of neural interface with all of this technology.

But Lanier was not like Greystone in that Lanier was/is a hippie idealist who is horrified by the current state of the Internet and the rest. Just as the Diggers were by the zit-faced sheep who bused themselves to Haight-Asbury in the wake of the Summer of Love, and turned an elite Bohemian enclave into a hellish pit of exploitation- commercial, sexual, pharmaceutical, you name it. You see, too many of those star children that went to find themselves (wearing flowers in their hair) wound up raped, ripped off and strung out before The White Album was even released.

Same thing happened in the wake of the Summer of Digital Love, and the flotsam of the past two decades has soured Lanier (and others) on the techno-idealism they helped sell in the first place. Lanier has written a book (You Are Not a Gadget) shouting down techno-Babylon:

Lanier’s critique of the free-culture movement is trenchant, and it’s especially biting when he calls out the extreme Internet Pollyannaism of many Silicon Valley luminaries and ivory-tower cyber-law scholars. Lanier castigates the quixotic techno-utopianism (which he labels “cybernetic totalism”) of extreme digital-age futurists such as Ray Kurzweil and Kevin Kelly, who enthuse that a beneficent “hive mind,” technological “singularity,” or “noosphere“ is approaching. Theirs is a vision of the Net as an organism powered by the wisdom of crowds, coming together in a single, collective consciousness.

Lanier argues that such thinking is largely bunk, but he fears it could have dangerous ramifications for humanity anyway. He wants to refocus the inquiry about the Internet’s impact on society and culture around the question of whether it has bettered the lot of individual human beings, not collectives or crowds. The early cyberspace dream, he laments, was guided by “a sweet faith in human nature,” but this “has been superseded by a different faith in the centrality of imaginary entities epitomized by the idea that the Internet as a whole is coming alive and turning into a superhuman creature.”

Referring to these thinkers as “digital Maoists,” Lanier argues that their movement “starts to look like a religion rather quickly.”
Well, that's exactly what Caprica is about, isn't it?

Caprica is Rome with fedoras and Ford Fairlanes, as well. It's perfect casting that Polly Walker is the pivotal character in the evolution of the Cylons- because we're seeing a replay of Imperial Rome here. The confusion and chaos of Empire gave rise to the simple certainties of monotheism, which was a revelation in the babel of syncretism and religious deviation that cosmopolitanism gave birth to. Of course, it would take cold, hard steel- the "grey stone"- to finally settle the differences between all of the monotheisms (Jewish, Christian, Solar, etc.) vying for power and position in Rome (along with some typically Italian concession-making). By the time it was over it was all a world away from the ecstatic visions of Paul the Apostle, one of history's epochal visionaries.

Pity the poor visionary. They usually suffer and scrape to bring liberating, transcendent new visions to the world, but the world doesn't want liberation or transcendence. It wants money, sex and the satisfaction that only taking someone else's happiness away from them can offer the primordial reptilian mind within us. Unfortunately, religion is all too often the facilitator of this process. Social movements like religions always become what they set out to replace, because the world always ends up making the rules.

And the rules have it that virtual reality offers unlimited license- which we see in the very first scenes of the Caprica pilot. The Internet has done the same, which people like Lanier are beginning to rail against. And so it is that killing grounds like World of Warcraft and Call of Duty are the chosen environment for young males today. There's an eternity of information out there to immerse yourself in instead, but ringing those limbic, almost autonomic bells is what we're seeing in our emerging Virtuality. Hearing the rage that Call of Duty inspires coming from across the hall here sounds more like the Coliseum- or the Rubicon- than the Academy, certainly.

And we see it in Caprica- New Cap City is a free-for-all of testosteronic aggression and die-you -die finality. It's hypnotically gorgeous and arbitrarily lethal- just like the planet Earth in its natural state. Which is why civilization requires unnatural behavior- the suppression of urges and impulses, to be exact. Video game technology has heretofore offered an acceptable outlet for those urges, which is exactly why crime rates have fallen as resolutions and bitrates have increased.

But what happens as that digital-free-for-all and consensus reality continue to merge? I'm not sure Caprica- which ends up as Battlestar Galactica, after all- can necessarily tell us. The level of surveillance on Caprica seems miniscule to our own, for instance. I still think William Gibson has more to tell us than Ronald Moore, but there are any number of surprises lurking around corners that none of us are privy to as yet. Not even the visionaries.

But maybe the visionary's problem is that he's always trying to offer us shortcuts and surefire bets, in a world that will tolerate no such thing. Maybe only constant struggle is the answer.

Maybe that's the object of this holographic virtual reality game we're all stuck in.

Non-US readers, try TVDuck.com, as always.

25 comments:

  1. Unfortunately that video link isn't availiable here sounds really interesting though. Are there other links please?

    You have to see this! Holographic Aliens and Obamaknaton! http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2010/03/bbcs_superpower_season.html

    http://thekoolskool.blogspot.com/2010/03/war-of-worlds-amerika-hoax-news.html

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  2. The Virtual Panopticon has its start in gaming perhaps, but if the Google-Plex attains sentience, it will behoove us and our descendants to enhance ourselves just to get a job.

    The old world-government model where people lounge around doing nothing drawing a dole might only partly be true, with mega-corps running the planet, most everyone has to earn their keep.

    And that requires being part of the Group Mind/Google-Plex.

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  3. I've written this before, but CAPRICA is - if nothing else - very good story telling, with an eerie sub-text of tension.

    Beyond the metaphoric (and there is plenty of that) it is impressive film-making. The texture and mood is impressively rich.

    But more than anything, it feels like it is a powerful reflection of RIGHT NOW. It doesn't reflect some preconceived ideal of a TV narrative. We are tipping toward a newer chapter of humanity (where we are on that point, I don't know) but this slick TV show feels like it a mirror from just a little bit farther down the path.

    And - because this is a prequel - we all "know" that the outcome of all of this is that all those planets age gunna get destroyed.

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  4. Interesting as always Chris,
    Where would one true god on Caprica be without his adversary? The devil, the fallen one? The fact that 'code', language, pattern recognition is the basis of the real world, as the quantum physicists tell as -as much as a virtual world.

    I'm onto this 'exorcist' demonology angle, or is it angel? Over some recent articles about Vatican Exorcists blaming the world's troubles on Satan. But, this very same exorcist, does not believe in ghosts. This gets even more interesting.
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article7060354.ece
    A Vatican Demonologist Exorcist, does not believe in ghosts, -they are a construct of the human mind. Right... Ghosts are the easiest form of other world experience next to psychic events, and ufo sightings. The average person experiences. Ghost's do not fit into the 'churches' power. what you dont' get beamed up... to heaven or dragged to hell on death? How about that.
    One other thing this old 'witch' hunter says, -when asking a 'possessed' person what a demon was -the demon answered satanic language. -code, pattern, logos, it is a construct. The question is constructed by who? We can go back into Gnostic movies like the Matrix which had a similar concept of 'rogue' code running wild in the 'creation' of a ... See Moreperfect world. Yet the human mind has the ability to manifest whatever ideas the unconscious focuses on. After thousands of years the old gods are not only the new devils, -but actually existing in the energy word we inhabit. Demons are 'code', satanic language, -pattern recognition, someone created this 'program' time to find out -who and why. I am very amused that a man -priest, who believes in angels and demons -says ghosts are not real. -Get with the program, heaven or hell, -the church or else, got it:)

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  5. "Pity the poor visionary. They usually suffer and scrape to bring liberating, transcendent new visions to the world, but the world doesn't want liberation or transcendence."

    Exactly! This is a brilliant insight and it handily explains the frustration that visionaries ultimately experience if they live long enough.

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  6. Nice post-- as always. However I'm not sure about this statement...

    "Video game technology has heretofore offered an acceptable outlet for those urges, which is exactly why crime rates have fallen as resolutions and bitrates have increased."

    Seems kinda specious.

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  7. "It's hypnotically gorgeous and arbitrarily lethal- just like the planet Earth in its natural state. Which is why civilization requires unnatural behavior- the suppression of urges and impulses, to be exact. Video game technology has heretofore offered an acceptable outlet for those urges, which is exactly why crime rates have fallen as resolutions and bitrates have increased.

    But what happens as that digital-free-for-all and consensus reality continue to merge? I'm not sure Caprica- which ends up as Battlestar Galactica, after all- can necessarily tell us"

    A couple of interesting points that are a little detailed.

    Possibly Richard Morgan's most interesting novel is his somewhat unfinished (or finally incomplete) novel BLACK MAN (TH1RTE3N in the US). It's based in part on his reading of some evolutionary psychologists. The essential premise is that in the future you have a subclass of genetically reengineered humans who aren't really human anymore. You have 13's which are mostly male agressors used as the perfect soldiers and you have others like the bonobo's, extremely attractive and sexually charged females.

    Anyway, the basic concept is that as humanity progresses, it becomes less capable of pure, individual brutality. The original alpha male types are suppressed in favor of patriarchal and later matriarchal pacific socialism.

    For example, in the early bronze age, Achilles was the model of the ultimate man. Basically, a sociopathic narcissist who was very good at killing. As societies and civilization grew up, that sort of man became the "tragic hero." Essentially, the story of tragedy from an evolutionary perspective is the story of the alpha male falling and either killed or banished from the city/society in favor of a patriarchal, cooperative system.

    Now, if you look at the interesting silver fox domestication program in Russia, it brings up some interesting points to add to this premise. A scientist wanted to see how long exactly it would take to domesticate a truly wild animal. He found, surprisingly, it only took around ten years. Also, something else interesting happened.

    The way he made his selection was that onlu foxes who were not afraid of humans were allowed to breed. His only criteria was friendliness toward humans and nothing else.

    However, unexpectedly, the foxes developed strange physical qualities, such as smaller bones, teeth and floppy ears that we associate with dogs even though the breeders were only concerned with psychological behavior.

    The theory is that "friendly" wild animals are those whose cells don't fully develop to adulthood. Basically, domestication is the process of taking the animals that won't grow to adults and keeping them "puppies" permanently.

    The somewhat controversial theory here is that socialization of the human species did much the same thing. Basically, we domesticated ourselves by eliminating the aggressive alpha males. Even though wars have much more destructive potential today, that is primarily technological, and since WW2 the military has had to develop even more extreme methods to develop soldiers willing to kill other individuals as well as using technology to remove the human element from murder.

    As far as Caprica, the "inevitable" progress toward Battlestar Galactica is something of a hindrance, but it would be interesting and exciting, if at some point the writers led the audience to believe that it was straying from that path - that the future really was wide open.

    John H

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  8. Absolutely brilliant writing here on this post, Chris! As I've stated before, your words lately are becoming poetic and hypnotic...much like Caprica itself.

    I think that Caprica is emerging into something other than the series pretended to be at its inception. Whether this is by design or implicit and beyond the control of writers/producers remains to be seen. Is it possible to lose control of a series? What a great Outer Limits episode that would make!

    Again, I think we are being seduced by this method, madness, reality within Caprica by some agency/agent to perhaps test the reality of our own world or at least our perception of it.

    Caprica, to me, is no longer the prequel (maybe it's the sequel) to BSG. It's moving beyond that. And possibly beyond the destruction of the 12 worlds. I fully expect the "Other Sky," the virtual Caprica, to still exist somewhere and maybe it was downloaded into some piece of equipment before the ships were flown into the Sun on Earth at the end of BSG.

    And I also fully expect the denouement of this series to be that Caprica survived and that BSG was all a dream! (I get that a lot from my soap operas, you know!)

    I re-read your Lily Cole post of nearly exactly a year ago and the disparity of your writing then verses now in this genre is overwhelming! Who are you channeling? Just kidding! However, you are evolving beyond the confines of this blog and much of what you are writing here/now would transfer well to a mainstream adaption (another book! Time magazine?) that would benefit many more than are digesting it here.

    To use your term, "fascinating"!

    Thanks, Chris!
    SoapFan

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  9. Awesome post, Chris! So glad to read this intelligent conversation about Caprica, which is a pretty smart show.

    I am also enjoying the narrative lines about seduction and addiction, which are developing in parallel, as Amanda falls under the spell of Sr. Clarice.

    It's also interesting to note that Joseph Adama, a mob lawyer with lots of real blood on his hands, is completely repulsed by New "Crap" City.

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  10. Great post and comments.
    Our monetary system becoming more global as well as virtual, has many scary possibilities as well. Hard to think the music will keep playing for our current financial system. Talk of a new IMF currency as an alternative to the euro or dollar, makes me wonder about human struggle for wealth that is literally lent into existence.
    There's a great documentary from the 1920's called "Grass" about a large nomadic tribe in Iran, and their quest to find greener pastures. To see a large completely sustainable society seems incredibly foreign now. Not that it wasn't a harsh life

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  11. Mmmm, zesty commenty goodness! I'm really busy again today but I definitely want to dig into these comments and the VR 5 post as well. So watch this space!

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  12. Kudos, my friend. Keep up the Caprica coverage. Never gave BSG the time but am completely enthralled with Caprica and the whole cyberpunk spi-fi topics.

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  13. @ John H.

    Brilliant comment.
    What i ask myself though is: iS this real evolution in the making or is it beeing fabricated?

    Again,great comment

    Greetings from Germany (soon Greece)

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  14. Ooops. Left this on the the wrong thread:

    That's a good question. Personally, I think it is akin to breeding domestic animals for special traits but, obviously, at some point the human species lost a lot of its chromosomal diversity so our physiological range is far less than dogs have, for example.

    Another interesting connection to this is Peter McAllister's somewhat humorous MANTHROPOLOGY where he writes: "As a class we are in fact the sorriest cohort of masculine Homo sapiens to ever walk the planet."

    He studies the evidence of the physical prowess of our prehistoric ancestors and discovers things like footprints showing that men were running at about 37 kph (23 mph) along the muddy shore of a lake. For comparison, world record holder Usain Bolt reached a speed of 42 kph (26 mph) at the Beijing Olympics.

    The implication being that due to the demands of the environment, almost every person was capable of energetic outbursts only Olympic athletes can manage today.

    Also, in the same program about the silver fox, the documentarians spoke to anthropologists who admitted that though "cavemen" and bronze age peoples were smaller than modern men, the remains we have of them show they have larger teeth and bones and probably much stronger musculature than typical today.

    To go back to the cryptoterrestrial hypothesis, the idea would be that the predecessor race, threatened by the fertile, aggressive and physically more powerful homo sapiens would introduce agriculture and civilization knowing that it would essentially pacify and soften the species over a long period of time. If Mac Tonnies' theory of UFO's and CT's instead of ET's is correct, then civilization might not so much be a program to convert humanity to a new species but to simply manage its more destructive tendencies.

    John H

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  15. Of all of Bradbury's various incarnations of The Veldt, my fave has got to be The Illustrated Man with Rod Steiger.

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  16. Thanks for introducing us (well, me anyway) to Lanier. I am with him nearly all the way. I too have long been a "digital skeptic" and a luddite - sort of. I am not averse to technology in principle, but rather in practice, as I witness it being practiced. And how it is being practiced is, I think, inevitable, in the hands of human nature. I'm pretty damned sure we are really going to fuck ourselves up with it. In fact, is that not exactly what is happening with each 'new' day, month, year, research paper, patent, market rollout, and military contract? Concerning the unfolding of mankinds Techtopia, the word 'fubar' comes to mind. Personally, I neither need nor want all this 'amazing' crapola. Not just the gizmos and gadgets. All of it.

    I can envision (speaking of visionairies) a world where all the true benefits of technology would exist and be advanced, but without the kind of gaga idiocy driving it now. This goes for VR as much as all the rest.

    In such a paradigm, the most real benefits of technology would still be realized, and in fact, far more so than what we even imagine now. What we have now is insanity.

    We need to come to see technology general technology as we do fire. As something that can be very useful, but also very dangerous of treated irresponsibly. Not as something to immerse ourselves in, but to handle and use with prudence. Humanity needs to grow up. This is probably what it will take: "The burned child fears the fire."

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  17. Just watched that recently on Netflix's player. Very good adaptation even with the odd but somehow compelling 70's futuristic design sense.

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  18. "We need to come to see technology general technology as we do fire. As something that can be very useful, but also very dangerous of treated irresponsibly. Not as something to immerse ourselves in, but to handle and use with prudence. Humanity needs to grow up. This is probably what it will take: "The burned child fears the fire.""

    Since the 40's, learned people have advocated placing strict controls on the use of television and all pervasive electronic media. Of course, in the US and elsewhere, this is considered censorship and completely against the ideals of democracy.

    On the other hand, there is probably nothing out there that has had such a powerful influence on us, and rather than promoting democracy or an informed society, we're perfectly fine letting it promote commerce and skewed political views.

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  19. Dynametrios wrote:
    @ John H.

    Brilliant comment.
    What i ask myself though is: iS this real evolution in the making or is it beeing fabricated? "

    I completely agree with that question. Especially when Chris wrote:
    "...Video game technology has heretofore offered an acceptable outlet for those urges, which is exactly why crime rates have fallen as resolutions and bit rates have increased.

    But what happens as that digital-free-for-all and consensus reality continue to merge?"

    Falling crime rates linked to VR? That's deep and decreased or non-existent crime is one of the goals of a Utopian or "advanced" society. Repair of social ills through "mind games" though?

    So I am now wondering if we are the "victims," or rather consensual and willing (because we love that VR so!) participants of a social engineering scheme from a source with an unknown agenda.

    SoapFan

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  20. Reminds me a bit of the intentional contrast Huxley made between his dystopian novel BRAVE NEW WORLD and his utopian THE ISLAND. Both presented the same conditions and processes in completely different lights. Personally, I feel BNW is closer to what we are approaching.

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  21. But maybe the visionary's problem is that he's always trying to offer us shortcuts and surefire bets, in a world that will tolerate no such thing. Maybe only constant struggle is the answer.

    Maybe that's the object of this holographic virtual reality game we're all stuck in.


    That raises a grand subject in itself. As with all attempts at a utopia made by humans whether through national or marxist socialism, etc, if the question of good and evil is not dealt with, man will continue to beat the virtual dead horse in trying to force things to work. The reason video games are so much fun (for some) is because it allows for vivid experience without tangible consequences. The question of evil and suffering has always frustrated the atheistic viewpoint and will continue too, because we have a hard time accepting 'struggle' in design, so to speak.

    If the Paul reference was the Biblical Paul, then that last paragraph regarding the visionary does not apply to him. He offered no shortcuts and suffered plenty and willingly and pleaded for the acceptance of reality. That leads us into the subjects of the two types of visionaries. One does offer shortcuts, serpent in the garden, the Watchers of the book of Enoch, etc. while the other is 'conservative', if you will, and while seeing a better, more perfect future simultaneously seeks to remain on the proper course to get there, not attempting to overstep bounds or skip ahead.

    It's a fascinating and yet simple narrative that has played out historically both in the real world and in fiction, and still we resist learning and maturing.

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  22. Kool- As I always say, check TVDuck whenever a vid doesn't work. And thanks for those bitchin' links!

    Dad- Scary- and yet so poetically expressed. Very Dickian, in fact.

    Clellie- Agreed on all points. Plus, Vancouver.

    Anony1026- This stupid "Vatican exorcist" crap is part of a PR program to divert attention from all of the hideous crimes against children that organization has committed or enabled. But I'm grokking your allegories. Dickian and Gibsonian!


    FaD- Yes- the Gnostics were right. This world rewards the worst among us and tortures the best.

    Anony205- Think about it.

    John H- Juicy datasophy upload- lots to chew over there. Well done!

    Soapie- Well, there's 58 years between now and the Fall, so we'll see how it plays out. And given the virituality aspect, there's all sorts of potentials for stories to play out in that world. I just hope SyFy keeps it on the air! RBM just said they'll be back, but I'm afraid the costs might be a major factor. We're closer than ever to Running Man, aren't we? Thanks as always for your kind words and support!

    Mark- Cheers. I just hope it's not too smart for TV.

    77M- Yes- giantism/centralism always fails when you look at history. It's impractical, incompetent and based in alpha male ego, nothing else.

    Caleb- You know, BSG is really well done, but the militarism of it is a big turn off for me. It took me all these years to realize that. I tried watching some Space Above and Beyond recently and had the same reaction.

    John H- Well, the CTs could also be the hall monitors of our global high school as well.

    Davidly- Just watched that again. Love that movie. Love Ray Bradbury's book too.

    Joe- Maybe the real problem is Utopianism itself, just like the daydream of One World. Maybe we need to set humbler goals for ourselves and achieve those first and Utopia will take care of itself.

    Anony323- Sixties actually! I love me some Claire Bloom, too. Perfect for that film.

    Anony458- Yeah- powerful technology has a bad habit of amplifying the bad and suppressing the good.

    Anony448- Hmm. Sometimes I think Brave New World was overly optimistic.

    Cory- Well, evil is a subjective term. And one group's good often means untold suffering for someone else. And more often than not, religion is the conduit for that process, isn't it?

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  23. Well, evil can be subjective depending on how conservative or liberal a person is, but everyone can recognize that if anything has design to it, and then if the design is distorted in some way so the system fails to perform its designed function then we have evil or sin.

    If anything, I've learned that religion is a subjective term in modern times. Part of being human is observing, interpreting and acting on our understanding of the world. Globalism is religious, just as any other '-ism' there may be is. The characteristics are all there. It would take more writing, but it's not hard to prove that every human has a 'religion'. What happens is, sometimes groups of people with the same religion group together and have influence. Some have churches, some have meeting halls and board rooms. They just appeal to different 'authorities.'

    I digress though and apologize for doing so. I just have to point out that Paul, even Jesus, were not worried with 'religion.' They were concerned with truth and love, not rules and regulations.

    I'm just troubled by statements like 'evil is subjective.' That opens up all kinds of horrors as you know history is full of. I also understand though that someone's incorrect definition of evil also creates a system of horror if the definition is skewed to selfish ends as you suggest happens in 'religion.'

    I'm long-winded. My bad. I enjoy your work very much. Please keep it up! :)

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  24. Not sure if anyone's mentioned this story from 2008...

    http://hplusmagazine.com/articles/virtual-reality/virtual-life-actual-death

    There's a lot of resonances with Caprica and the psychological implications of VR.

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  25. anyone remember the anime, Serial Experiments Lain.

    http://www.veoh.com/collection/SerialExperimentsLain/watch/v608321kZpEDK4A

    Its worth a second watch...

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