Michael Ventura writes on AlterNet:
Not so long ago, I taught a graduate writing seminar in which I got caught in an argument about virtual vs. “real” experience. Two students—among the brightest in the class—insisted that they could go to Rome via a computer program through which they could view every street, turn this corner and that as they pleased, look at every ruin and work of art, and their experience would be as real, as engaged, as if they’d actually been there. n “But,” said I, “a pigeon couldn’t shit on your head.”
Granting that any experience can be called “real,” in that it is an experience, I argued that there are differences in the nature of virtual and actual reality. For one thing, on your walk through a virtual Rome, you aren’t even walking: you’re sitting. And what’s Rome without the wonderful smells of food? Even if your virtual Rome is accompanied by recorded sounds of Rome, that’s nothing like the sounds of racket, traffic, music, and language, the melodious cacophony of Italian, spoken all around you.