Laugh Date: Thursday, February 22, 2018

What's Inside

Best of RAH:
Editorial - The Virtual Word

by Dave Bealer

This editorial first appeared in the January 1994 issue of Random Access Humor.

Copyright © 1994 Dave Bealer, All Rights Reserved.

Virtual reality promises to be the hottest technology of 1994. Don a pair of goggles and a glove, and you can go anywhere the programmer's warped imagination can take you. To jaded generations reared on television and video games, virtual reality promises the next level of instant gratification. Go anywhere: kill anyone or anything.

The real surprise is that this is nothing new. A special kind of virtual reality has existed for centuries. It requires no programs, no microprocessors, no rubber chickens, nor even any electricity. The components of this ancient virtual reality machine are the written word and the human imagination.

This fact first occurred to me during my junior year of college. My roommate had been in the U.S. Navy. He had been to many far corners of the world that I will likely never see in person. Despite this, he once claimed that I was more well travelled than he was. When asked to support this preposterous claim, he pointed out that I was always reading science fiction, fantasy and many other types of novels (rather than doing my schoolwork, of course).

In a way my roommate was right. I've been to all manner of fantastic places, met amazing people, seen incredible things. These tours started at my convenience, proceeded at my own pace, and broke for dinner when my mother called. These excursions were led by legendary guides such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Heinlein, Anne McCaffrey, Douglas Adams, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

My roommate was always too busy to read much fiction, although I've never had the nerve to ask just what was going on over on his side of the room. Whatever it was, not reading more fiction was his loss, but his decision. Truly tragic are those folks who cannot read at all, people whose illiteracy bars them forever from the joy, the splendor of a well crafted story. These unfortunates can certainly watch movies or television, but even Hollywood's most spectacular and expensive special effects pale in comparison to the power of the written word and the human imagination.

Some elements of fiction can never be adequately represented on the screen, whether the screen is big or small, real or virtual. For instance, nobody could ever do complete justice to the scenes involving the infinite improbability drive on the starship Heart of Gold in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books. It just can't be done.

Computers and high-tech gadgetry promise to raise entertainment to new levels, but we can't afford to forget how to read and interpret stories (and information) ourselves. We laugh at science fiction tales of computers taking over the world, but if we lose the ability to think for ourselves they just may do it some day. If it really happens, it will be far from funny.

As you read these words, rejoice in your ability to do so. They can be your passport to any place on Earth, to the stars, and beyond. No batteries or assembly required.


Dave Bealer is a fifty-something mainframe systems programmer who works with CICS, z/OS and all manner of nasty acronyms at one of the largest heavy metal shops on the East Coast. He shares a waterfront townhome in Pasadena, MD. with a cat who annoys him endlessly as he assiduously avoids writing for and publishing Random Access Humor. Dave can be reached via e-mail at:


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