“Virtual Unreality” by Charles Seife, 2014

Virtual Unreality_cr“Virtual Unreality” looks into internet subterfuge and how today’s digital capability impacts our perception of the world and relationship to information. Chapter by chapter, Charles Seife relates anecdotes of deception, and the drowning out of ‘signal’ by noise.  Many of these accounts have a humorous side to them, such as: the “Harvard-trained experimental psychologist and relationship expert” who corresponds with “Ivana”,  whom he met through an online dating service.  After trading emails for two months, he finally figures out that she is a computer program in Russia.   Another humorous tale is Newt Gingrich’s campaign in 2011 and his bragging about a strong Twitter following; “I have six times as many Twitter followers as all the other candidates combined”, he crowed.  Eventually it was discovered that only 8 percent of them were real human beings.  In addition to fake people, there are phony companies, junk science journals, deteriorating news reporting, and ‘photoshopped’ images. A good example of the latter is an image of Bert from Sesame Street sitting behind Osama Bin Laden which was unwittingly picked up by Reuters and the Associated Press, and even made into protest posters.  There is a chapter about extreme or delusional points of view finding followers and influence through the connectivity of the web.  Many of these phenomena are scams directed at the individual internet user and others affect society at large.  At the end of the book is a list of safeguards when using or seeking information on the internet. Charles Seife’s art of turning a phrase and journalistic skill make this an entertaining and informative work in a succinct 207 pages.


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