Some I'm going to apologize in advance for bad logic, poor application of social theory, bad understanding of the neurologic basis of memories and the like. And I welcome any thoughts anyone has on the following.
I was talking with Penny Brough of W+K London about the Golden Gate Bridge. I'll admit, I was a little jet-lagged, but from what I recall, she was saying more folks know San Francisco through images of the Golden Gate bridge than will ever see the real bridge...so there are probably more virtual Golden Gate bridges traveling the world in folks heads than real memories experienced by folks who've actually seen it. And the SF of the mind may be as real to the non-visitor as the real one is to folks who've been there. And sometimes when you finally do see something, the real one isn't as pretty as the cumulative virtual one you remember though you'd never really seen it, anyway.
Maybe, somehow, getting a gray day downer the first time you cross the Golden Gate is like when you meet a movie star like Tom Cruise, and find out he's REALLY SHORT. Or not.
The power of cumulative virtual memory, not Tom Cruise, may be part of the reason why NYC seems to keep getting blasted to bits in movie after movie - it's a quick cheap "gimmie" for a filmmaker/storyteller to leverage the virtual NYC in viewer's heads, built from postcards, movies, TV shows and commercials - to create an instant pang of connection.
Side note - Lady Liberty gets the short end of the stick in quite a few movies - Planet of The Apes, The Day After, Escape From New York, etc. - she's even in the movie posters for them all.)
A good storyteller, one who engages and moves an audience, weaves the most effective tale when they leverage their listeners' cultural conventions, ideals, shared images, symbols, archetypes, creation myths, known characters and historical situations to create entry points - think Aesop's fables, Grimm's tales, Disney, Tolkien, The Apostles. NYC, through the cumulative weight of visual imagery and narrative, has entered the world's global memory bank. It is a virtually 'shared' city, though few (proportionally to the globe's population) have actually been there. A terrorist attack there, then, became an assault on a real thing AND on our global collective virtual memory.
We're familiar with taking a real thing (Golden Gate Bridge) and provide virtual copies (postcards) to create a virtual visual memory (of the card initially, but ultimately of the "Bridge"). Now we can personally create a virtual thing (an avatar) and create real copies (paintings, figurines, etc.) - like a 3-D printed 'Spore' figurine, a World of Warcraft figurine, or a portrait of your second life avatar. In the former, shared virtual memory is gleaned from a representation of the real. In the latter, real is distilled from virtual. Is one of those more real, less real, or more virtual?
Something happens, anything, and if the experience makes it out of your short term memory into long term, you are left with an accessible memory. Is the similarly accessible memory of a virtual experience (say finally mastering and manning the turret guns in Gears of War - FTW!) somehow less real than the memory of a real experience?
As worlds become truly immersive, the distinction between real and virtual is going to get awful gray, especially since you'll be able to upload your brain to the data cloud by 2050 and get rid of that pesky meat-space interface we call a "body".
Second Life is a real thing, and a virtual place and a collective memory fed by its citizens activities and preserved by Linden Labs infrastructure. It's a place where people can live out their fantasies (mundane and/or bizarre). Players create real space (and value) in a virtual place, 'real' because it can be perceived by the senses, remembered accurately by the brain, bought and sold, and it adheres to a rule system that preserves and protects the reality it creates. And players pay for the privilege of creating more value for others with each interaction. Sweeeeet.
Dubai-Land is a real thing, too. But it started as a (mind-numbingly expensive) dream, and is being forced, inch-by-terra-formed-inch, onto an incredibly inhospitable landscape. Watch the video below and be simultaneously blown away and appalled...and not just by the "action-movie-voiceover" narrative with memorable quotes like "think eco-tourism, but BIGGER", or "watch your kids turn into adults INSTANTLY, and live out their DREAM professions", but by how much this promo video reads like the opening sequence for a soon to be released post-apocalyptic film riffing on the follies of man:
Falcon City of Wonders, my favorite part of Dubai-Land, is a land mass tastefully formed to resemble a falcon spreading its wings, and features scale reproductions of the Pyramids ("with retail space the Egyptians would never have dreamed possible!"), the Eiffel tower, Big Ben, and the Taj Mahal. To keep this thing humble, the designers thoughtfully put in a jogging track around the scale Central Park in the form of a section of the Great Wall of China.
Falcon City of Wonders = big. Tom Cruise = not as big?
Are virtual worlds creating new collective memories? Yes. Will Dubai-land create a new collective memory pool (before its overrun by nuclear/plague/ebola/alien infested zombies)? Yes. Is Master Chief the new Luke Skywalker? Yes. What happens when you can't tell the difference between a virtual world and a real world? When does the difference not matter anymore?