Becoming Virtual: Reality in the Digital Age by Pierre Lévy; translated by Robert Bononno
(Plenum Trade, 1998, 207 pages)
Most things that are written about digital technology become irrelevant pretty quickly. Pierre Lévy’s Becoming Virtual is a significant exception to this rule. Though the original French edition was published over twenty years ago, Lévy’s reflections on virtualization as a human phenomenon, and his explanation of this phenomenon in bodies, digital texts, and economics, are startlingly relevant. Lévy uses philosophical tools to define virtualization and show how it extends human faculties. He shows how the virtualization of human intelligence through the internet and digital texts form part of a collective intelligence which blurs the line between the objective and the subjective.
Lévy is not uncritical of technological developments. He acknowledges that “virtualization is often experienced as something inhuman, dehumanizing” (183). However, he attempts (and quite successfully I think) to show that “virtualization” is not entirely unique to the digital era. Virtualization is a part of how the human species responds to cultural and material problems, transforming itself in the process. Despite its age, Becoming Virtual is an excellent book for anyone who is curious about how technology affects our minds, bodies, and the environments in which we live.