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This afternoon I dropped in to one session of an interesting two day conference called Play’s the Thing, which was aiming to give space to the discussion of creative approaches to wellbeing. My impression was that the event had been really rich and diverse, and the whole programme looked fascinating.

The session I went to featured an excellent, energetic and intellectually dense talk from Steve Fuller, who recently spoke here at the RSA, followed by a panel discussion in which Buddhist psychotherapist and writer Gay Watson, new media pioneer Bill Thompson and the RSA’s Jonathan Rowson responded to what Steve had to say. In the twenty minute whirlwind of his talk, Steve illustrated that we are at a crossroads in the way we define what it is to be human.

He presented three sketches of what humanity might look like in the future – one in which we enhance ourselves to the hilt with brain boosting drugs and technological advances, another in which we minimise the gap between ourselves and the natural world, and a third in which we abandon our carbon based bodies in favour of a virtual existence.

In drawing attention to some of the challenges that come as virtual life becomes a feature of embodied life, Steve recounted the tale of a couple who ‘met’ in the cybernetic world of Second Life. They went on to meet and marry in the ‘real world’. When the Second Life husband went on to have a Second Life affair, and the real world wife got wind of this, the virtual infidelity was cited and accepted as grounds for a real world divorce.

This precipitated a really interesting discussion about whether this simulated infidelity was any different in nature from the example of a Victorian couple, who had never met in person, exchanging love letters. For some reason I’m not quite sure of, this discussion became rather frenzied, with a member of the audience shouting ‘hey!’ in protest about being interrupted/ misunderstood by Steve Fuller, and the whole exchange being more than a little fiery.

Very interesting stuff, but I have to say, I found it slightly disquieting; it didn’t do much for my wellbeing.


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