Publication details [#7425]

Long, Kathleen L. 2004. Virtually there: An analysis of metaphors in the discourse of virtual reality. New Brunswick, N.J.. 312 pp.
Publication type
Ph.D dissertation
Publication language


Marvin (1988) contends that the introduction of a new medium constitutes a point of transformation in the social order. That introduction begins not with the implementation of a particular technique, but with its conceptualizations. This study analyzes the early discourse of virtual reality to trace the emerging concepts shaping this technical innovation. Virtual reality (also known as "VR") is considered by some to be the "ultimate" medium, in that it attempts to approximate the experience of physical reality within a computer environment (Benedikt, 1991; Biocca & Lanier, 1992; Lanier, 1995; Rheingold, 1992). As virtual reality is a developing innovation, the technical and social applications are still in the formative stages. By examining popular and scholarly texts, the development and changes in virtual reality discourse are tracked over time within and between these discourses. This study combines the theoretical perspectives of diffusion of innovations and metaphors to investigate changes in the discourse surrounding virtual reality. Diffusion of innovations studies the spread of ideas, while metaphors establish a base for the creation and use of new ideas or concepts within discursive contexts. This dissertation builds upon a preliminary study of the diffusion of the term "virtual reality" (Biocca, Kim, & Levy, 1995) and a critical reading of a selection of virtual reality literature (Chesher, 1998). This analyses focuses on three areas: the structural metaphors used in popular and scholarly discourses that conceptualize virtual reality, the consensus and/or contradictions of structural metaphors associated with virtual reality that have developed within and between these discourses, and the progression of metaphors pertaining to virtual reality with regard to the initial phase of the diffusion process. Technologies are used as part of cultural narratives and are social constructions. Studying the metaphors constructing the early discourse of virtual reality may reveal emerging, competing, and enduring themes valuable in understanding and contextualizing the future implications of virtual reality technology. The goals of this study are to add to the research pertaining to the early stage of the diffusion process, apply metaphors to the study of innovation, and to analyze the themes constituting virtual reality. (Kathleen Long)