Interfaces with quasi-things: an approach to virtual reality environments from the perspective of Flusser’s technical images and immaterial information


The emergence of computer graphics and even the devices of multisensory inputs for the user natural interactions with the virtual environments enhance new possibilities for the exploration of non-material contexts based on Flusser’s thoughts. Indeed, following this line it is also possible to argue that the materialities of communication theory proposed by Gumbrecht (2003) seems to reach a new level of artificial tangibility of shapes and/or spaces when explored in Virtual Reality (VR) interfaces. 

On this way, this essay launches a critical look at the user experience with the technical-images (visual), sounds (audio) and interactions (gestures and movements) generated in VR environments. The discussion takes place on a series of factors related to what we call in this work techno-experience – the user, the devices and the virtual space – with this specific kind of technological mediatic surface (Ferreira, 2007; Sodré, 2010; Zilles Borba, 2018). The theoretical approach is also guided by reflections on aspects of materiality of non-things within the digital codified universe previously presented by Flusser – but also shared by authors such as Gumbrecht (2003), Castells (1999), Kerckhove (1995), Virilio (1995) and Baudrillard (1994). Flusser, also suggested that the arrival of computer software, during the second half of the 20th century, levered our society towards a moment of detachment of material possessions in order to value their binary versions conceived via communicational flows – the possibilities of a physical non-materiality context, the concept of the non-thing in a virtual surface, the metaphor of our own reality through digital interfaces accessed by electronic devices (menus, buttons, icons, mouse, keyboards and hyperlinks). But, nowadays, with the possibility of creating virtual realities that mimic the user's neurosensory impulses (interfaces and devices that stimulate the user’s body senses) what perception can we have of immaterial information within the algorithmic context that is not more metaphorical, but a perfect (or almost it) copy of physical reality? 

In order to strengthen the repertoire of knowledge to answer such a question, the work also proposes an empirical approach to complement the theoretical debate. Thus, in a practical experience, the researcher wears VR equipment and electronic devices (headset, goggles, sensors, joysticks, headphones and more) in order to feel what it is like to be in the “skin” of an electronic avatar. For data collection, notes will be made by assistant researchers (students) while the researcher makes comments out loud in real time, in order to report sensory and mental aspects that may influence the notion of materialities, shapes and information of things. In short, it is assumed that the emerging VR devices are able to stimulate user senses, creating a new perspective of experiences with the technical images. An immaterial world (yes, this is what it is) that simulates details of the physical world but, this time, with digital models that reproduce neurosensory aspects such as scales, proportions, textures, touch, heat, cold, sound intensity and even aromas (and no longer metaphors of places, objects and people). Friends, welcome to the era of interfaces with quasi-things.