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Virtual (un)reality

"All the world's a stage." Shakespeare had it right. But I doubt he ever envisioned a drama like the microchip revolution, and the notion that audiences should be able to store the whole play on a disk for later viewing and possible re-editing.

The word "access" has become a mantra of the information age. New wireless gadgets at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas promise better access to online services and the Web, whether the user is relaxing at home or scaling Mt. Everest. Meanwhile, corporate mergers such as AOL-Time Warner give the communications industry access to a whole universe of entertainment products.

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It's all supposed to be wonderful for anyone who can point and click.

Download the latest bestseller while watching the Super Bowl, and don't forget to cast your vote in the latest football fan survey, or send comments on game strategy to the coach's personal chat room.

But really, how interesting is this supposed to be? I honestly don't feel the urge to jump up and run to the nearest modem when the TV announcers exclaim, "You'll enjoy the game even more by logging onto our broadcast Web site! See the game statistics updated after every play!"

Sorry, guys. I'm using the Homer Simpson approach and staying on the couch for now. However, I may be expressing an outdated attitude. Recent news stories keep reminding me that I have a "push" mentality, having grown up with programming that is pushed on viewers by the broadcasters. The new "pull" strategy is aimed at hip, younger audience and allows them to choose what they want from a growing electronic menu.

Shopping, movies, books, music - it's all going to be cyber-available 24/7. (That's a hip way of saying it'll be online all day, every day. See, I'm not a total fogey.)

Forget to tape the Grammy Awards? That's OK. It'll be archived somewhere on the Web, along with the Country Music Awards, American Music Awards, and all the other great ceremonial events of our time. Maybe you can even compile your own private collection of sound bites from Stevie Nicks!

I don't want to imply that all this new technology is useless. We just need to be sure it doesn't swallow every moment of our free time. Or my free time, rather.

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For many years, I have dreamed of shooting a new opening sequence of "The Mod Squad" with myself spliced into the cast, right between Clarence Williams III and Peggy Lipton.

Now it seems possible that digital imaging will allow me to fulfill this modest aspiration sometime in the coming decade, and I will have a marvelous video clip to show off at parties.

If I were an aggressive young entreprenuer, I would start a business and offer this service to all TV fans, so everyone could insert themselves onto the small screen for a fleeting moment of stardom. It's an entertaining idea. Somebody should be able to pull it off.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society