Even I'm not lonely enough and desperate enough for this. All right, I'm close, but I'm not there yet. According to a New York Times article, a Hong Kong-based software developer, Artificial Life Inc., has developed a virtual girlfriend who men can date--and marry--via cell phone. Furthermore, there isn't one yet, but Artificial Life is also considering creating a virtual boyfriend who women will be able to date. One wonders whether or not there will be versions for people with different sexual orientations.
The subscription fee for this virtual relationship is only about $6 per month. That seems like a heck of a deal to me. Six dollars won't even get you into a real movie, to say nothing of bringing your virtual date. Besides, theaters usually want you to turn off your cell phone. How can Vivienne--that's her name--turn you on if you have to turn off her world?
Actually, Vivienne probably won't turn you on under any circumstances. The relationship with her is platonic, but what do you expect for $6? However, buyers beware. The $6 is only the starting point. It seems that Vivienne likes gifts (who doesn't?) and going to bars and restaurants. You can buy her virtual presents ranging from flowers and chocolates to diamond rings. Some of the gifts are included in your monthly fee, but others incur an extra charge of between 50 cents and $2.
That's not the end of the costs. In addition to sending you text messages and talking to you through the use of speech synthesis, Vivienne also appears rendered in 3D wandering through a few different virtual locations, so you will need one of the new phones capable of showing streaming video. And the $6 per month goes to Artificial Life Inc. You will still owe your cell phone company for any extra voice and data airtime that you use.
There is a real plus to all of this, at least for agoraphobics. As you go through your blissful relationship, taking Vivienne to virtual movies, eating in virtual restaurants, and getting ready to take off on virtual vacations from virtual airports, you will be spared the agony of actually having to do any of those things in the real world. Heaven forbid you should have to undergo any real experiences. Oh, there's just one warning: According to the article, if you choose to marry Vivienne, you will get real phone calls in the middle of the night from your virtual mother-in-law, who will nag you about treating her virtual daughter well. Now, please explain to me exactly why you would choose to pay for that.
Speaking of the virtual mother-in-law's virtual daughter, here are a couple of questions for philosophers: Is a virtual person "virtual" in the eyes of another virtual person who exists in the same virtual environment? And if a virtual tree falls a virtual forest, but there are no virtual people around to hear it, does it make a virtual sound? But I digress.
Here's some bad news. Vivienne will not strip for you. At least she won't in her current version, but who knows what will happen when her creators stumble on statistics showing the percentage of Internet revenue that goes to porn. Refusing to take her clothes off makes Vivienne more representative of the women I've dated, but it also lessens my incentive to subscribe.
Don't despair. There are some virtual locales where Vivienne will wear skimpy outfits. That is, unless you are in a country with a strict moral code against that sort of thing. Her makers are reprogramming Vivienne so that she won't expose her navel or any pierced body parts in certain countries. I'm guessing that there are some countries where the powers that be will not welcome her unless she covers herself from head to toe, exposing only her eyes. Even then, in those countries, conversation with her will probably be deemed acceptable only if the man is already engaged to her as a result of a virtual arranged marriage.
I suppose there are worse things than virtual dating. Instead, you could spend your time fighting in a vicious virtual war or committing violent virtual crimes in one of the virtual universes of today's brutal and increasingly realistic interactive video games. Dating a virtual girlfriend sounds to me like a much better option. The '60s were my formative years, and I grew up in the country that was the destination for most of the Vietnam draft dodgers, so the saying "make love, not war" resonates with me.
This virtual girlfriend thing raises a number of important social and legal questions. For example, if I profess love to my virtual girlfriend, will she give me a virtual "friend" speech, or is the technology not yet that lifelike? Can I be arrested for fondling my cell phone's Send key in public? Would the FCC allow me to lift my phone's flip-top at the Super Bowl half-time show? If I marry my virtual girlfriend, can my DVD player be my best man? After the wedding, is phone sex with someone other than my virtual wife considered adultery? If the relationship becomes intimate, will I be hearing the pitter-patter of little ring tones nine months later? If so, are there any legal restrictions against aborting the ring tone download before it finishes?
Regardless of the answers to these questions, it all boils down to this: There are about 6.5 billion real people in the real world. You might not like to meet some of them, but many of them would, at a minimum, make interesting conversation companions. No matter where you live, there are probably many pleasant walks that you can take for free by yourself or with a friend. Film makers, musicians, actors, authors, and artists offer a variety of pursuits that you can enjoy, often at only a small cost and sometimes for free. And there are an untold number of mysteries in the universe just begging to be examined. With all of this around you in the real world, why would you want to waste your time and money dating your cell phone?