The limits of a virtual life

Remember "cocooning"?

The term became a buzzword way back when VCRs upped the entertainment quotient of a night spent at home.

For insular-type pupa people, the advent of a simple appliance meant one more reason not to have to step out into the world.

That was just the beginning.

The Internet keeps supplying more and better ways in which we can keep our distance from one another, if we're so inclined.

Feel like indulging a fascination with salsa dancing - without breaking a sweat in a class? Try for streaming-video snippets that you can emulate.

Want to learn to play guitar without even a private instructor in sight? Try a brand-new feature of online lessons.

True, you can pack in a lot of life experiences into a little time. But you also miss the peripheral experiences that color a life - a quiet talk with a teacher, a chance to cradle the lovely hand-crafted instrument he bought in Mallorca.

And there are limits to a virtual life beyond the trap of high-tech isolation. Access to the Web's wide choices give shoppers power, but it's hard to get a feel for a hot product on a cold screen.

And even tasks usually seen as tedious - food shopping comes to mind - are often completed with more satisfactory results when a buyer can, say, sniff the melons.

Some experts also hold that online shopping even has its own way of tempting us to overbuy.

"A stack of books at Borders ultimately exerts gravity that tells you to slow down," says Robert Thompson, a popular-culture expert and a professor at Syracuse University. "A shopping cart full of books at makes no such demands." Clicks add up.

Part of the cost of convenience.

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(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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