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Virtually Yours

  I looked up the word “virtual” in a dictionary on the Internet, searching
for a definition to use with the article on Kentucky’s Commonwealth Virtual University
(page 23). Among the definitions was this: “not real.”

  In a way, that was perfect. In another way, it made me wonder why we
were publishing a feature story on something that was not real.

  Kentucky’s Virtual University is very real, of course. You can prove
it by the more than 1,700 students continuing their education by connecting
computers through phone lines to professors and colleges all over the state.
Those students are using the latest technology to make education fit into their
schedules.

  It’s part of an extraordinary revolution taking place right before our
eyes. As computers get smaller and faster and become part of the telephone lines,
the barriers to communication are falling. We can “virtually talk” with almost
anybody or any business any time. It’s not exactly like the crew on Star Trek
beaming their bodies across solar systems, but it accomplishes a lot of the
same things. It’s a revolution that’s giving us seemingly (virtually?) endless
choice in almost everything we do.

  It’s changing the electric utility business, too. A story in The
Wall Street Journal
describes several “virtual utilities” that allow you
to buy electricity by computer. I signed on to one and, as I knew it would,
it said the service was not available here. Kentucky has not deregulated its
utility industry, feeling it makes more sense to wait and see how it works in
other states before gambling with our electric rates, which are among the lowest
in the nation.

  But that hasn’t stopped Kentucky electric cooperative utilities from
changing with the times (“Future of Electricity,” page 19). More choices, better
and cheaper service, and innovative solutions to old problems characterize how
electric co-ops are helping lead this revolution of choices. 

  All of which leaves me pondering the question: if virtual means “not
real,” what is virtual reality?

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