Virtual America


Virtual America

Sleepwalking through Paradise

John Opie

280 pages
38 photographs, 5 maps, index


January 2010


$24.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

Virtual America traces the complex relationship between Americans, technology, and their environment as it has unfolded over the past several centuries. Throughout history Americans have constructed mental pictures of unique places, such as the American West, that have taken on more authority than the actual gritty landscapes. This disconnect from reality is magnified by the new world of virtual realities on the computer screen, where personal immersion in interactive simulations becomes the “default” environment.
Virtual America identifies the connections (or lack thereof) between our individual selves, an American identity, and the geography “out there.” John Opie examines what he calls First Nature (the natural world), Second Nature (metropolitan infrastructure/built environment), and Third Nature (virtual reality in cyberspace). He also explores how Americans have historically dreamed about a better life in daily, ordinary existence and then fulfilled it through the Engineered America of our built environment, the Consumer America of material well-being, and the Triumphal America of our conviction that we are the world’s exceptional model. But these dream worlds have also encouraged placelessness and thus indifference to our dwelling in home ground. Finally, Opie explores Last Nature (a sense of place) and argues that when we identify an authentic place, we can locate authenticity of self—a reification of place and self—by their connectedness.

Author Bio

John Opie (1934–2018) was Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Environmental History and Policy at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He is the founding editor of the journal Environmental History and the author of Nature's Nation: An Environmental History of the United States and Ogallala: Water for a Dry Land, available in a Bison Books edition. Opie currently lives on the Indiana Dunes of Lake Michigan and teaches at the University of Chicago.


"This is the book for any intelligent, concerned, sensitive person who might be given to weeping over the screech of a chain saw when a neighbor fells a tree or depression as developers extend yet another strip mall into the countryside. It has the power to change one's life."—P. D. Travis, Choice Magazine

"In persuasively linking the modern digital technologies of imagined reality to their historical antecedents, Opie has produced an important book and a new framework for understanding the story, one that is all the more relevant the more virtual our reality becomes."—Gregory Summers, Annals of Iowa

"Opie's book will help us maintain genuine connectivity in the cyber era."—Brian Black, Technology and Culture

"This book can usefully guide students to think about how Americans have continually reconstructed their sense of place as they searched for an often problematic authenticity." —David E. Nye, American Studies Journal

Table of Contents


1.  Welcome to VirtuaLand: Old Dreamworlds and the Power of a New Modernity

2.  Antique America: Searching for Authenticity

3.  Human Kodaks in the Future Perfect: Virtual America Embodied in World’s Fairs

4.  Sleepwalking in America: A Brief History

5.  Finding Authenticity: Inhabiting Place in America


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