This book looks at the origins and the many contemporary meanings of the virtual. Rob Shields shows how the construction of virtual worlds has a long history. He examines the many forms of faith and hysteria that have surrounded computer technologies in recent years. Moving beyond the technologies themselves he shows how the virtual plays a role in our daily lives at every level. The virtual is also an essential concept needed to manage innovation and risk. It is real but not actual, ideal but not abstract. The virtual, he argues, has become one of the key organizing principles of contemporary society in the public realms of politics, business and consumption as well as in our private lives.