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"The world is really so surreal these days that it's necessary for us to blunt it somehow in order to stay sane. The artist functions to short-circuit the buffering mechanism, so that people can occasionally perceive the weirdness of things as they are."
- William Gibson

Portal  
  Sensory experience of a data network.  

Although most people credit William Gibson for inventing cyberspace, a reading of the following passage should convince you that Vernor Vinge was several years ahead.

He powered up his processors, settled back in his favorite chair, and carefully attached the Portal's five sucker electrodes to his scalp. For long minutes nothing happened: a certain amount of self-denial - or at least self-hypnosis - was necessary to make the ascent. Some experts recommended drugs or sensory isolation to heighten the user's sensitivity to the faint, ambiguous signals that could be read from the Portal...

And just as a daydreamer forgets his actual surroundings, and sees other realities, so Pollack drifted, detached, his subconscious interpreting the status of the West Coast communications and data services as a vague thicket for his conscious mind to inspect and interrogate for the safest path...

The correct path had the aspect of a narrow row of stones cutting through a grayish-green swamp... The subconscious knew what the stones represented, handled the chaining of routines from one information net to another, but it was the conscious mind of the skilled traveler that must make the decisions...

From True Names, by Vernor Vinge.
Published by Dell Binary Star in 1981
Additional resources -

Here is another short excerpt to show what a user of the portal can accomplish:

He took a quick peek through the eyes of a low resolution weather satellite, saw the North American continent spread out below, the Terminator sweeping through the West, most of the plains clouded over.

There is a lot more detail, both psychological and technical, in the short novel.

See also the reference for cyberspace, by William Gibson, the virtual matrix from The Judas Mandala (1982) by Damien Broderick, the virtual reality video game from The Age of The Pussyfoot (1966) by Frederik Pohl and the Saga simulation from Arthur C. Clarke's 1956 novel The City and the Stars.

For virtual reality-stale gaming systems, be sure to see dimensino - alien entertainment center from Time is the Simplest Thing by Clifford Simak (1961) and rifle range - virtual skeet shooting designed by aliens from Way Station also by Simak (1963).

The earliest use of the term "virtual reality is probably found in Antonin Artaud's The Theatre and Its Double (1938). He describes theater as "la realite virtuelle", literally a virtual reality "in which characters, objects, and images take on the phantasmagoric force of alchemy's visionary internal dramas".

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from True Names
  More Ideas and Technology by Vernor Vinge
  Tech news articles related to True Names
  Tech news articles related to works by Vernor Vinge

Portal-related news articles:
  - ARPANET Turns 30
  - Sony Patents Ultrasound Brain Beam Matrix
  - Japanese Researchers Jack Halfway Into The Matrix

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