In the 1995 sci-fi thriller Virtuosity, starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, the virtual bad guy from a supercomputer crime simulator (played by Crowe), managed to escape the world of software and make it into the real world as a nano-tech self-generating Android. That's a far-fetched premise, but Virtuosity was a great movie anyway.
In any event, the code sometimes does become real, at least in the world of social networking. As norms and conventions from sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram become popularized online, entrepreneurs and artists are finding ways to bring them to life.
A company called Egobook will download the content from your Facebook profile and print a hardcover book called a Likebook.
The book is printed in the colors and broad look-and-feel of Facebook and includes your photos, status updates, comments, albums and more. It's just like your Facebook profile, but made out of dead trees.
This is great for people who love Facebook. And it's also great for people who hate Facebook, because you can burn it!
A Brazilian fashion retailer called C&A advertises clothing on its Facebook page. The hangers that hold clothing in the company's physical stores have display screens that show the number of "Likes" specific items received on Facebook.
This is dangerous business; I'm sure trolls would love to find the ugliest thing in the store and "Like" the heck out of it, just for laughs.
Just like you can "Like" things online, the Like stamp from ThinkGeek lets you stamp things -- your office paperwork, your kids' homework and even posters and notices you see around town -- with a thumbs-up "Like" icon. (And, unlike Facebook, there's also a "Dislike" option.)
Let's all hope these don't become popular, or the world will become covered in "Like" and "Dislike" logos.
An "interactive object" art project by a German artist named Mario Klingemann resulted in a box with a "Like" button, and a display showing the number of likes. The wonderful thing about this as an art piece is that you know exactly how many people liked it. Klingemann made and sold 12.
Look for these on eBay.
Facebook has a weird, quasi-meaningless convention called "poking." However, two Dutch students decided to make it real with something they call the "Poking Machine." It's a box lashed to your arm. When someone "Pokes" you on Facebook, the box physically pokes you in the arm.
I have to admit, I'd be more likely to poke someone on Facebook if I knew they would really get poked.
Google+ features a group video chat system called Hangouts. Fans of the social network frequently get together with one another in person at events they call "Hangouts In Real Life," or HIRLs.
And that's ironic, because the name for a real-world get-together of people who met in the digital world references a name for a virtual get-together, which itself references a name for a real one.
Google and other major companies that hold developer conferences often ask attendees to rate specific sessions so they can better tailor future events. This year, Google I/O featured a rating system borrowed from Google+, namely the plus-one button.
Every session had a pile of plus-one cards, and if you liked the session you were asked to pick up a card and drop it in the box as a way of voting.
The cards are now a nerdy collector's item, and I suspect the attendees who just stole them outnumbered those who actually voted with them.
Someone is raising money on Kickstarter for a physical version of Instagram. Instead of an app that lives on your phone, the InstaCube is a digital picture frame that sits on your desk or mantle. As gauzy, faux-antique pictures are posted by people in your network (or as you post them yourself), the images show up in the InstaCube.
It will be the perfect gift for that Luddite relative who just won't join Instagram.
An artist on Etsy named Amy Sheridan sells handmade embroidery memorializing the unintentionally hilarious tweets of singer Kanye West. One of the most popular options features Kanye's profound musings on the nature of responsibility: "I hate when I'm on a flight and I wake up with a water bottle next to me like oh great now I gotta be responsible for this water bottle."
Imagine: You could have those words of tweeted "wisdom" on your wall for less than $50.
Let's face it: Social networking has gone totally mainstream and it's here to stay. And as it seeps into our collective consciousness, we're going to see more and more innovators turning the virtual into the physical.
What do you think? Like?
Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. You can contact Mike and learn more about him at Elgan.com, or subscribe to his free email newsletter, Mike's List. You can also see more articles by Mike Elgan on Computerworld.com.