Monday, 17 November 2008

Second Life's Second Future

By Robert Hooker

The Internet is our wild west. We fear instability in our banks, in our property values, with our climate and with our economy but our culture takes a delight in the rises and falls of Internet sector. For those of us trying to make a solid and somewhat meaningful existence out of the Internet this the public construction of us as the event of Wild West Capitalism is annoying. For the rest of you it should be ignored. The public's attention to the rise and fall of each trend in the Internet hides the negative and positive possibilities for the future in the technology behind an event that Capitalism seems to need.

Already we are on wave 3 of busts in a 10 years period. Firstly the Internet of flat pages and limited transaction was exploding even before mature back-end technologies were in place to support it. And when those technologies were put in place the public became obsessed with the dot boom. Blogging, social networking, Virtual Reality, Wikipedia, podcasting, photo sharing, YouTube and mobile Internet all took place during the Internet's “collapse.”

No sooner was Web 2.0 was praised in 2004 than its failure was predicted as so as it's arrival announced. The simple fact that people like communicating with others seemed to have no input in to the debate. Roller-coasters are not about what people want to happen, but what the designers decided could happen to scare you. The story of the Internet is being told as a roller-coaster and people assume everything that was strong yesterday is dead today.

Well now Virtual World have seemed to have passed through a boom bust and rebirth with the sudden surprise the media experienced when people would wait for hours for the latest Wizards of Warcraft.

Okay there can be no doubt that most first tries at making money in Second Life have failed, but I propose a number of obvious fatcs that will insure that Virtual World like Second Life have a bright future:

  1. Virtual Working: emails and instant messages are not enough to build team identification and presence. VM allows global organisations to work together in a shared space. This will probably have a bigger impact on remote working than the blackberry and help to overcome the common issue of remote worker alienation and depression.

  2. Global Warming: conferences around the world will find it harder and harder to justify flying everyone to Rio or Hawaii for a weekend. Second Life is better than reality at managing small sized conferences already.

  3. Poverty and Consumerism: our Capitalist system is more dependent upon consumerism than we are generally willing to accept. Its not just a strategy to increase sales, it is a core means of holding our culture together, of overcoming class envy and getting people to buy in to the system. As global warming gets worse and worse carbon taxation will make imports more and more expensive. But Virtual Reality offers the functions of consumer society at a fraction of the costs. Thus 3-D world producers can make in Second Life without having to ship, where the green costs would come and consumers can buy cars, homes, clothing, all the consumer desires for dollars at the most.

  4. Family collapse: lets face it, we are getting married less, having less children, getting divorced more and frankly disliking our children more and more. Facebook is becoming “God I hate being a parent” as far as I can tell. In the UK about half of homes are single occupancy. On-line dating can't work and stresses of a collapsing culture make sexual intimacy and love difficult. Sex workers are still expensive and cold, it never touches the real need because its all about sex. People will go to Second Life to engage in a romantic fantasy that people used to go to films to gain.

Does this sound bleak? Well I doubt global warming, virtual working, green taxes and reduced relationship rates are going anywhere, do you?

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