Monday, January 31, 2011
Four Years in Second Life. What Now?
I've been setting out virtual furniture for a group of technologists from a major US aerospace & defense contractor who will be speaking at the next VWER meeting. Their firm is doing some amazing things with virtual worlds, mostly in OpenSim but also with technology that William Gibson would have predicted in Neuromancer : exoskeletons, VR rigs for antiterrorist training, and more.
Meanwhile, consumer-level VR interfaces make halting but continued progress. The Wii and Kinect are first steps to a future when such technology could meet changing norms about being in virtual spaces. Even partial immersion "creeps out" too many of my peers and students. But what if, as Edward Castronova claims in Exodus to the Virtual World, norms slowly begin to change? Then we might experience something like Gibson's Matrix or Stephenson's Metaverse.
I don't plan to be in-world 24/7, but I'd like the option to be a tourist in such spaces, from time to time.
Linden Lab has been an early pioneer here, and though I've said intemperate things about them in the past couple of years, it's been more out of disappointment for what might have been. Perhaps we'd have all been better off without the media-storm in 2006 and 2007. It made us dream too big too soon. Now, however, that early optimism has changed to a balance of weariness and hard work. My colleagues are divided on the future of 3D immersive worlds. Some suspect they'll be a niche forever. Others, citing trends among younger Millennials, claim they will make the revolution to build a 3D Web happen.
I hope so. Though I like the older Millennials I teach, they are too serious and career-driven to start a revolution, and they lack enough experience with open-ended play to imagine one. They don't turn off their hive of social networking long enough to look deeply inside. They are always in a hurry. But they are nice kids. I worry about them when they get older and life throws them some curve-balls.
I hope their younger siblings show us all a few new tricks.
Whatever happens, as I look back over four years, my colleagues, friends, and I have been pioneers on the edge of what is possible with our computers. I don't feel like an SL newbie any more.
Are SL years like dog years? I blew through my rezzday without realizing it. I'm sorta over that.
Am I feeling charitable or could LL still be masters of this new reality? If not, they sure as hell gave us a good ride at times. I hope the new CEO can keep the torch lit and the ride will continue.