Reading Hamlet Au's interview with Rod Humble, Linden Lab's new CEO, coincided with an event in class that merits some prognostication.
I've long called for a new name for the product, but I fear that Linden Lab and other VW makers face more of a challenge than that.
Mr. Humble will need to figure out a way to earn the trust of more Millennials, if that's a demographic LL wants. I encountered a visceral, rather angry reaction from a small group of 18-22 year olds today after one student simply asked "what is this Second Life thing you research?"
A short, non-evangelical reply of mine followed, explaining what I've done in SL and now am doing in OpenSim. I noted how embodiment leads to more participation at meetings than does a teleconference, and I explained how a literary simulation in a virtual world expands the notion of reading to a different sort of participation.
A heated but interesting discussion followed, mostly about how the avatar masked a person behind it and could lead to increased mistrust. Something about having an avatar mask and another name pushes so many buttons in my "typical" group of bright, careerist students (one exception, a blogger/gamer in the class).
- Our generation wants transparency
- How do you know the person behind the avatar is who they say they are?
- This will *never* fly in a business setting, especially if someone comes to a meeting wearing a set of wings or a raccoon head
- Even a setting like Protosphere, with business-only avatars (I got a quick screenshot) is not serious enough and could lead to mistrust.
I get this negative reaction in every class that hears about virtual worlds. I hear similar stories from colleagues at different sorts of schools.
Maybe we educators are wrong about these spaces. They'll have to be photo-realistic and connected to real-life identity, even more surely than a Facebook profile, for them to reach widespread adoption. For Gen-Xers, however, that sounds too boring to contemplate. We were used to identity being in flux.
It might help if young people learned to relax and have fun again. And that is not only the voice of a grumpy geezer, but a voice that inverts the usual "you young folks need to work harder!"
Yet I've never seen a more serious generation of students, in 25 years of teaching, than these. And they are sheltered. That worries me, because even with complete transparency and apparent knowledge of others, you can be cheated and abused.
Sad to say, but they'll just have to discover that without a virtual world.
Update 2/10/11: Students e-mailing to say how much they enjoyed the debate: good sign of more to come. Also fixed spelling of "Visceral." I had "Viscereal": strong cereal, indeed, these debates.