Saturday, January 17, 2009

Obama and Second Life: My Take

Location: State of Contentment

I'm betting on Federation, not Borg, for our new President's science and technology policies. You might want to visit another blog if you are not as happy as I am about the change in Washington.

On Tuesday, when my candidate takes the oath of office, I'll be tipsy for sure. Aside from my glee because of Barack Obama's stands on environmental, social, and geopolitical issues, I'm trying to get my head around what life after the Bush disaster will be like in virtual worlds.

Net Neutrality: The new president has put his support behind this idea, and it has direct bearing on SL. Without it, we'd see the monopolies that provide high-speed service (and there are not many competitors) potentially "blocking, speeding up or slowing down Web content based on its source, ownership or destination" (From the Save the Internet site). The Bush Administration, always cozy with large corporations, was not avid about supporting the idea, for reasons explained quite well in this CNET article.

I had no idea, by the way, that the issue had become a "hard left" cause. I just hate private monopolies--all of them. I don't trust Verizon or Comcast as far as I could hurl a CEO (I'd be willing to test that on a volunteer using a homemade capapult).

Understanding Virtual Worlds: Obama has selected two SL residents to his FCC transition team. This bodes very well for knowledable policy on the issue. Too many old people (anyone over 30, including me) have no clear idea of how the Web 2.0 revolution will change the very nature of private life and the workplace. Obama's own campaign leveraged its command of the Internet well (including the little donation I gave them). John McCain, a man I have always respected a great deal for his war service and one-time defiance of Christian theocrats, is self-admittedly ignorant about the Net. It's easy to see who'll develop a better informed policy.

There's too much fear of these technologies from senior people in academia and government. Regulation will not protect anyone: education will, as my own students prove when we discuss protecting themselves online: they know more than their elders assume. Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois, a vocal critic of SL, is the sort of person--from the right or left--I fear. To protect "our children" he'd ban it from schools and libraries. For ideologues like Kirk, SL is only about sexual predators (though I'd happily pen an anti-Gorean tirade if readers promise not to show it to Kirk).

Science, not Politics: More R&D funding will flow under Obama, at least to the degree possible in our devastated economy. Scientifically invalid political and religious litmus tests (evolution is not a theory, folks...hate to disappoint you) will not be applied if the President holds true to statements he has made about science policy. We'll see spin-offs in applied sciences and engineering from this work, and we'll get faster chips and better infrastructure. That's not trivial, in the era of climate change and globalization. Even if we all telecommute, we'll be burning a lot more coal for electricity to power our computers. Energy-efficiency, alternative sources of energy, and simply the sustained recognition that climate change poses a threat to civilization will spur new technologies. We'll reap the rewards in our real and virtual lives.

I'm proud of this historic moment, so I'm flying the American flag on Tuesday for the first time since we began bombing Iraq. I'd flown it continuously every day since Sept. 12, 2001.

If you visit Richmond Island in Second Life, I'll also be waving old glory and my Obama campaign sign.

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