A single demonstrator has broken through the World Economic Forum’s otherwise thorough security cordon, sneaking past rows of efficient guards to wave a large anti-Davos placard right in the temple itself.
Ok, so he’s an avatar (online alter ego). But he still did it. luemmel Lemmon of the WEF protest group DaDavos walked into the Second Life virtual auditorium where Adam Reuters has been interviewing avatars of Davos participants. No security there, and barely any rules either.
Lemmon sat politely with his banner in the front row. Rather wonderfully, as our picture (left) shows, he chose to sit next to one of the few avatars choosing to wear a suit.
To be honest, I consider this official passion with Second Life to be a little bit of a fad; nothing I've seen of the game--to use what some players consider a demeaning name--suggests that it has the flexibility, longevity, or power to become a true Gibson style Cyberspace. It doesn't run that well, it tends to bog down, and the graphics are usually serviceable at best.
More importantly, though, I doubt these luminaries will stick around once word gets out about he unbelievably unsavory groups that have colonized Second Life. I doubt the Google guys are going to want to end up associated with, say, the "furries" that have colonized vast swaths of the Second Life landscape.
("Furry" is a brand of fetish peculiar to the Internet that you do NOT want to look up whilst at work. A relatively benign description can be found on Wikipedia; what you tend to find on Second Life is much, much less so.)
Still, right here, right now, it's a heck of a story. It shows that offline activities like invasive protesting are likely to follow the Best and Brightest into any virtual environment, and that the protesters can be pretty civil about it. Not EVERYBODY on the Internet is a vulgar boor.
Most of us, sure, but there are a few exceptions.
It also shows that there's a real hunger out there to take something like Gibson's Matrix or Stephenson's Metaverse and bring it to life. The fact that corporations and other organizations are willing to deal with all the problems of something like Second Life shows that hunger isn't just found in computer geeks, but on a much broader scale, among those who have the cash to bring it to life. Most of those who want to inhabit such an environment want it to be gamelike--hence the enormous difficulty in popularity of more traditional "games" like World of Warcraft vs. amorphous "environments" like Second Life--but there's room for both, and time spent in the former is going to increase acceptance of the latter as a social and business tool.
Slowly, people are getting used to the idea of avatars. Even if Second Life never lives up to its promise and events like this are just a curiosity, something like Second Life probably will. It's just a question of time.