Friday, April 04, 2008

Errr... Second Life Goes Governmental?

Huh. Apparently Congress had a subcommittee hearing about virtual worlds, which is interesting/odd enough. What's truly weird is where they had it: Second Life.

Okay, this might be a little confusing, but here goes: A virtual depiction of the Rayburn House Office Building meeting room was projected on television screens on the wall, so that real-world attendees could take a look at the small virtual crowd that logged on for the event. Attendees logging in from Second Life, meanwhile, could watch the proceedings in a video screen projected on the wall of the virtual room. The real-world guests included executives from Linden Lab, IBM and a tech firm that helps nonprofit organizations take advantage of virtual worlds.A self-admitted group of virtual-world newbies, the politicians, led by Rep. Ed Markey (D - Mass.), asked a wide-ranging group of questions. In an era where technologies can catch on and become mainstream quickly, the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet wanted to know some basics. Could Second Life be used as a place to launder money? Are children safe in online worlds? Are there churches in there? Are you making any money?

"We have never seen any evidence of such activity going on in Second Life," said Linden CEO Philip Rosedale, on the matter of whether criminals could use his company's online world as a place to launder money. Rosedale argued that Second Life is a self-policing community, and that users would likely be quick to report any online behavior that seemed to indicate users posed any real-world threats.

As the politicians and the witnesses discussed the potentials of the online virtual world, the online visitors logged on in Second Life chatted away on the screen in conversations that ranged from the topic at hand and beyond:

"I think senators are superdelegates but not all reps."
"I love flip4mac."
"They should really move the x and the c away from each other on the keyboard." (this following a warning that the video might freeze for "just a sex.")

I think Second Life is a bit overrated; Stephenson's metaverse it ain't. It doesn't have anywhere near as many users as it hypes, and those users that are there are often there for, well, less than honorable reasons. And, naturally, the questions were the same "Oh God save us from the e-predators!" nonsense that tends to dominate political attitudes towards the virtual.

Still, it does reinforce the idea that our virtual and "meatspace" lives are slowly moving together, and that the virtual world's affect on humanity will continue to grow.

(As for my own take? I argued a little while back that there was a division between those who treated the Internet as an enhancement of real life vs. those who treat it as a separate world altogether, distinct from the one they live day-to-day. It's at the root of the pseudonymity debate; if you think of it as the former then a pseudonym makes no sense, but if you think of it as the latter then a pseudonym seems almost necessary. So go read it. )

(Plus, you get to read someone with this weighty a pseudonym use the phrase "fart around". And who doesn't enjoy that? If that isn't a good time, you should probably close the browser and get some work done.)

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