Philip Rosedale wants to improve upon the real world

The Financial Times runs an intriguing portrait of Philip Rosedale, the founding father of Linden Lab and Second Life and these days building a VR-compatible virtual world called High Fidelity.

The article not only focuses on the virtual world ambitions of Rosedale but also on his renovation and building projects in the real world of San Francisco, where he lives in the very exclusive Pacific Heights neighborhood.

One of the remarkable quotes of the article (written by Hugo Cox) is this:

If you could work, play, meet, go to school, if you could do all these things in a virtual world then why would you not think that these spaces could become more important than this [real] one?

The idea seems simple enough but many interesting questions arise:

  • What are the reasons people would prefer a virtual world above this one? Is it because a virtual world is more convenient – for instance, one can teleport around rather than commute endlessly, one can ignore the laws of physics in colorful creative surroundings.
  • Or is it (also) because the “real life” cities and living conditions are disappointing for the majority of people who cannot afford to live in such an expensive place? Is there an implicit rejection of the injustices of the “real world” by an exodus to the virtual world? (read also the works of synthetic worlds economist Edward Castronova).
  • How “real” is real and how “unreal” is “virtual”? In the above mentioned quoted “real” is added between square brackets – I guess by the interviewer. But if one routinely works, studies and lives in a virtual world, would it not become as real to me as the current real world? Especially when augmented reality (adding digital layers to the physical surroundings) and mixed reality (adding digital 3D-objects seamlessly to the physical world) go mainstream, blurring the distinction even more?
  • Is life in a virtual environment the way out for many in a possibly jobless society, where work will be done by robots and AI agents, except for either low skilled labor which remains somehow out of reach for robots or for very skilled labor (developing the AI agents and coordinating humans, cyborgs and AI-agents)? [I have my doubts about this vision of disappearing jobs, at least for the coming ten to twenty years]
  • One should contrast a purely “virtual” vision with an “augmented” one – rather than retreating into a synthetic environment in order to get an education or go to work, one could imagine people staying in a mixed reality world, being in the physical world yet also at the same time using the affordances of virtual reality.

Even though I’m an avid reader of the Financial Times, I read first about this article on the New World Notes.

Do we get more happiness from virtual worlds than from real good news?

An academic study co-authored last year by leading virtual world academic Edward Castronova suggests that people get more happiness from being in Second Life than they do from good news in their real life. 

Wagner James Au on New World Notes says this is probably also true for other virtual environments, not only for Second Life. He also points to the bigger question of the shifting boundaries between virtual and real. 

Social media help extend immersive experiences to so-called real world networks. Virtual money is convertible in real money, and solidarity actions for real world issues can start out in virtual environments. 

Manuel Castells explains we live in a cultural of virtual reality – I think the deconstruction of the boundaries between real and virtual is becoming fairly obvious. Virtual is not some exclusive feature of 3D environments, and reality is ever more being augmented and digitally annotated.
via Diigo http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2012/10/second-life-and-the-matrix.html

Do you believe in the Exodus Recession?

” Since 1800, technological advance has been associated with economic growth. The new stuff being built saved labor input, which was then put into the construction of other things. However, the most recent technological advances may not be growth-inducing. As Samuelson puts it, “Gordon sees the Internet, smartphones and tablets as tilted toward entertainment, not labor-saving.””

Professor Edward Castronova, who once wrote a book about the exodus to virtual worlds, sees some more evidence of an exodus recession. 

He’s not just talking about virtual worlds however, but also about your average digital stuff such as tablets and smartphones. It makes us want less ‘real’ things and so it makes it harder for the economy to grow. One might say, let’s measure growth in a different way, taking into account this digital shift. But then again, our social security for instance depends on the economy and the money which is actually earned there. 

So will we all hide into virtual worlds to forget the misery of the recession-ridden ‘real world’? Or is this speculation very wrong, as the digital evolution is now affecting the ‘world of the atoms’ in a radical way (think 3D printers, hardware and bio-hacking). 
via Diigo http://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2012/10/more-on-the-exodus-recession-technology-entertainment-and-our-economic-doldrums.html