Critic’s Choice: Is the Future in the Past?
Commentary by Eleanor Medier
If anyone can throw a virtual party, it should be the Lindens. Creators of an entire cyber culture, the somewhat celestial creatures called “The Lindens” are those that, hopefully, help land owners in trouble, support the growth of SL awareness, remain apolitical (while profitable), and are the puppet masters. They provide the stage upon which all other semi-mortal avatars reside. Through the behest of the Lindens, all is virtually possible.
Naturally observers are going to pay attention to the 10th Anniversary celebration. It is a big deal! What has formed in these years is no short of miraculous! After all, this magazine that bridges what is relevant between the two worlds, would not even exist. Having provided the technology to grow the first truly international culture is evolutionary in the human experience.
What kind of celebration could be appropriate for such a milestone? The promotion for it started months ago. The teasers, the notices, the blogs set up, the development in progress. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of creative people contributing—no small task to put together!
Rather than be a description of features or profiles of the organizers, what matters is the overall statement of the event. The theme is to look both backwards and forwards. Yet no one really looks forward. Maybe around the virtual watercooler, individuals hypothesize and predict. Yet taking a step back, the major directions are not explored. If looking back helps to show future direction, then several paths are obvious, though unstated.
In flying over the show, dipping down from time to time to sample from the various ubiquitously titled sims, an overview is not too distracted by specific favorite finds (which are gone anyway by this printing). Taking that step back to see how the event answers the questions of the growth barriers was not prevalent. The overall impression was a show & tell, to express where SL is today.
Where is SL heading? What issues are hurdles in the path?
First is lag. Everyone complains about it. This event provided plenty of it. Even visiting at low-traffic times was a challenge in getting around. Flying seemed to be the best option. Therefore, seeing the attractions from the air became a design consideration.
Next comes the learning curve barrier. The trend is to make better browsers designed to be easier and easier to learn for newcomers. Yet, every avatar does have a growth cycle, not because of technology, but in adapting to the culture. Helping this orientation is not about technology, but about psychology.
Then there is the quest towards realism. From the outside, this world seems to be populated by cartoons. Avatar sophistication drives technical developments. Witness the challenge of natural moves—walking, dancing, or other activities.
Audience size is a great limitation for the potential use of virtual worlds. This is particularly obvious in the music business. Many venue get around it by straddling property lines—placing the stage and its details in one sim and the audience in another. Even then, 70+ avatars can crash the sim.
Finally, there are issues of cyber crime. No one likes to discuss the dark sides of SL, but to ignore them is naive. The virtual world is like a big city. There are new dangers when not knowing who is really on the other end of the keyboard. The financial scandals, the relationship dramas, invasion of privacy, theft of intellectual property, and Wild West kind of atmosphere can be damaging to the unwary. Any analysis of SL’s future must examine the areas of protections. This show seemed more about creative capabilities than real issues.
If SL does not reach beyond the level of the elite, i.e. solve the barriers, the growth will be slow. Eventually, the virtual world will be the browser for future web interactions—it is a technology that brings the others together. The distances, differences, relationships, influences, and psychology will all continue on, slowly affecting each generation more deeply. Finally, it may be that an entire room wall becomes the computer screen—a window to another place. Avatars become like holograms, with adventures that feel seamless, the division between a real life and a second life closing more and more. In the quest to bridge distances the concerns of privacy and transparency echo differences.
SL has basically accomplished an accessible world—for those able to learn it. So maybe it is fitting that the celebration exhibit did not answer the second half of the theme—where is SL going? Maybe that is the job of all the critics commenting now that it is over.
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© 2014 by Eleanor Medier, Sim Street Journal. Articles cannot be reprinted without permission.