Thursday, March 29, 2007

Imagining a better world

Those living in fear of the "inevitable" wave of global destruction "caused" by we parasitic human beings living only to suck the limited life out of Mother Earth, may want to read this Technology article on a wholly unexpected and unpredicted source of bounty and creative fulfillment, unimagined 10 years ago.

I take from this piece a reminder that there are two features to the human experience that tend to remain outside the bounds of predictability; one of them will be readily conceded, I think, by the global warmingers, and is our tragic capacity for destruction.

The other, however, is rarely granted equal measure, and that is our undeniable capacity for creativity and innovation. And renewal.
Human ingenuity can be a wonder to behold, and from its undeniable existence, reaffirmed in the article below, I can derive some faint stirrings of comfort that even if we were causing the slow destruction of our atmosphere, we remain an ingenious enough species that it should be possible to imagine us adapting towards a more harmonious balance with nature, through an increase of our prosperity, and not necessarily through the pauperization of our civilization, as the povertarians would demand of us.

Read this and see if you can imagine a positive future, where prosperity grows exponentially. It's easy if you try...:

Companies are flocking to market themselves in virtual worlds, game-like and usually three-dimensional online universes, but the long-term shape of this fledgling industry is far from clear.
"We're pretty much where the Internet was in the mid-90s," said Steve Prentice, a vice president at technology research group Gartner Inc., echoing a view held by other participants Wednesday at the Virtual Worlds conference in Manhattan.
Joe Laszlo, analyst at JupiterKagan Inc., said the virtual worlds are "like the early days of the Victoria's Secret Webcast, where it was crappy, but hot, so everybody went."

MTV executives touted their TV-show spinoffs "Virtual Laguna Beach" and "Virtual Hills," which have attracted 600,000 registered users since they were launched six months ago. Almost like the real Southern California, these 3-D online spaces have perfect weather, but in an improvement on real life, its users are all represented by attractive, slim and young online embodiments known as avatars.
These avatars can interact with each other via text chats and commerce, providing a social element that virtual-world pioneers see as more realistic and engaging than chat rooms and MySpace pages.

"When you get people deep and passionate in a community, money just comes out of it in so many ways," said Matt Bostwick, senior vice president of franchise development at MTV Music Group, which is part of New York-based Viacom Inc.

As an example of the branding opportunities, Bostwick said MTV has sold more than 11,402 virtual cans of Pepsi. The buyers can't drink them,
since they exist only on the screen, but they act as a form of decoration for their avatars.
MTV's "Nicktropolis" is growing even faster, with 2.4 million registered users who have logged 7.5 million visits since its launch two months ago, according to Nickelodeon's executive vice president of digital media, Steve Youngwood.
MTV's endeavors are "closed" virtual worlds, entirely controlled by the company. Every tree, building and piece of clothing is approved by MTV, though the underlying technology for "Virtual Hills/Laguna Beach" comes from another virtual world, "There," which was created by San Mateo, Calif.-based Makena Technologies Inc.
The virtual world "Second Life" represents a dramatically different approach. There, users can create, out of thin virtual air, almost any object they can imagine, if they're skilled enough with 3-D modeling and programming tools.
The freewheeling and in many places sex-oriented spirit of "Second Life" is reminiscent of the early days of the Web. The company behind it, San Francisco-based Linden Research Inc., says its goal is nothing less than a 3-D Internet.
As amazing as all this is, there is still more growth to come:

But given the wide range of uses for online worlds - games, communication within
companies, flirting, self-expression - it's not clear that a single world is going to dominate.
"There is not going to be one metaverse, there's going to be a multitude of them out there," said Corey Bridges, a Netscape veteran and co-founder of The Multiverse Network Inc., based in Mountain View, Calif.
His company is creating a program that will give access to multiple online worlds built using its technology, much like Netscape's browser gave access to multiple Web sites, kickstarting the Internet boom of the 1990s.
The technology will include the option to make avatars portable between different
worlds, providing a middle road between MTV-style walled gardens and a wide-ranging "metaverse" like "Second Life."
"Once you can move from one virtual world to another, the growth we have today is going to look pretty stagnant," said Gartner's Prentice.
Of course, going through this article, one can also conjure up a vision of the future where the outside world grows so distasteful that citizens flock to escape it by immersing themselves within the walls of false fantasies, living out their lives entirely within "second lives". Like most things about our covenant with nature, it can drift towards the bad as easily as it could towards the good, but that this drift comes by choice, not fate. The trick is to hold on to the vision of the good, and work towards it.
That act of commitment to the good, that purposeful act of faith, is a daunting challenge when the weight is carried by one person alone. Therefore the connections we can make with others, starting in the physical neighborhoods we inhabit, and perhaps also now extending to that of the extra-physical worlds we seem to be busily creating throughout the ether of the internet, these connections with others help to turn the ethereal into the physical, into the tangible.
An act of faith is an invisible, parallel action to my getting out of bed in the morning, heading to face a day of grueling labor; an act of faith uplifts the parallel actions of our day-to-day physical movements and behaviors, ennobling it all with a sense of purpose and value.
Maybe these parallel worlds can serve as reminder that when we're off the internet, walking physical footsteps across a physical world, an unseen one exists around us as well.

1 comment:

truepeers said...

The difference between reality and representation, as mediated by the individual mind that sees and imagines both, has always been the motivating tension of the esthetic imagination, since the beginning of humanity. In some sense, our commitment to an imaginary second world is nothing new. What's new, and what was clearly desired long before these virtual worlds were invented, was greater interactivity in domains of entertainment (and no doubt also in productive tasks where it is still often lacking).

But are these virtual worlds just entertainment, or are they also productive art? What might be the difference? Maybe entertainment is what keeps people occupied and distracted, while art is what teaches them something new about themselves on some fundamental level and thus builds their sense of connectivity to the world and its future, hopefully going beyond that of the romantic for whom future reality becomes little more than a projection of his individual artistic genius and special experience.

In other words, are these virtual worlds going to distract people to death, amidst endless simulated sex and shopping and romantic one-up- manship, or are they going to lead to a self-understanding where people know when to turn of the computer and start building a future in stinking flesh and blood - i.e. committing to the mundane world of marriage, sex, and children? I should talk, but I think I know my problem...

Interesting to compare the discussion of avatars in this post with Dag's a couple of posts back.