Friday, December 10, 2010

Remembering Digital Utopianism

Moth and Rust

Digital Utopianism was the leading-edge philosophy in Second Life when I arrived in January of 2008. I think the movement's peak came in June of that same year when a two day Future of Religion Conference was held in the Extropia Sim:
The Future of Religions/Religions of the Future is a two-day conference examining how two of the 21st Century's driving forces, religion and technology, will continue to re-shape each other and, in the process, re-cast our understanding of "humanity" in the Third Millennium.
For a brief shining moment, many of us felt that virtual worlds were going to take humanity into a new and better place based upon the social equality of pseudonymous avatar identity and the freedom to transcend the limitations of physics. Some were even tipping the balance and making their virtual identities primary in terms of time, attention, relationships and vocations. Two and a half years later that movement is virtually gone with many of its chief proponents disappeared from the face of the virtual world.

In retrospect, I think that the failure of the movement to create a sustainable means for independent avatar existence was not due to faulty vision, but because it saw too far into the possible future. Perhaps someday technology will be able to provide the all-encompassing vehicle required to transport us into the better future envisioned by avatars like Sophrosyne Stenvaag. Or maybe not. In any case, I was waxing a bit nostalgic and thought I'd share my thoughts.


Extropia DaSilva said...

Maybe the movement 'failed' because it treated SL as a world that is separate to RL when it is pretty obvious that the former is dependent on the latter. The augmentationist view of SL as just a part of RL makes more sense than the immersionists' view of SL as a world apart, at least to a majority of people.

Also, I suspect most people would see little point in a Utopia ocurring in an online world if it did not 'reach out' to change real life in a positive way. My Seren runs weekly Fulfillment meetings where we discuss possible technological developments that could build better societies, in cyber and physical space.

My own take is that technology will mostly support 'augmentationism' for a while, making it ever easier to upload details about human life from the macro scale of societies, to the personal scale of individual's habbits, and maybe even the 'microscale' of the workings of the brain driving human behaviour.

With so much information on how humans and human societies develop being collected, and taking into consideration the increasing complexity of our civilizations, artificial generally-intelligent software will become increasingly necessary and feasible. At least some of this 'tech' will be designed to interact with people, perhaps taking on the guise of a friendly face. Avatars will be partially controlled by the AGIs that serve people and the dawn of the mind children will be upon us.

Botgirl Questi said...

I agree with you that the disconnection between physical and virtual identities was perhaps the primary reason that many immersionists found their Second Lives to be unsustainable.