Saturday, February 5, 2011

Will Virtual Worlds Ever Catch On?

I had planned to post today on the new Blue Mars iOS app, but had to postpone it due to a frustrating series of issues with the PC client that must be used to create and customize your avatar. But it got me thinking again about why virtual world use is fairly stagnant compared to other new technologies such as social networking. Here are a few morning ideas that should eventually work their way into a more coherent post or comic:
  • Throughout history, inventions have augmented or replaced functions of the human body. And subsequent technology does the same.
  • Biological; Mechanical; Electronic; Digital; Virtual
  • Horse/Car; Wagon/Train/Bus/Plane; Mail/Email; Scrapbook/Photo Sharing Site; Journal/Blog
  • There's a period of co-existence, with the prior technology becoming more marginalized, specialized or eventually dropped altogether. For instance, most personal mail has shifted to email, social nets and texting. It is still used for formal invitations, commercial mail (decreasingly) and of course, packages.
  • Interpersonal communication seems be trending shorter/more frequent/more public: Visit; Letter; Phone; Email; IM; text; tweet
  • New technologies become cultural norms when they do a clearly better job than what came before it. For instance, cars needed the dependable, low-price, readily available versions provided by the Model T, plus supporting paved roads, gasoline availability, etc. Horse travel and car travel co-existed for a period of time. 
  • Which needs does physical experience or non-VW technology fulfill that Virtual Worlds can clearly do better today? Not many yet. So what will it take?
  • Once virtual experience is sensorially indistinguishable from the physical world, and the virtual body can be controlled as unselfconsciously as the physical body, it is likely that virtual life will replace signifiant aspects of physical life.
  • The only place where the physcial world will eventually be able to compete against the virtual, will be at the low end of the Maslow scale: food, shelter, etc.


Cisop Sixpence said...

I have often thought that. While it may seem to be stagnant compared to other new technologies, I think it is using this time to better it's self. Maturing, no longer just a place to have virtual sex, or gambling, but a place for educating, learning, doing and something it does better than all the others... Social Networking!

Some things catch on quickly rise to new heights, then become forgotten. Remember Laser Disc, Beta Max, or even more recently Netscape and MySpace?

I think Virtual Worlds are proving that they are not just a flash in the pan, or a fad. They have purpose beyond the hype. Virtual Worlds like Second Life are evolving. Better to grow slow and live a long life, than have an unsustainable growth spurt and die.

Botgirl Questi said...

Good points. I also think that we often confuse the medium of virtual worlds with particular instances, such as Second Life, Blue Mars, etc. It seems to me that the virtual world paradigm will progress regardless of what happens to any particular vender.

Raven Haalan said...

Yes, I'm with the thought that SL and our current incarnations of the metaverse are the start, and that the medium will become much more pervasive without making a huge "point" of being virtual.

The actual world is moving toward virtualization as well through augmented reality applications (like LAYAR on the iphone) and I can imagine over time the actual and virtual will have fewer and fewer boundaries.

Shockwave Plasma said...

I think Virtual Worlds, will catch on, but in a way we have yet to discover.

SL, OpenSim, Blue Mars, will probably be the Gopher, to the WWW

Cisop Sixpence said...

Just a thought... in the future, maybe our virtual avatar can visit us in the real world. Either via hologram, or maybe even like in the movie "Surrogates" with Bruce Willis, but with hopefully a happier ending. I could see how this could help people with disabilities, be they physical, or just distance and or travel restrictions. Again, that was just a thought.

Botgirl Questi said...

Raven: I agree. I suspect that over the next decade, the virtual and physical worlds will keep blending ever-more closely. If they ever perfect a contact lens display, we might have pervasive virtual overlays of RL.

Shockwave: For sure. I'm working on an infographic/comic that looks at all the ways the automobile has impacted the world in ways that no one foresaw when they first came into use.

Cisop: That's really interesting. I have posted a a few videos and images about bringing avatars into RL, including this light-hearted comic.

sororNishi said...

Yep, I have to agree that VWs are the very best of social media platforms.
Don't forget in the Far East avatars are far more common than here.
Worldwide the growth is amazing.

eirwenes said...

A couple of models from pop culture, both rather undesirable: the movie Surrogates, and the (canceled) TV series Caprica. The underlying issue in Surrogates seemed to be that people had abandoned the real to the point that the lower ends of Maslow's hierarchy, or at least some aspects of "basic" and "safety" were eschewed altogether. So many of the imagined futures are dystopian! (Not familiar with Stephenson.) Of course, if virtual reality were as intuitive as the analog stuff, I'd be happy to be the first to attempt utopia.

Botgirl Questi said...

soror: That's a good point. It would be interesting to know more about what's going on in Korean, Chinese and Japanese virtual worlds.

eirwenes: Both of those are interesting paradigms to ponder. How would human life be different if you could change your form as easily as in Second Life. And what would be the incentive to stay in the uncertain and dangerous physical world if you could enter a virtual world which was sensorial indistinguishable from RL.