Beads of sweat had begun to appear on Business Futurist Craig Rispin’s forehead. It was a combination of factors – stage lights; a heavy purple jacket; and enthusiasm. It was late 2006 and Rispin was holding court at the Last Thursday Club marketing event. A keynote slide on Second Life (SL) appeared on the screen behind him. Were these marketers even aware that SL existed? He feigned surprise when he was greeted by a sea of shaking heads. Of course they didn’t know. Here was yet another opportunity for connection and innovation and it was passing marketers by. Rispin hit his remote. A movie lifted from the internet began playing on the screen.
A woman’s voice introduced the crowd to Second Life, a world where anything is possible. A world that is built by its community; complete with its own real-world tradable currency, the Linden. 3D images of human-looking characters communicating in giant cities danced across the screen. It looked like a typical street scene in a busy city, until on of the characters leapt into the air and began to fly. Internet based; real money changing hands, human-like characters that can fly. “People spend real money in this thing?”, quizzed an audience member.” The speaker nodded his head. “There is a lot of money is in this thing, and major brands are moving in.” Behind Rispin, the video’s poster frame made the pitch: Second Life – Your World, Your Imagination.
It seemed bizarre to me. Was this really a vision of the future that excited people? Sitting at our computers connecting in a high-tech, low touch environment? In a nation with fast growing rates of obesity and depression, was remaining virtually motionless and physically isolated for long periods of time really what we needed?
Rispin impressed me and his speech on future trends was engaging, but I couldn’t match his enthusiasm when it came to virtual worlds. “I’ve got enough in my first life, thanks” summed it up nicely, and a quick search of the expression “First Life” on Google indicated these sentiments were shared by others. Check out getafirstlife.com for a one page parody.
My first life carried on without a 3D virtual world interruption for almost a year.
A few weeks ago, entrepreneur and event convenor, Vicki Prout began enthusing about the potential of SL and virtual worlds via email. She was promoting an upcoming workshop she was convening on that very topic. Vicki doesn’t do things by halves, so she had decided to import Californian Second Life guru Dell Wolfensparger to run the program.
Since Craig has spoken back in 2006, millions more people had registered and tried out SL. Not everyone stayed, but some had, and there were thousands of active users doing business and having fun in this virtual world. As a communication futurist, it was time I went and explored.
Dell Wilberg and Teami Zeami stood in Venice having a conversation. They weren’t real in an analogue sense, but in a digital sense they existed. They were conversing. Dell Wilberg wore a cowboy hat and talked about the architecture around them. Teami Zeami, bald and handsome, listened intently.
Dell Wolfensparger and Tim Longhurst sat in a corporate training room on George St, Sydney. They were real in an analogue sense, but at this moment, they existed more digitally than in any other way. Dell wore a cowboy hat and tapped at a keyboard. Tim was bald, handsome and reading, preparing to tap back.
The training room was filled with a mix of communication and education professionals. In SL, we were each represented by avatars. I adjusted my settings to have my avatar look as much like me as possible, but most of the others didn’t bother modifying their avatars at this early stage. Our avatars were exploring Venizia, a ‘sim’ based on the real world Venice that was designed by Wolfensparger.
Prior to entering the training room, it is fair to say that I was apprehensive about a game that appeared to have relatively poor graphics (I’m from the Xbox Generation) and that I guessed was designed to suck the money out of thousands of sedentary fools.
NOTE: This post is to be continued. It’s in draft form, but I have to go and do real world work… I thought I’d post it incomplete because I’d rather get this out there and finish it soon… In the next installment – how I spent my 16 hours in Second Life…
Footnote regarding Craig Rispin: Soon after seeing him speak at Last Thursday Club, I met Craig at Australia’s futurist convention, Ausforesight, in November 2006. Our conversation quickly moved to the topic of how he was now able to take his ideas all over the world through speaking. He’s been a great friend and collegue this year and he has been a great adviser to me regarding my consulting business. Even though I’d describe him as a turbo capitalist and he’d probably describe me as a serial activist, we get along like a house on fire.