My Tammy Faye Bakker Moment…

June 25, 2009

Tammy Faye

At one point I thought virtual worlds were the greatest thing since sliced bread.  While I didn’t quite reach the Tammy Faye Bakker level of evangelism, I enjoyed talking with others about the promise of virtual worlds and investigating all sorts of ways it could change how we did things.   But like many who truly believe, I’ve had a crisis of faith; I still think virtual worlds are great, but am beginning to wonder if there are limitations in what they can offer.  Just to be clear, I’m not talking about coming into SL to have fun and create things, but more about the ways in which Second Life can be used as a tool for real world applications.

The best parts of Second Life seem to lie within what Grace McDunnough describes as “weak ties,” recreation (and if I wanted to be geeky, I would point out the parallels between the idea of “re-creation” and a second life.  But I don’t want to be, so I won’t!), creativity & artistic expression, and the ability to do things that could be prohibitive or limited in the atomic world.  All of these things are all pretty great and offer tremendous potential. I love that there are mock-ups of nuclear reactors that can help new staff train on equipment and develop a clearer expectation of what to expect.  Or the idea that conducting military strategy and training exercises in Second Life could prepare people for complicated missions (thanks, Zoe Connolly!).   And work done by Gentle Heron of Virtual Ability and Keystone Bouchard of Studio Wikitecture, winners of the Linden Prize offer some amazing opportunities. We all know this sort of list could go on and on.

Okay, so maybe calling it a crisis of faith is an overstatement.  It is simply that I’ve grown to believe that the best uses of Second Life are the ones that strive to take advantage of the ability to do things that would be prohibitive or not possible to do in real life.  I’m not trying to be a wet blanket here and maybe it is a function of virtual worlds being a relatively shiny and new idea, but it seems like there is a school of thought that just because you can do something in a virtual world means that will somehow be revolutionary.  We’re entering an era of new ways of doing business!  Digital platforms can revolutionize education!  To explain what I mean, we need to look no farther than the massive fail of atomic world businesses that came to Second Life and tried to replicate their business model in SL.   Somehow this sort of thinking still seems to pop up regularly and there is still something about operating in a digital world that doesn’t seem to resonate with people at large.

Given all of that, what I’ve started to wonder is this: Are we really pioneers on the leading edge of what may promise to be a significant movement?  Or, given what currently stand as most effective uses of SL, are we power users of what might turn out to be a platform that is ideal for targeted uses for niche groups of people? I’m starting to come down on the latter but I’ll be the first to admit that maybe I’m overlooking or missing something.   I know that there are unexplored avenues for creativity and creation of content and I believe that virtual worlds – and the uses for them – will continue to evolve, but it seems as if we’re far far away from the ability to be revolutionary.

How about you dear reader?  Where are you placing your faith?  In a platform that has valuable uses?  Or in a brave new world?



  1. Wow…great post and I think a very complex discussion that probably has much more grey with it than either-or. I’m placing my faith in the holistic nature of it (including it’s rather organic – not static – behavior toward morphing-growth. I’m curious as to the intention behind the morphing…to what end, or to what purpose. In general, purposeless change purely for the sake of change is okay, but not very engaging after a while.) I definitely agree, as you say, that there are absolutely wonderful benefits in the social aspect, the creative-arts aspects, entertainment and exploratory aspects…great benefits resulting from the ability to create/utilize simulation exercises. But from a gut level, I also am not too sure if revolutionary is the way to characterize it all. For me, “revolutionary” equates with “disruptive” and I’m not sure that SL has generated fundamental upheaval (radical change) in how we interact or conduct our day-to-day lives. Perhaps it can be disruptive and will be that, but purely from a gut reaction (and not from the basis of knowledge), my hunch is it’s not there yet. I had to smile when you talked about companies coming inworld by attempting to “transfer” their atomic ways-means without any changes into the virtual setting. Reminds me of today’s (I think) NPIRL post on “form and function”…how really fundmental and important the notion is for form to follow function. Function is usually driven by an intention to do or achieve something…which ties back, however loosely, to the difference between purposeless change and purposeful change. Apologies for the ramble but I think your question is wonderful and carries a great deal of complexity with it. If I had to characterize SL as either a “valuable platform” or “revolutionary brave new world”…I don’t know that I could say one and completely rule out the other. I tend to think it’s all unfolding (in both of those camps) and is a work in progress.

  2. Thanks for the great comment, Michele.

    I think you’re right that it is more likely a topic that is filled with shades of gray than either-or (but where’s the fun in blogging about gray? :P)

    Certainly things that are disruptive are likely to be revolutionary, but I also believe that scalable adoption is a critical part of the equation. People need to find value and adopt the concept for it to be revolutionary. At the risk of stretching with an analogy, I think the push-button phone is a case where scalability makes it a revolutionary concept, not the technology itself (press 1 to agree or press 2 to disagree). Keeping with the phone analogy, maybe SL and virtual worlds could be compared to the phone back when every call needed to be routed through Agnes the Operator. It may just unfold.

    The one point that I had thought to make in the post but decided against it is that people seem to be wired to default to face-to-face interaction. We’ll choose that when we can over most anything else. (and to put a silly point on it, couldn’t someone reasonably say that everyday in SL is like SLCC?) The immersive and creative aspects can hold sway, but people will find ways to drift toward connecting in person (where possible)

  3. I started writing a reply, but it was so long that I had to go put it on my blog! Off I go to post …

    ^^^\ Kate /^^^

  4. Interesting post, Kate! http://kateamdahl.livejournal.com/53881.html

    Let’s revisit this topic when technology does catch up to the ideas!

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