“Second Life is a disruptive technology on the level of the personal computer or the internet” (Mitch Kapor)
And so the Faculty of Computing, Information Systems, and Mathematics now becomes the Faculty of Science, Engineering, and Computing; we now become the School of Computing and Information Systems; and vortiCISM now, with the departure of Maths, becomes vortiCISm. But I still retain an affection for the title of the blog, now capturing more than ever–almost six years on from when Khoisan Fisher first stumbled as a hideous ‘noobie’ through the exercises on what was then, I believe, Orientation Island–my feelings about the socially, psychologically, and culturally turbulent nature of the medium … “drawing into its powerful current everything that surrounds it”.
In the early years for me simply a medium for online learning and teaching, Second Life has over time thrilled me, irritated me, bored me, mesmerised me, angered me, fascinated me, disturbed me, surprised me, consumed me, puzzled me, driven me to reflect on the far-reaching and as yet unmeasured impacts of what is palpably even now, in spite of its relatively modest user-base (~20 million accounts), viewed by many as in every sense a ‘disruptive technology’, profoundly changing (at least for its current users) the way we do things in the real world.
What appears to be certain is that:
- the total number of registered accounts for virtual worlds is rising at a extraordinary rate, in particular among the under-18s, with now in excess of 1.4 billion unique accounts worldwide
- virtual worlds (whether Second Life or other platform) will inevitably go mainstream, vying with 2D platforms such as Facebook
- as I have noted in my companion blog, the astounding success of Facebook in recent years has already profoundly changed the way many of us spend our leisure time, how we shape and maintain our social lives, how we think of friendship, how we do business, how we reflect on our lives and share those reflections with others. Transition to a three-dimensional avatar-centric medium will inevitably bring with it even more dramatic social and cultural transformation.
Virtual worlds (and, in particular, free-form social virtual worlds) are indeed vortexes, pulling us in when we venture too close. And, once in, the prospects of ever again escaping are slim. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: sagaciously used, they have the same extraordinary potential for improving the quality of our lives as has the Internet overall, as has the Web in particular, as has the telephone, as has the dishwasher, vacuum cleaner, camera, microwave oven, hi-fi system, and a heterogeny of other now indispensable technologies. I’m now no more likely to give up on MUVEs than I am to give up email or phone.
So … once again into the vortex. VortiCISm continues …