Thursday, April 15, 2010

Living, playing, learning and working in virtual worlds

So you think that adults who participate in virtual worlds are silly, geeky, and more than a little weird. And those avatars…they look like cartoon characters. Who would want to do that, you ask? A Second Life is not something you seek – right? Well, think again. Your world is becoming more virtual by the day, and just because you don’t notice it or feel it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. It is in this way that culture sneaks up on us. To put it another way: culture is something we take for granted. And, you need to recognize there is a generation coming up behind you that is already participating in immersive environments in play and in school. If you don’t get with the program, you’ll be left behind (out of this cultural shift), and you will become part of a generational rift. You know how your parents take issue with you regarding your media consumption? Well, this is potentially where you become the critic of the children of the next generation. Join them or be left out in the proverbial cold. Just to emphasize the point of the growing use of virtual reality in realms beyond play, The Wall Street Journal reported this week on the use of virtual reality in training nurses to deal with disasters. The article describes a scenario that might be too costly to simulate in authentic reality, but one that can in a more cost effective manner be created in virtual reality. I’m talking about medical training in Second Life.
What about the hi-tech company where half the employees who may live in different parts of the world don’t come to work, but meet in a virtual environment, or administrative meetings among the deans from nine campuses at a southern university that take place in a virtual world, because of the cost savings derived from not having to travel long distances. While virtual worlds may look like something that should be relegated to the world of play, play in fact is one of the ways in which we learn. So whether it is training for a potential disaster or collaborating with colleagues, virtual worlds have potential beyond the world of entertainment, although there’s nothing wrong with that. When you think about the future of virtual worlds, think 3-D or perhaps holography, as this will bring new meaning to the word “immersive” which characterizes the experiences we have in virtual worlds. Instead of thinking about how cartoonish those avatars look, think about a realistic replication of your self. And, think about not having to create an avatar for each virtual world you inhabit, but a single avatar that travels through several if not many virtual worlds. Think about whether this is silly, geeky, and more than a little weird, or whether we are in the early stages of experiencing a major cultural and technological shift.


Bimmordino said...

Playing SL I have come to appreciate the idea of virtual reality. Technology has advanced far beyond what could have been projected, but I don't know if that necessarily means we need to have a life that is solely lived virtually through our avatars. My avatar's name is Quinn. I chose this name not because I wish it was my own, but because I thought it was a bizarre name, much like the experience of being connected to Second Life. The idea of cloning myself as a virtual projection freaks me out. People will make themselves people they aren't, but rather who they long to be. How healthy can that be? I understand the mentality of having to keep up with it all so as not to be left behind, and maybe my ideas are a little old school, but I just don't see a positive adaptation for myself in virtual sense.

amgaither said...

As we know technology is constantly, but I do not know if I can get on board with the virtual worlds. It is one thing to use a virtual world to play in and have fun, but people are replacing these virtual worlds for real life and spending more time and having more interactions in these virtual worlds. I am also skeptical about the medical training they are doing in virtual worlds. I am afraid that people will become too dependent on the virtual worlds and will not know how to interact and react to real people because the “real” world is not going anywhere. I can understand the use of virtual worlds for business meeting especially if people are across the globe from each other, but medical training is risky.

I get the idea that people are trying to be something that maybe this life did not able them to be, but at the same time that is why people before the technology era found new dreams or just continued living. It is a fake existence and you can change who you are and how you look, but aren’t you just trying to be something you are not?

In the coming years more people will probably turn to virtual worlds, but I do not think that a good majority will not. I guess the shift to virtual worlds has to do with culture and how we live in a culture where you are constantly judged. The upcoming generations are growing up with these alternate worlds. I definitely think there will be a generational drift because to some of us the idea of virtual worlds is absurd. We are losing human face to face contact, which is one of the things I enjoy most about life. At the end of the day you have to live with yourself not your avatar.

mlimbach said...

I am hesitant to post a definite response to this question for I feel I have two outlooks on virtual worlds.
After viewing 'Second Skin', I felt deeply disturbed at the lives of the participants. Though these people were not playing Second Life, they were members of another virtual world, World of Warcraft. Not only did the documentary follow the lives of specific individuals, the statistics were astounding and bothersome in a way. When virtual worlds affect a person's day to day life negatively, then direct action must be taken immediately-for it is not real life.
On the other hand, when handled in an appropriate manner (as in it does not run a person's life)virtual worlds are exciting. Whether we like it or not, it is becoming a way of life-and we can either ignore it, or adapt to it. That does not mean we have to create our own Avatar and religiously stay up to date; however, it means to accept that our culture is similtaneously evolving with technology and we must choose to jump on board or be left behind. I am curious about Second Life, and think I will look further into it, after all, who wants to be left?

Caitlin said...

I do not understand the hype around virtual worlds. Personally the whole concept does not seem appealing to me. Technology is constantly changing and it allows for more advanced ways for people to communicate with each other and learn. But it also can take over someone’s life and that is when it becomes an unhealthy obsession. If people only live in virtual worlds what kind of socialization does that teach someone? After watching “Second Skin” I was completely taken back by how people can live their lives that way. I understand that through a virtual world someone can change who they are and act a different way, but what good does hiding behind a computer screen do?

It is one thing to conduct a business meeting in a virtual world for convenience if people are located throughout different parts of the world. However, medical triaging makes me nervous. I am not sure if I want someone operating on me who learned their skills through a virtual world. However, I feel that this will continue to become the norm and more and more companies will continue to train employees through virtual worlds. I am not sure I would want to work in a virtual world. I feel as though it wouldn’t seem like work, because I would rarely leave my house. Is that what a virtual world going to do to our society? I am not sure but I definitely don’t like the idea of conducting my entire life through a virtual world.

cjburhans said...

Like any phase of pop culture, it takes time for something new to become “accepted.” Virtual worlds are going through the beginning stages of becoming popular. It has become apparent that virtual worlds are becoming more popular throughout various parts of society. Originally, I thought that virtual worlds were silly (I still do not use them for personal entertainment) but I do believe that they hold some value. As these worlds become more utilized amongst higher education, the more prestigious they may be viewed. If universities, top companies, and medical institutions use the virtual worlds as a tool for training and communication purposes then society will start to change their opinion regarding virtual worlds. The virtual worlds will no longer be seen as something that “geeks” use but something that is a tool that has value. Although using virtual worlds is not something I see myself doing for entertainment, I do see myself accepting it as a valuable tool to use for communication and training purposes.

amkelly1 Amanda Kelly said...

It was one of my ideas for the Future of Pop Culture assignment that, in 2030, most business and schooling will be done in virtual worlds. I think this could be potentially beneficial or harmful depending on how we use it. It can make certain business meetings, especially with multinational companies, much easier and will cut travel times and costs, and in turn save energy and help the environment. If people do not have to travel so much, then we will need less energy as a whole for traveling. Similarly, it will make schooling much easier and will make virtual schooling more reputable if more people are utilizing it. I think that virtual classrooms can be just as effective as real ones if the students are willing to put in some self-initiative. But if virtual worlds are overused, I think they can be harmful to us. We may lose touch with the humanness of our interactions and lose favor of each other. As seen in Second Skin, many people already favor virtual relationships over any others, if everyone becomes like that, we may have a very bleak future.