In the early 1980’s, there was a gigantic movement to convince relatively well-to-do people that every household will have a computer in it as an appliance, and that your children will grow up to be morons if a computer is not installed in your house immediately.

We will shop and read all of our news on it, and get a majority of our entertainment experience from the computer, and it will budget our bills and automate our houses lights…

It never happens quite like people expect, but with much resistance, the self-fulfilling prophesy came true, I’m sure most reading this will agree.

The way all that fantastic shopping and news was implemented in the 80’s, though, since what we would eventually call The Internet was not yet a global treaty, were through services that we had to get the computers to dial into via modems with acoustic couplers.  You know, those suction cups that you put the phone on, and then you have to dial the phone yourself?  Those got better over time, but what doesn’t?  Services like Compuserve, Delphi, Tandy’s PC-Link, and Sears’ Prodigy supplied the experience, and by the modern internet shopping standard, it was slow and insecure, but at least it was protected within a corporate-owned umbrella.  The sole survivor of these services is America Online, though it was much, much different then.

AOL decided to try and become -the- official way for Joe American Consumer to join the internet revolution, making it comfortable by recoloring the experience in their image, and this decision alone is probably the only reason they still exist.

In those days, the hardware was small and slow, so that the experience wanted had to be scaled to the experience the home computer can render, so there was much text and typing prompts, and to those accustomed, the experience was not uncomfortable, but the future-thinkers knew that there was a bigger picture in mind for all this.

When the global Internet finally came, the World Wide Web and Usenet and many of the other services we use made the old wire services completely unnecessary.  Home computers could do the things necessary to connect to a network the likes of which required gigantic machinery in the 70’s and 80’s, so the hardware finally caught up with the vision… and kept going.

A friend of mine likes to play in the virtual-world creation called Second Life, which I’m sure most people reading this will be familiar with.  When I first saw a magazine ad for Second Life, I thought the ad was a parody of the MMO genre, the massive multiplayer online computer games…  Second Life has much in common with these, but its goal is very different.

Second Life is for all the people that heard about The Internet when Al Gore was trying to take credit for creating it, and was still calling it the “Information Superhighway”.  In fact, the next time somebody makes fun of “The Internet is Tubes,” I want “The Information Superhighway” to be recalled.  Politicians know nothing about computers, by design…  but enough of that.

If you heard about the global Internet, and imagined virtual reality helmets, and all this crazy three dimensional stuff where you’d type in the air and have search results floating in front of your eyes, Second Life is for you.  It is blatantly based upon the notions of Snow Crash, where people escape to an alternate world in their computers, but still interact and do business with people, albeit from far away, in the same way as if they were meeting face to face, because, despite the disguises you can create through the machinery (called “avatars”, a word copied in many communications phenomena), and Second Life seeks to provide all of this.

Under the guise of being a world where you are given a free, networked 3d renderer with which to render to your imaginations’ content, you are also given spaces with which you can sell the results of your work, and if that isn’t enough, the highly encouraged commerce between the players doesn’t just extend to physical goods by accident, it is encouraged!  You can already see 3d renderings of many new cars, with the intent that you will dig a car’s interior and exterior enough to log out and go to the dealership to ask about a real one, and there are many companies that are using Second Life as a vehicle for long distance corporate meeting and many other kinds of sale.  It is expected that soon many consumer goods will be available for purchase, where players can spend their in-game money towards a 3d rendering of a product… and have the real one shipped to your home.

Again, this blurring is intentional, though it’s coming at a bit of a price.  Since I decided to pay this world a visit, mostly hoping to hang out with my friend in the easiest way to communicate with him, (and at least he doesn’t play World of Warcraft… I’ve heard some really nasty stories about that one…) I’ve noticed that the people that signed up based on the fantasy vibe of endless three dimensional creation are now quite upset with all the corporate action, and when I read the criticism, I think to myself, where do you really think you are?

The main issues Second Life has to work out are cryptography, because you know IBM won’t have a really important meeting unless they can scramble it, and of course, the security and legality of the virtual currency.

In the disclaimers, they still pretend that the currency is fiction, and that when you use your real money to buy that currency you are considered to be paying for “service enhancements”, but you can also sell the currency and get real money back in return.  It’s not just “gold farming” where players violate terms of service agreements to exchange real money for not having to hack up monsters to be able to afford a magic sword, this is encouraged exchange of virtual funds for real ones.

Rival virtual world “There” is doing this sort of thing too.

The problem is that these virtual worlds overtax the network hardware and PCs really aren’t good enough to do the whole “virtual reality” experience just yet…  like the 80’s, we have a vision of the future where the hardware is not good enough to implement the software.

What we should watch for is, when will this stuff get replaced by a gigantic open standard, a global treaty instead of having to stick ourselves under the umbrella of a company made up of the staffs of former 90’s internet companies?  And for people that have a lot of money invested in it, will creator Linden Labs be smart enough to make the transition so a ton of work and money doesn’t suddenly get shut away into vaults of memory and history?

Thank you for the comment.  Clive joins us from comments I typically write in, the place I look to for Formula 1 news.  I don’t even bother with the official F1 website anymore, the content there is not detailed enough.

Clive: The notion that money isn’t everything has been the official theme of my blog since I began it, so your point is already well taken.  It is refreshing, however, that you can also seem to have few to no regrets about it.

Money is a decision, and I believe it is, or should be, possible for the poor to decide to be rich and have that decision still be attainable, as much as it is possible for the rich to spend all of their money and never replace it.  There are a lot of writings that suggest the difference between rich and poor is more a difference of habit, and I agree with that, but I add that rich and poor are very much in the individual’s mind.

My comment on Live Earth, paraphrased, repeated, and embellished here…

I still like the music of Midnight Oil.  It’s not just the image portrayed by angry, blue collar Australians that does the work on me, though that didn’t hurt either, it’s how religiously organized the whole image is.

When Midnight Oil started to sing about the environmental cause, it became clear that it is a very organized religion where the proud cause the meek to inherit nothing, and that we await the great change that’s going to destroy all life or something…  and I still agree with the notion that powerful human beings really can ruin things for people, but the future never quite turns out like you expect.

Midnight Oil broke up, and lead singer Peter Garrett re-pursued the political career he should have been after all along, and though I still like the sound, times have given me a new perspective on the message.

Midnight Oil did not perform at Live Earth.

Some time passed as the environmental message of the 90’s slipped our minds and terrorism became more important.  Blame who you want, because both causes have the same thing in common; they are blown well out of proportion.

The return of the environmental message, as sponsored by Al Gore, came conveniently after a string of publicized natural disasters, and so many of the wrong people have bought in too quickly.  My questions for fans of “An Inconvenient Truth” are simple:

If it dates back to a seminar in the 90’s, why did it take this long for it to become this public?  If the message is so important, why wasn’t it rushed out?

If it’s so important for people to see a movie, why do I have to pay $6 to get in?  Why do I have to pay to rent the DVD?  Midnight Oil may have charged admission and sold CDs, but they played free concerts all the time…

Why are deactivated entertainment centers, shrunken cars, and spirally light bulbs sufficient to save the earth from annihilation?  Yes, I know that a lot of small actions add up to a big one, but size of the problem illustrated sounds way too large to solve in such a simple way.

I still have the extra “what if he’s right” thought, but Live Earth has mostly sealed it.  An event that is supposed to be so important did not have the endorsement of the real environmental movement, who made fun of how much energy it wasted, and the acts performing there were largely there to entertain visitors and sell CDs more than support the movement.  The only band that I recall actually getting the cause of the day correct were Crowded House, who played up their lighting accident by announcing, “We have decided to conserve energy by turning off the lights.”  Melissa Ethridge knew it was a political event, but forgot what point to rant about, and instead decided to bitch about the war and homosexuality.

Favorite bands of mine, Genesis looked absolutely flat and seemed to be there because their management said so, and The Police are clearly already arguing again so there will be no more tours after this one.  It’s a shame but…  it sounds like my memory, it does not sound fresh or fun as it should…  I guess that’s just how life is.

Now let’s compare Live Earth to concerts for a cause done correctly: Live 8 was designed specifically to promote the cause, which continues to this instant and is ongoing.  It is a grassroots effort to ask people of rich companies to pressure elected officials to economically support and enforce the economic growth of countries in Africa and in time, any other countries that ought to have such growth.  All the bands present seemed to know that this is the reason they were at their venue playing, and an actual petition was signed and delivered to a G8 conference that weekend with millions of signatures.

Live 8 and the cause can be harmed if we spend too much time worrying about planting trees in America and not enough time worrying about planting corn and building schools in Africa…  For all we know, an African, Indian, or South American will invent that kind of efficiency that solves the environmental and energy challenges, if only we give these people the ability to invent, create, and communicate.  You can tell, we’re right on that edge…  although there are always dissenters, throughout the last 120 years, it feels like we’re right on the cusp of creating a world where anyone can live freely and relatively peacefully, and the key will be ensuring that the poor have the same power to create as the rich do.

Prior to Live Earth’s great nail in the coffin, Penn & Teller’s “Bullshit” had ended their first season with an episode where they visited an environmental rally at which nobody knew what they were rallying for.  At a grassroots event like the one it appears the Penn & Teller show visited, I’d expect a lot of the people at the rally would not be experts, though it’d be nice if the leader could have named a specific legislation they were rallying about or, perhaps if she had actually known some of the science of her cause… like… any of it at all.  I did not think Al Gore could replicate a blunder like that on such a large scale.

I wanted to make pop music in the 90’s, I thought I was going to make music that represented some quiet, unexploited mass of people that liked music but thought it was lacking a certain quality or vibe, but in reality, I think I was making music that only I liked, and I’m really not sure I have what it takes to create something with a gigantic, universal appeal… but in time, I decided that I don’t have to.

It’s easier to make music when I’m not worried about having to package it and sell it to someone, though I still get thoughts that I want to try to do just that…  which is why, for now, it is limited to the Odeo player on the right.

I added one of my tunes from Famicompo to the Odeo player, if anyone hasn’t found out yet what it sounds like when I beat down a NES.

Is the Second Life thing part of the reason I haven’t written in a long time?  That would not be a wholly inaccurate observation, though I suppose it could’ve been far worse in certain ways, and …  I’ve found many of the limits to my ability to enjoy an environment like that; in many ways, the mature environment of the open and global internet is much easier to communicate in.  I’m not sure if it’s something I’ll completely stick with, but…

The killer app of Second Life, for me, is a little program called Babbler, which borrows website translation services and allows people that speak two different languages to almost communicate coherently.  Such an add-on could easily be put into other chatting environments, but sometimes it’s not about what is possible as much as if somebody actually does it.  The functional money, and their virtual stock exchange, has taught me plenty about how real stock markets work, so I can finally understand my dad and my brother when they talk about their investments… almost… and I now have a strong understanding of what is happening in my 401K.

The rest of the experience is…  up in the air.  At least through their stock market I can tell what richer players are trying to develop (which is how I know they want to have physical consumer goods sold soon), so maybe something bigger than what I’m used to from past, text-based games could happen, but for now…  people that play in Second Life are not different enough from the folks that played (or still play) in text-based creative environments.

I’m aware that people share music in Second Life too, but… I’m not sure it’s for me… yet.

I hope everyone is doing well.  As usual I’ll try to make a point to write more often, or at the very least, have an update in August.

See you next time.


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