Friday, August 14, 2009

Live from Second Life

“Live from Second Life!” That's how people who are broadcasting over Internet radio while logged into Second Life tend to announce themselves. Which, given the immersive nature of the medium, feels entirely natural until you think about it. Of course, they're actually broadcasting from wherever they are in Real Life. But since whatever they're saying usually concerns the people whose avatars they see in the vicinity of their own avatars, the feel of addressing an intimate gathering is inescapable.

But this weekend I'm blogging live from Second Life in an entirely different sense. I'm attending the Second Life Community Convention in San Francisco. The first sessions of the convention began yesterday afternoon.

I was afraid the convention might be a little dry—lots of people with Real Life or Second Life businesses nattering on about Synergies and Leveraging Brands and other buzzword-laden nebulosities—but it's been a lot more fun than that. I crashed a couple of Art track sessions yesterday. I know zip about art, but I had a blast: artists can be just as creative in conversation as on the metaphorical canvas. The high point of the afternoon was a few short scenes from plays prepared by Z. Sharon Glantz (Lailu Loon in Second Life), who had us read the scenes and then discuss how we'd stage them in Second Life. These were classic brainstorming sessions where wild ideas flew thick and fast. Lailu's stated focus was on how to make Second Life drama that would be accessible to people who weren't familiar with Second Life, but I'm afraid I kept coming up with ways to incorporate Second Life in-jokes into the scenes (are jokes actually funnier when only your friends get them?).

Making virtual worlds accessible to people who aren't familiar with them is a theme of several conversations I've had so far. I was talking with a Belgian journalist last night (whose name I failed to catch) and he was complaining about the number of job applicants he encounters—people in their 20s—who aren't familiar with new media. He says he asks them in interviews, Do you play World of Warcraft? Do you blog? Journalism isn't quite the manual-typewriter-in-an-exotic-location profession it used to be.

This morning's keynote address was from Ray Kurzweil, appearing to us from Second Life, projected on a screen at the front of the room. His presentation focused on the exponential growth of various technologies, including, in recent years, the use of virtual worlds. His contention that within 20 years or so many people will have neural implants that let them interface directly with virtual worlds seemed a little early to me—I'm not sure that many people will move into brain hacking that quickly—but it's clear to me that enough people find virtual worlds compelling that people will keep looking for lower-friction ways to inhabit them.

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