Virtual World/Metaverse Realized?

I have just joined Second Life after reading about how IBM actually built something in it and had Sam Palmisano (IBM CEO) join in the game and gave a speech. Sheesh. There’s also a guide on how to join Second Life from within IBM intranet. Go figure.
So I joined, but I’ve not gone in yet.
All this got me thinking about how we spend our time online, either browsing the net or participating in forums, wikis, reading blogs, etc.
However, as envisioned by Neal Stephenson in his novel Snow Crash, we are approaching a future where we will have online avatars and spend our lives online in a virtual world. In Snow Crash that alternate reality is the Metaverse, where people have essentially two lives, one in the physical realm, and one virtual, but both are ‘real’ When you make money in real life, the resource is used to sustain you in real life, to ensure your continued existence.
Nothing less in the virtual world, where you earn money (either by slashing monsters or by some form of commerce), which you then use to sustain the continued existence of your virtual self.
Now it can be argued that you can log off, and pretend that the virtual world isn’t there. But imagine for a second that your actions in the virtual world actually affect your real world. Case in point, let’s take as an example in Second Life, that you’re a bona fide fashion designer, and everyone in SL wants to buy your creations. Now of course money flows into your coffers in the virtual life, allowing you more freedom financially to do things in the virtual world. Now suppose we take the transaction to the real world, there is no reason why you couldn’t see it to a fellow SL gamer in real life for cold hard cash. In fact, Linden dollar, SL’s in-game currency, can actually be converted into US dollars. Cold hard cash, revenue from the virtual environment.
With crossovers like this, how then is virtual reality any less real then real life?
Here, it’s hard not to see the potential of such a world, if fully realized and fleshed out. At present, there’s no compelling reason for a virtual reality presence. These places are still for gamers at large. Online virtual realities are not widespread the way Internet surfing is for most people, and there isn’t a dominant online world with which to support these users – Second Life is one of many, together with other worlds ranging from EverQuest, Worlds of Warcraft, Eve Online…
Of all on offer, I’d say Second Life is moving more closely towards Metaverse than the other incarnations of online realities, simply because Second Life is more like an online real life, rather than a genre based reality. Not everyone will want to be an elf when buying merchandise for your real life – it’s not congruent. Second Life will probably not *be* Metaverse of our future, but you bet your ass one will be, looking at how things are going now. Especially when your company starts writing a guide to join on online virtual community.
In the future our children (or even ourselves) will look back to the mid 90’s to now and see how primitive we all are now – typing at screens which display flat data, rather than roaming in the virtual landscape.


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