[Dave Birch] I’m happy when my teenage son is on Facebook talking to all of his friends from the warmth and comfort of his bedroom rather than hanging out with them in a freezing and desolate town centre where he might get stabbed (I’m probably worrying too much, since only a couple of dozen teenagers have been murdered in London so far this year). A crucial difference between online communities and “real” communities is, frankly, safety and security. You can choose which online communities that you belong to an you exclude, block or unfriend people you don’t like. In comparison, the real world (for many people ) is simply awful: there’s nothing you can do about the neighbours who play loud music all night, the teenagers who smash up the bus shelter every week and the drunken yobs fighting in the city centre on Friday night (I’m using specifically English examples here of course). As I said before

he real world is a horrible place, especially near where I live. No wonder that I prefer to sojourn in cyberspace. Is this because I am a geek, an outlier? No, it’s because I’m normal.

[From Digital Identity: Why virtual identities are real to some of us]

But the ability to build virtual walled communities that have digital gates that are far more effective than the ones on physical walled communities isn’t the whole story. There’s something else going on. The interaction between virtual identities is for some people better than the interaction between physical identities.

Participants in 3D virtual worlds are more satisfied with the romantic relationships they form online than with their real-life relationships, and their levels of sexual satisfaction are similar across both worlds, according to two studies conducted by researchers at Loyola Marymount University.

[From The business of virtual sex – Hypergrid Business]

This is, on the one hand, another argument for security and for using cryptography to construct and manage virtual identities (something I am wholly in favour of) but also, on the other hand, another recognition of the reality of virtual reality.

In order to become more attractive to business and educators, virtual worlds need to incorporate more gaming elements, not fewer, into their platforms — those elements, like achievement systems and ratings, that make the platforms more engaging and immersive.

[From Why virtual worlds suck for business — and some solutions – Hypergrid Business]

This is about forming a reputation-based economy from the bottom up, where peoples’ sense of their own personal identity is formed online and not assigned or inherited offline.

No one would argue that our doom is an entirely virtual existence, since obviously we want human contact! But we want to select that contact rather than have it forced on us. There is no evidence, as far as I can see, that the virtual communities that I live in have cut down on human contact. On the contrary, I find myself going along to all sorts of interesting events, meeting all sorts of interesting people — and, I have to say, finding all sorts of interesting work — precisely because of the online communities that I choose to engage in.

I remember James Bellini (who, rather wonderfully, calls himself a “historian of the future”) pointing out, at the Connected Britain event that I was invited to, that the rise of online community hasn’t reduced the amount that people travel (actually, for me, it’s increased).

Is the virtual world replacing the real one, or just making it better?

[From Navigating the Boundary Between the Web and the World]

This is a really, really interesting question. What online communities do isn’t to reduce human contact at all, but to make it better quality. But there are large parts of the real world that I don’t like and would be happy for them to be replaced by virtual worlds. I don’t like people killing each other, to pick an obvous example.

A 43-year-old Japanese woman whose sudden divorce in a virtual game world made her so angry that she killed her online husband’s digital persona has been arrested on suspicion of hacking, police said Thursday… The woman had not plotted any revenge in the real world, the official said.

She has not yet been formally charged, but if convicted could face a prison term of up to five years or a fine up to $5,000… The woman used login information she got from the 33-year-old office worker when their characters were happily married, and killed the character. The man complained to police when he discovered that his beloved online avatar was dead.

[From Online divorcee jailed after killing virtual hubby – Yahoo! News]

Isn’t this better than people actually killing each other in the physical world?

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

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