A New Means of Human Expression
For true believers, the metaverse offers ground-floor opportunities for involvement in what will be a world-changing technology, something like the next generation of the World Wide Web: an easy-to-use interface of immense expressive power, through which people can share new kinds of information and interact in new ways. While the metaverse probably won't replace the Web entirely--after all, it's easier to read a newspaper on a flat computer screen than in a 3D world --it will expand the Internet's functionality in a way that could soon revolutionize people's lives no less radically than the Web has over the last 15 years. A newspaper may be easier to read on today's Web, but you can't click through a story to launch a 3D version of the place where the events occurred, and then walk around it in the company of other people who are reading the story at the same time.
Of course, in Second Life, where any resident can build anything at almost any time, the potential for mischief runs as deep as the potential for productive uses. The technological backbone of the metaverse is not yet sophisticated enough to guard against pirates, pranksters, and thieves. Second Life events are regularly "griefed" by users who enjoy building cages around others' avatars, for instance, or who release self-replicating objects to choke the world's servers into shutting down.
Many observers attribute most such occurrences to the anonymity of online communications. But they may be evidence of just the opposite: that people want a strong identity online. John Suler, a clinical psychologist at Rider University who has long been a student of the psychology of cyberspace, has written that, "The person may experience the anonymity--the lack of an identity--as toxic." Griefing is a way to build whatever identity the griefer can. It's up to virtual worlds to make themselves more conducive to harmony than to hostility.
The popularity of Web 2.0 sites like MySpace, Flickr, and CyWorld (a 3D version of MySpace that launched in the US in August) demonstrates the near-universal desire of people to express themselves online easily and more richly than in the past, and to share what they have to say in an organized fashion with friends, family, or whoever may happen along.
Online worlds will only extend that power of expression and interaction. "In the real world, there's a big difference between what we can imagine and what we can do," Linden Lab's Rosedale says. "The real world is not as malleable or as plastic or as alterable as we would like it to be. Because of the degree to which Second Life is alterable, it is likely in a few years that everyone will have an identity in 3D worlds. Your identity there--your projection of yourself, the representation of yourself that will be your body, your persona in Second Life--will probably be a more accurate depiction of who you are mentally than the body that you walk around in."
Special Package: Tomorrow's Technology
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