Sunday, August 31, 2008

Virtual tea parties on the ceiling

Why do we have chairs in our offices, classrooms, and public spaces? Are they a real necessity? Somewhere in the distant past people recognized the advantage of doing certain types of work mounted on a platform up off of the ground. They also found the need to keep nice clothes off of the ground and out of the dirt. Then there is the comfort factor for sitting down rather than standing up. In the physical world, chairs have become a staple of our existence.

When we enter the virtual world, what is a chair good for? There is no dirt, there is no physical fatigue, and characters can often float anywhere? So what use is there for chairs?

But if you navigate through Second Life you will find chairs, desks, lamps, and all of the typical artifacts of the the real world. All of them useless. We are so excited about the possibilities that can be achieved in the virtual world. But once inside it appears that most people cannot imagine anything different from what they have in the physical world. In fact, it looks like the virtual world is just a place where we can possess something that resembles what we cannot get in the physical world. If, in the physical world, you have a small office or cubicle, the first thing you might build in the VW is a bigger office. One bigger than the boss'.

Where is the imagination? It appears that most VW residents have little and most large organizations that enter the VW have absolutely none. Even though people complain that sitting in conference rooms and classrooms all day long is the most boring part of their lives, that is the first thing we offer them when they enter the virtual world.

Given an empty virtual canvas we create images directly from the physical world. We create load-bearing columns for buildings that weigh nothing. We hang light fixtures from virtual chains even though there is no gravity to pull them down. We put all of the furniture on the "floor" and leave the walls and ceiling of buildings empty. Where are the tea parties on the ceiling?

Second Life has many very clever and imaginative residents. But for some reason the islands of large organizations are just as sterile, standard, and unimaginative as the real offices. The "rules of the office" carry into the virtual world, even the rules that call for chairs that serve no purpose.

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