Monday, November 27, 2006

Is digital contact enough?

We are closer to a digital world than you might realize.

In a place like Second Life, people can now run virtual businesses, sell virtual real estate, and sell digital products for money that can be traded like any other currency. "So what" you ask? Well, quite frankly, the line between the digital and physical world are starting to blur.

What is the fundamental difference between running a virtual store in Second Life, and a physical store in back here in the analog world? Not much really. Both provide goods and services to real people. Both employ real people. Both exist within a developed economic system. Your Second Life money can be converted to US dollars. All that's missing is the physical contact.

But just how essential is physical contact, actually seeing and being with a person, to a non-intimate relationship? Imagine that you had a friend who lived on the other side of the country. Since it isn't feasible for you to see them in person on a regular basis, you often catch up online.

You might chat for a bit on IM, or talk to them via cellphone, directing them to web addresses of interesting things you've read lately. Maybe the two of you might even download and watch the same movie, IMing back and forth. Sure, it's not the same as leaning over and whispering in their ear at the theater, but at least you won't get hushed.

Perhaps a place like Second Life brings us one step closer to feeling like we are with a person. The scenario above isn't that far off from meeting up with them in a virtual world, walking to a movie theater, and grabbing a seat. Afterwards, you sit and talk in a virtual coffee shop. It's more realistic and engaging than just back and forth text, isn't it?

Of course, I would still rather do these things in person, but what if it's not feasible? And what about people whose real life social incompetency makes virtual communication more preferable?

The tools and technologies we have are pretty close already, all we are missing is a few more computer cycles and a digital world that sews them all up into one.

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