Virtual worlds? Bah!

If you think that the virtual worlds are over hyped, and the metaverse of hyperlinked OpenSim grids will never amount to anything, you don’t have to think up an original blog post — just take a look at this prescient Newsweek article from 1995: The Internet? Bah!

Here’s what Clifford Stoll — author of Silicon Snake Oil and The Cookoo’s Egg — had to say about that annoying collection of useless Websites, over-hyped store fronts with no visitors, and other excesses of the Internet age:

… today, I’m uneasy about this most trendy and oversold community.

How true! Virtual worlds are both trendy and oversold. Just like the Internet was back in 1995.

Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms.

Virtual worlds are supposed to further breakdown the barriers of geography. That new SL Viewer 2, in particular, with it’s media-on-a-prim, is supposed to user in a new age of virtual workspaces and classrooms. Oh, really?

They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic.

Replace “networks and modems” with “grids and regions” and “digital networks” with “virtual worlds” — it’s spot on!

Baloney. Do our computer pundits lack all common sense?

They do, they do.

The cacophany more closely resembles citizens band radio, complete with handles, harrasment, and anonymous threats.

He was talking about all the Internet chatter — but he could have been talking about Second Life.

What the Internet hucksters won’t tell you is tht the Internet is one big ocean of unedited data, without any pretense of completeness.

Have you tried to find anything in Second Life lately? And finding something on an OpenSim-based grid — might as well admit defeat right from the start.

Stoll also makes a very good point about the lack of visitors to most Web sites:

Internet addicts clamor for government reports. But when Andy Spano ran for county executive in Westchester County, N.Y., he put every press release and position paper onto a bulletin board. In that affluent county, with plenty of computer companies, how many voters logged in? Fewer than 30. Not a good omen.

If you visit Second Life, most regions are completely deserted. And if you’ve put your region up in OpenSim, the best you can hope for is that your friends might visit. And even then, only if they’re very good friends.

Then there’s cyberbusiness. We’re promised instant catalog shopping–just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obsolete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month?

Without clear-sighted writers like Stoll, some us might have wasted our time and money and registered for email accounts, put up our own Web sites, or invested in Internet companies back in 1995, and where would we be, now.

And who’d prefer cybersex to the real thing? While the Internet beckons brightly, seductively flashing an icon of knowledge-as-power, this nonplace lures us to surrender our time on earth.

But it is the closing point of his essay that resonates the most, even today:

A poor substitute it is, this virtual reality where frustration is legion and where–in the holy names of Education and Progress–important aspects of human interactions are relentlessly devalued.

Fortunately, there are plenty of realists writing today, explaining that the virtual worlds are a dead end as well.

Thanks, Three Word Chant!, for the heads up!

maria@hypergridbusiness.com'

Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China.

  • Doreen Garrigus

    I've always loved Mr. Stoll's article. It is almost cringe-worthy in its lack of vision and should serve as a warning about the coming decades' worth of embarrassment we might earn, should any of us be so shortsighted as to dismiss a new technology completely out of hand like that.

  • Anya Daligdig

    "So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month?"

    Some facts and figures backing this comment up would be welcome, particularly if we are to give it any credence.

    "And who’d prefer cybersex to the real thing? "

    People who don't have a current partner? People with physical disabilities? People who like a little variety in their sexual lives?

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  • Moni Duettmann

    There have always been two kinds of people: those who imagine future technologies and their possibilities, although they are not fully developed yet or even not developed at all, and those who are eventuall persuaded, when they see what's finally come out of the developments. It's imagination vs. consumerism.