Thursday, February 01, 2007

Living in a Virtual World

I barely have the time and energy it takes to properly live in the actual world, much less commit the many hours necessary to enjoy a life in some online virtual realm. Nevertheless, I find virtual communities a fascinating part of today's technological landscape and, although I don't participate, I have an abiding interest in their development.

The first treatment of the concept in my memory was the movie Tron, from 1982, starring Bruce Boxleitner and Jeff Bridges. I loved that movie. Of course, since then, there have been a myriad of virtual world scenarios explored in sci-fi literature by authors such as William Gibson (who invented the term "cyberspace"). My favorite to date is Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash.

Clay Shirky has written a penetrating essay on the pyschological and sociological forces that drive this segment of computer technology and he offers some prognostication on its future. His piece then points to an interesting article on SlashDot, that goes into eBay's recent decision to delist and eliminate the buying and selling of the virtual assets acquirable in the course of playing virtual games such as World of Warcraft.

This article in turn points to another article, this time on CNET, that discusses some of the complex legal and commercial issues surrounding the ownership of these virtual assets, including whether and how virtual earnings may somehow be taxable. And so the virtual and actual worlds begin to overlap. Will the world's governments one day soon consider virtual dollars as tangible currency? Will they levy taxes and demand a share?

Phew! Why would I want to have a "second life" in a virtual world if all of the problems that I have with the actual world are just as real there?

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