In the movie Terminator 2, there is a memorable scene where Sarah Connor carves some words into a park bench.
I think those words hold a special meaning for those of us interested in the future of virtual worlds like Second Life, OpenSim, and whatever new worlds will come.
And I believe it’s a very bright future. For everyone.
This past week, I visited Turku, Finland to speak at and attend a conference at Åbo Akademi University on “The Prospects of Learning in Second Life.” The conference was organized by Kim Holmberg (SL: Kim Zwiers) and Isto Huvila (SL: Ab Marvin), both of whom were the very first university teachers to use Second Life in education in Finland.
I gave the opening keynote on “Innovative Learning in Second Life and Beyond.” My presentation was not recorded, but you can get the gist of my talk from my online slides. I discussed the importance of Second Life projects that focus on building community and connectivity, and the importance of adopting a broad perspective on virtual worlds. How Second Life fits into a “multi-grid” strategy that includes platforms like OpenSim, how the connections between these different platforms is critical to long-term success, and how we should all be excited about the future possibilities of virtual worlds for learning. To conclude my presentation, I gave a live demo of OpenSim on a USB key as well as an exploration of jokaydiaGRID and a visit to other grids via Hypergrid teleporting.
It was a wonderful international conference full of pioneering educators. I think we all walked away with new ideas for learning in virtual worlds, new plans for future projects, and new opportunities for collaboration around the world.
As I sat on the airplane returning home, I felt rejuvenated. I’ve always been an optimist about the future of virtual worlds in general. And this conference reignited my belief that educators will play an important role in paving the successful future of virtual worlds.
But the role of educators is just one part of the puzzle.
The evolution and growth of virtual worlds involves many different communities. It involves communities of developers and programmers working on the technical infrastructure of virtual worlds. It involves companies that spring up to create different platforms to explore. And it involves all the people who use virtual worlds to create communities that reflect the whole spectrum of human interest and dreams.
At the intersection of all these communities is where the future lies. No single company or community holds the keys to this future. The keys to the future are in many different hands. And it’s how those hands work together that will determine the success of virtual worlds for everyone.
At this moment in history, people are facing a great deal of change and uncertainty around the future of virtual worlds. In particular, people with a vested interest in Second Life are understandably concerned about the future of the platform, unsure of what Linden Lab has planned for the future. Only time will tell what Linden Lab chooses to do. My own personal hope is that Linden Lab will continue to improve Second Life for the benefit of all its users, and that Second Life will evolve into a platform that can eventually interconnect with other virtual world platforms. I see connectivity as the key factor for any specific virtual world’s long-term success, which is why my attention is so focused on the current work involving OpenSim and Hypergrid these days.
But one thing for certain is that the future of virtual worlds hinges on much more than the decisions of any specific company or a single virtual world platform. The past has shown us that virtual world platforms inevitably change over time. Sometimes they evolve into places that offer new opportunities, and sometimes they simply disappear. But the communities of people involved in their creation and creative use always remains. And it’s how these communities work together to adapt to change that determines their ultimate success or failure.
We have amazing resources at our disposal to create a bright future for virtual worlds. Our resources are a global community of pioneers that encompasses virtual world companies, open source developers, educators, content creators, entrepreneurs, artists, community organizers, and dreamers.
Our own individual future and the future of virtual worlds will be what we all choose to make, working together. The future does not depend on fate. It depends on our critical planning and collaboration.
There is no fate but what we make.
So if you are a virtual world pioneer feeling overcome by storms at sea and such things beyond your control, take a moment to sit down and carve those words on a picnic table. Or on prim or virtual T-shirt, if you’re feeling particularly creative.
Take a long hard look at those words, and think about all the things you can control. Think about the communities you belong to that can help you. Think about how you can help others.
Then stand up, crack your knuckles, and get to work making your own future.
-John “Pathfinder” Lester