Deep Thoughts, Second Life

Prospect Park

The first expenditure of the (Prospect Park) commissioners was to hire a topographical engineer, which specialist was Egbert L. Viele, the original Chief Engineer for Central Park. Viele examined the premises and composed a written report, in which he indicated his conviction that “the primary object of the park [is] as a rural resort, where the people of all classes, escaping from the glare, and glitter, and turmoil of the city, might find relief for the mind, and physical recreation.”

The city grinds down its dwellers, he says: “while on the other hand nature in its beauty and variety never palls upon the senses! never fails to elicit our admiration; whether displaying its wild grandeur in the vast solitudes of the forest, . . . whether bursting the fast of winter, it opens its buds in spring-time, or yielding to the chilling blasts it scatters its autumn leaves — it conveys in all its phases and through all its changes no emotions which are not in harmony with the highest refinement of the soul.”

The tone of this prose poem, by a nineteenth century American, is not unlike that of the eleventh century…Kuo Hsi (who) recommended, as a substitute for direct communion with nature, a “landscape painted by a skilled hand.”

Viele exhorts the natural garden, which to “the weary toiler . . . supplies a void in his existence and sets in operation the purest and most ennobling of external influences.” It was a great and wonderful philosophy of compensation transposed into modern terms and means.

For reasons that aren’t quite clear I was in New York and decided to head to Brooklyn for an event in Prospect Park, but with my limited sense of geography I didn’t realize, for some reason, how BIG it was, so to start with I got off the subway 10 blocks or so from the park entrance thinking it was a short little hike, I’d be there in no time, but I still had a good chunk of Brooklyn to get through instead.

Now, I love Brooklyn. The streets have this really human scale with their mix of old Italian bakeries and little coffee shops, of old ladies with mesh bags filled with groceries and unshaven Brooklyn hipsters wearing thin pants, shirts from the 50s, and those little funny hats. Somehow it always reminds me of Montreal, although I’m sure to most people, Montreal reminds them of Brooklyn.

Brooklyn bustles. Not the San Francisco hyper-caffeinated kind of bustle, more of a neighborly thing: people chatting on the side walk, the World Cup game blaring from some little restaurant with Italian pastries in the window.

So I wander along, and I find the entrance to the park, but I’m not entirely sure where I’m going. The event is IN Prospect Park but I never bothered to check WHERE in the park. I figured I’d just walk in and see it across a field or something, or hear noise, and there I’d be.

But as I say, my sense of geography and distance can be limited sometimes. You can’t really get the sense of scale, and I’m coming in from the north end with these huge arches, and I’m getting the vague sense that this park has some history behind it, although I’d never stopped to wonder much about it – urban parks, to me, are usually these spaces with a controlled feeling and lots of smoothly cut grass and maybe some people jogging along with iPod buds in their ears or a few scatterings of students or whatever.

There’s no real signage. Or maybe there is and I don’t notice it. And so, well, I just sort of wander.

Way-points and a Map of the World
Before I arrived in New York I was in Cincinnati giving a presentation to a group of incredibly intelligent and engaging researchers who develop point-of-care technologies. Things like mobile devices that can do immediate, on-the-spot tests of drinking water in disaster sites.

Chris Collins (Fleep Toque) was also there, and we had a quick chat in the hallway, and I ended up feeling disappointed that I didn’t have a chance to chat with her more – I had to run for my flight just as she was starting a presentation of her own.

I was presenting on social and immersive media.

Now, I usually start this kind of talk with the caution that while I like to explore the possibilities of technology, I’m also aware of their peril. And I do that for two reason: one, because there’s always someone who’s going to resist newer approaches to education or community or whatever, and it often seems to help to acknowledge their anxiety; and two, because I’m interested in critical discussion.

Because that’s where the fun stuff is. The tension between our fears and our hopes is usually where we find the possibility of change.

I sort of argue with myself, I guess: hey, I’m here to tell you this stuff is good for you, but this stuff can also be BAD. But don’t just let me argue with MYSELF, jump in and add your two cents as well.

And they did. And it was really interesting to see the sort of shift in thinking, a change in perception, and while I’m not always the easiest person to follow (as you can imagine I tend to go off on tangents and irrelevant little detours) it felt like a few sort of rallying points arose from the discussion:

- Social media, for all its chaos and competing information streams, has pushed the possibilities for community and education into more granular and real-time forms. The classroom can be extended, as it happens, beyond its walls. Education can happen in “nuggets” and can be pushed closer and closer to the point of application. A “Tweet Up” can be as relevant a form of discussion and learning as a lecture – it just depends what your learning objectives are and the nature of the community you’re serving.

- Immersive media isn’t something scary and “other-worldly”. Your kids are entering it every time they press the on-button for their PlayStation or XBox, or log in to Habbo Hotel. Immersive media provides a sense of presence, and can connect people within the same “place” when they might not otherwise be able to meet. But it’s not the “meeting” that’s important, it’s the possibilities for less rigid forms of interaction, for a sense of play and exploration that can still, nonetheless, be grounded in goals and outcomes and objectives.

- The curation of content, whether across the Web or in a 3D world, is one of the defining skill sets for our time. The need for content is more powerful than ever and the curation of that content (including our own individual efforts at curating) is a key skill set for this century.

And what I found interesting was that the group, amongst whom maybe 1 or 2 had been in Second Life or had used Twitter, acknowledged that BOTH concepts had a learning curve but that the learning curve was surmountable.

The idea, for an educator, of letting a class Tweet a lecture, or the task of breaking content down into “chunks” that could be posted to Facebook learning groups or whatever, can seem overwhelming. It isn’t just the tools that needed to be learned, it’s adapting to a new mind-set for how communities are formed and managed and for a new model for “instructor-led” education that’s the tough part.

In contrast, an immersive environment is, oddly enough, more natural. The immediate comments were things like: “we could be holding THIS meeting in a virtual world” or, even, “we could be holding this meeting SIMULTANEOUSLY in a virtual world”….and with Fleep up right after me, I’m sure they moved past “meetings” and started to more deeply understand the affordances of a 3D space for training and collaboration.

So it wasn’t the concept of virtuality that seemed foreign, it was the tools and how to use it and where to start, and maybe I’m projecting a little here, but it sure felt like the challenge was met with a collective shrug: “learning how is the EASY part.”

The Nature of Chaotic Systems
Taking the plunge into virtual worlds, adding Twitter hashtags to a conference, forming and managing a Facebook group on point-of-care sensors or whatever is the easy part. Understanding the landscape in which these things exist and the broader implications for how we use digital technology to work and live online is the hard part.

I mean, I’m wandering into Prospect Park. And the further I go, the more I realize that I don’t actually know where I’m headed. It seemed so easy, really. How hard can it be to find an event of a few thousand people in a PARK after all?

And it’s odd. Because the transition between city and park feels both subtle and sharp.

There’s a weekend farmers’ market near the entrance columns, and it’s not like you don’t know you’re entering a park, but there’s something about the bustle of people that are sort of floating around as if they’re sloshing over from the city itself that blurs the edges a bit in the transition.

The entrance to the park is formally marked, at least at the north end, with historic arches and statues of Lincoln and soldiers at battle, and it gives you a kind of brief moment of awe (or maybe grandeur is a better word), a quick double-take, and it’s somewhat as if your eyes have been distracted in the process of getting IN from the fact that you’ve arrived. The spillover traffic from the library nearby, the farmer’s market and use of architectural constructs doesn’t signal a sudden split between city and park, urban and rural, but is a sort of reminder that one exists within the other, they’re distinct and yet intimately connected.

I found I sort of wandered. I had a destination, and I wasn’t sure how to get there or where it was, really, but unlike getting lost in a maze of city streets, say, there was nothing daunting about being “lost”.

There was a path, and it had offshoots, but I just kind of followed it, fully expecting I’d turn a corner and find what I was looking for, only to find that I was, instead, merely looking – a meadow kind of opened up, and there were some people playing frisbee and there were some people having a picnic, and I just sort of kept walking, and the trail sort of blurred and moved from field to forest.

See, it’s not as if the park wasn’t DESIGNED.

And I didn’t know anything about its history, or what was in it, or how big it might be – but the design sort of carried me along, guided me, and yet nothing in that experience felt forced, and the moments of serendipity didn’t feel as if they’d been planned that way – I turn a corner in the woods and find myself next to a working carousel, and someone had set up tables and was painting kid’s faces, it was like finding a child’s carnival in the middle of the forest.

And this is the nature of our systems, and perhaps has ALWAYS been the nature of our systems.

I mean, I grew up in the city which has, as one of its spiritual founders, Jane Jacobs, who thought of a city as something organic and who resisted the push to large-scale planning and who begged instead that the city be managed lightly. A “landscape painted by a skilled hand”.

Jane argued for this lighter hand in recognition that a heavier one dishonors the organic and chaotic nature of the urban landscape.

Serendipity, chance encounters, and a swirl of cultures and ideas is what makes a city great, rather than how efficiently cars can get in and out, or how “in control” you want to feel in the environment (as if control, somehow, can stave off chaos or decay).

Richard Florida has since picked up the mantle (and has moved to Toronto almost in representation of his role as spiritual heir) and has demonstrated that successful cities are successful when the ‘creative class‘ can thrive: as much a story of serendipity and fate as how many book readings you’re able to organize.

Johnny Appleseed and the City Planner

As for Prospect Park, the team had made its memorable contribution in devising a magnificent and appropriate design and in directing its development up to the time of the depression, and it fell into the hands of others to further, to maintain, and to change — sometimes to spoil — the masterpiece that Olmsted and Vaux had created….

Monumental gateways opposed the Olmsted-Vaux tradition by introducing architectural features at the entrances, originally elaborated only by rows of evenly spaced trees — continuous with those of the promenades that encompass the park — and two small rustic pavilions on the Plaza to serve as shelters for people alighting from or waiting for cars. The McKim, Mead and White gateway additions at least faced out, relating themselves to the city beyond, whereas the Peristyle is wholly inside the park, thus representing a different viewpoint. it was succeeded by three larger structures in the same manner.

Even during the incumbency of the original designers, there had been those who had no concept of the overall purpose and significance of a natural garden and who attempted to blazon their personal interests before the public on park land. Olmsted, writing about such encroacbments attempted in Central Park during the early 1870′s warned that if they were not firmly opposed, the result would be the park’s “conversion into a great, perpetual metropolitan Fair Ground . . . a desultory collocation of miscellaneous entertainments, tangled together by a series of crooked roads and walks, and richly decorated with flowers and trees, fountains and statuary.”

There’s no right or wrong way to do this. There’s no magic formula for determining how heavy or light a hand you can (or should) use in shaping our human systems.

Now, maybe I’m pushing the metaphor a little bit, but I can’t help thinking of someone like Philip Rosedale, the founder of Second Life, as a sort of Johnny Appleseed. And while randomness can lead to unexpected results, you can also end up with an orchard in the middle of the baseball diamond or a tree breaking through the foundations of the carousel.

I couldn’t help wondering, as I walked through Prospect Park, how its uses came to be determined. I don’t mean the larger spaces, I mean the way in which the people using the park sort of seemed to gravitate to certain areas for certain reasons: over at the edge of the forest, large groups and families having meals and playing games; just out of the woods and past the ponds, a field of kids playing baseball on homemade diamonds.

And I sort of imagined what it would be like if you came in with spray paint or something and divided and sub-dividing the land up into tiny parcels and tried to prescribe their use: would people stay inside the lines? Would the fact that the space was marked and partitioned for use HELP people or hinder them?

And what was the difference between the visible distinctions (a sign, say, reading “No Barbecues here” or the clear outlines of a soccer field) and the invisible ones?

How heavy a hand could you bring to it? How much planning is too much? And how do you strike the right balance between contained and managed spaces and the chaotic ones – the wooded areas, the streams, the ponds?

Linden Lab and the Failure of Central Planning
Now, I’m interested in these larger questions not just because of their implications for virtual worlds, but because of their larger implications for enterprise, governance, culture and society.

Enterprise (whether a school, a company, a not-for-profit, or a group of Steampunk enthusiasts) will struggle, and continue to struggle, with the challenges of working in environments that are increasingly less like factory floors with inputs and outputs. Instead, they’re adapting (like the group in Cincinnati, say, in its small way) to the challenges of ecosystems that have both elements of control and order, and elements of chaos and serendipity.

And maybe it takes 100 years or 200 years to see these questions played out in a city or a park, but it only takes a few years to see them play out in online communities.

I’ve often said that Second Life isn’t the future, but it’s a prototype of one.

The world won’t suddenly move into Second Life and leave the Web and actuality behind. But what you learn in Second Life covers, well….it covers a lot of ground. Issues of culture, identity, governance, open versus closed systems, content and IP….that just scratches the surface, really, and I can’t think of another space with such a unique combination of commerce, entertainment, business, community, creation and ‘government’.

But Is Linden Lab (or Facebook, or Google) a Government?
As an aside, one of the many arguments you hear about decisions made by Linden Lab is: “they’re a business, get over it, what did you think, this was a democracy?” Um, Prad jumps to mind. And yet this ignores the very real fact that Linden Lab, while a business, is also the de facto government of a community and that this is NO DIFFERENT from actual governments.

Actual governments can be as heavily influenced by their roles as businesses, or by business itself, and there can be a very blurry line between running a country or a county and operating an enterprise. In neither case does that mean, as citizens, that we need to roll-over – if our governments operate too much like a business, we should hold them accountable to their role in protecting things other than spreadsheets. Similarly, we have an obligation to hold the new version of the “State Actor”…Facebook say, or Linden Lab, accountable and to remember that while its primary motivation may be as a business, it has taken on the obligation to the citizens of its communities by virtue of the culture and connections it has facilitated.

The major difference is the forms of accountability and transparency and in the tools we have to HOLD either type of ‘government’ accountable. Governments and laws are not our sole point of reference or protection in bringing these state actors to account, any more than “voting with our dollar” is the sole point of protection against governments that act too much like bankers.

Google, a global State Actor, may not have the same infrastructure against which to be accountable, but it’s not merely laws and regulations to which it must report.

And what we’ve seen in Second Life doesn’t feel so different to me from the rich history of a place like Prospect Park or, even, the changes in my neighborhood or the city in which I live.

The recent changes at Linden Lab, when viewed against this broader context, aren’t really much more than shifts and readjustments….which isn’t a way of making light of the fact that people lost their jobs or that others will make different investment decisions than they might have last month.

But against that larger context, what seems clear to me is that the ecosystem (or the ‘park’, ‘city’, or world which Second Life represents) was shifted in the direction of a more centralized planning, and that shift failed.

A Network of Roads is Not a Map, and It’s Definitely Not a Design

Mitch Kapor points out that pioneers find themselves in an arduous environment. In fact, it’s too difficult for most people, only the hardy will survive. It’s unavoidable that there would be a high attrition rate in the early years. Those who stay do so because they bond. This gives the environment its charm and its character. But charm and character are yesteryear concepts. Because charm and character are eroded as people bring pragmatism to virtual worlds.

Pragmatic adoption will be fueled not just by business but by all kinds of other sectors, whether in education, architecture, or not-for-profit. It is simply valuable for these groups to use a virtual world, which will cause a challenge for those who feel that there is less novelty, and in some senses less freedom.

“It is always an uneasy transition for the pioneers, and I think we’re going to go through that again. It has to be opened up it has to be made easier to use. There are some things which have to happen. There are some things that Linden Lab has to do….to allow the potential of the platform to unfold…to improve ease of use, ease of learning.”

- Mitch Kapor at SL5B, 2008

Mitch Kapor failed Second Life. The ‘wise old beard’ behind the scenes, the guru, the mentor….he both walked away and walked away from the principles with which he’s associated.

But Mitch Kapor is a product of Silicon Valley. And this failure will be the failure of a hundred more companies that follow this path. And to them, there’s nothing wrong with this: failure is important, failure is liberating, there’s no such thing as “one big bet” there’s only a thousand small ones.

See, what happens is, technology itself is the hope. Technology is the thing to play with, and explore. If you’re smart enough and young enough and have a cool idea, the thought is that you let that person play around with tech and see if it works and see if it starts to scale and then…..well, then you need to start acting like an adult and either figure out how to monetize it (if you haven’t already) or figure out a way to massively scale it, IPO it, flip it, sell it, and it doesn’t really matter what the steps you need to take to get there just so long as you get there.

But as much as Mitch might be associated with “ecosystems of value derived from technology and its intersections”, and as much as you might think of him as related to open source (or, at the very least, open systems)…Mitch is the product of a system himself, and in that system you shift from chaos into pragmatism, from experiment and prototyping into product.

There is NO SUCH THING as a platform that is open-ended and endless in its innovation, because every platform has been built to be cashed out.

And while it might seem like Mitch didn’t have his hand on the tiller – well, he did, and we saw it two years ago at SL5B and, by all accounts, even WITHIN Linden Lab.

His message to the Labbies who were advocates for open systems/open source were given the brush-off: “I’m all for open systems,” he’d say. “But now it’s time to be PRACTICAL. We need to manage what we open and what we close. This is no time for being dreamy.”

And this has implications. Because if the wise beards and the board are getting, well, frustrated with chaos, then it doesn’t matter where you are in the pecking order but eventually you’ll hear the message: either get yourself aligned with the central planning committee or get out, it’s time to be pragmatic, it’s time to package and channel and clean house, it’s time to burn out the underbrush entirely.

Would You Hire an MBA as a Sherpa?
Well, maybe you would, if he was a damn good sherpa. But my bet is that if there were two guides to take you up Everest and they were equal in every respect except that one had an MBA and one didn’t – well, you’d probably choose the one WITHOUT the MBA.

Linden Lab is being run by technicians and MBAs. The failure of this centralized planning wasn’t the failure of centralization, it was the fault of spreadsheets. (Did you know that Mitch Kapor was the founder of Lotus? But I digress).

And I’ve written about this, um, endlessly really. Because the mistake that was made is this: in its reliance on past data as the source of understanding future value, Linden Lab denied itself the possibility of imagining a larger future that couldn’t be extrapolated from the past; locked itself into thinking like a technician rather than a leader; and ignored the fact that it was working within a system that was organic and, in many senses, built out of both the pain and gain of chaos.

The changes at the Lab are the result of looking at those very same spreadsheets. If, as Tom Hale and Mark Kingdon said, you are projecting 100,000 concurrency and a million monthlies, and your spreadsheet starts to show that you are NOT going to get there, then you start tweaking the spreadsheet, only to discover that the main number you can influence is, well, cost.

It’s disingenuous of M to say that this is a “strategic refocusing”.

No. It’s not.

You projected a future based on very algorithmic formulas:

- Of the 95% of people who don’t return to Second Life after their first visit, X% say it was because it was “too hard”.
- If we can make a 10% improvement in the usability of the viewer, that will mean an X% x 10% increase in retention. Therefore, it doesn’t matter about the current community, what matters is an ‘easier’ viewer.
- If, of people who stay past the first month, 90% of the ‘retained’ also SHOPPED, then if we can get the people who don’t stay past the first month to shop, we can increase monthly repeats by Y%. Therefore, what matters is, well, shopping.
- Projecting this out, we should hit 100,000 concurrent by, well, say, April 2010.

And the fifth bullet:

- Which is all FINE, but this needs big, design thinking. Because we’re also working in chaotic systems here and in a digital world in which someone’s creating a 3D phone in their basement. That means a big, gutsy vision. That means communicating relentlessly, allowing chaos to happen, letting things shift and change and not relying just on spreadsheets to plot where we’re headed (while not ignoring them either). That means centralized planning but grass roots action and advocating. That means working within our walls but engaging (deeply) with the community as well.

Sadly, the fifth bullet doesn’t exist.

I wrote in September, 2008 on the strategic possibilities of a new viewer, and made it clear that a new UI was down the list of what needed to be fixed:

My list of top barriers to Second Life adoption (goes) like this:
1. An unclear value proposition.
2. A poorly constructed outreach effort to both content creators (think gaming platforms and how they outreach to developers) and the casual user.
3. Poor tools for connecting people with people.
4. Coupled with that, a poor registration and orientation experience.
5. And finally, the viewer.

And of the first three we have – um, Avatars United? Oh, and some banner ads.

This Road Isn’t Going Anywhere
Now, in the weeks following a “strategic restructuring” it’s hard to say what will happen next. The best we have are a few vague statements about ‘centralizing’ development and trying to get Second Life in the browser.

But if all the decisions that follow come from those two planks: “easier access without a download” and “centralized”….then Second Life is headed on a road to, well, to nowhere.

Now, it won’t be an abrupt end. The path will sort of turn to dirt, and then grow fainter, and then it will just sort of fade off into the woods. And the result if Linden Lab is sold will be the same: it will be absorbed into something else, it will be repackaged, and then packaged again. It will end up feeling like food from a field which by the time its cut up and processed and dyed and put in a shiny wrapper ceases to be much like what you started with.

A “conversion into a great, perpetual metropolitan Fair Ground . . . a desultory collocation of miscellaneous entertainments, tangled together by a series of crooked roads and walks, and richly decorated with flowers and trees, fountains and statuary.”

But having said that, there’s something else that happens in a restructuring like this. Because while on the one hand you might cling to the notions that got you here, you’re probably also up at night wondering and questioning.

I mean look, even a lot of MBAs actually wish they were poets instead, or sailors, or vagabonds. And it’s in those midnight hours that maybe you shuck off convention and remember the artist within. The question becomes: do you have the faith to listen?

It isn’t easy, and I don’t envy anyone at Linden Lab the soul searching they’re probably going through. On the other hand, and it’s not that I lack empathy, but I’m also a business person and while it’s gut wrenching to ‘restructure’ or change direction, it’s the way it is, and sometimes in destruction comes renewal.

Let the Garden Grow
From the broad strategic perspective, Second Life doesn’t need a new appliance or a new browser-based experience. I mean, it needs those things, but it needs them within a larger framework.

They need “Big C Creative”, a vision, a value proposition, design thinking. And beneath that Big C Creative, they need content.

They need the baseball game with the little kids and their overly large helmets, and they need the family having the picnic for someone’s birthday, and they need the teens playing frisbee.

The pendulum has swung too far in one direction. We need a little more chaos again, a little more serendipity, more opportunities to make new connections and, most importantly, to create new forms of content.

And I suppose if I had a “90-day action list” for Linden Lab it would include the following:

- Roll-back search
- Launch mesh
- Launch Havok 7
- Launch the new marketplace
- Support the old viewer but embed Shared Media
- Do whatever it takes to make Viewer 2.0 “programmable”
- Launch C++
- Do whatever it takes to somehow open up the API or the systems for group management and communication.

But, well, really….whatever. All of it would help. Shifting value back to the Residents and then getting out of the way would go a long way to seeing Second Life end 2010 with the wind in its sails again.

But none of it will matter if all these plans for social media outreach and browser-based experiences aren’t connected to a larger Big-C creative and a really deep middle-of-the-night question:

What do you really, truly, deeply believe about the content of Second Life, the stories it contains, and do you believe that the obstacles to be removed include platform adoption and learning curves, but only in the service of connecting people to STORIES?

See, I actually think there’s tremendous head-room for innovation in Second Life. And I also think that the impact of the recent changes will have very little impact on the adoption rate of virtual worlds.

But there’s a challenge. On the one hand, Second Life will forever be a little niche community if the fundamental question of connecting PEOPLE to CONTENT isn’t housed within a deep and powerful creative vision. And on the other hand, it will be a niche community because, well….the metaverse has moved.

And so far, it has no forwarding address.

A Park on Every Corner
Um, OK, I’m mixing up lots of metaphors here. But I mix up lots of stuff anyways.

I mean, virtual worlds are NOT an enterprise application, although their value to enterprise can be radically transformative.

As much as Proton Media, say, is making a very solid play as an enterprise application, I’m of the belief that even integration with Sharepoint and document carousels in a virtual world aren’t where the future of the metaverse within the enterprise will reside.

Virtual worlds aren’t mass media, they’re not enterprise-wide applications. Right now, they’re ideation and innovation engines.

The reality is that the metaverse is moving to – well, to everywhere.

And I’ve been saying for three years now that if you want to understand where this is headed, and if you want to prep yourself for the future, there are a few key things to think about. Among them:

3D Everywhere

3D will end up everywhere, and the design sensibilities, the ‘grammar’ of 3D, is at its very earliest stage, and places like Second Life (or, increasingly, Unity3D and other platforms) are the test beds for exploring this new grammar.

HTML-5, Papervision, 3D mobile phones, 3D televisions – they don’t just point to new ways to see and experience, they point to richer experiences that are both granular and more pervasive.

Applications, narratives and projects which are able to create variable levels of immersion are the frontier not just of 3D content, but for storytelling, community, education and communication more generally.

Something as simple as a meeting needs variable immersion: the person who’s with you face-to-face, the avatars logged into a virtual world, the person on their cell phone call from the road, and the Skype or Cisco video call participant.

Variable Interfaces
Experiences in digital domains will happen using an increasingly wide array of interfaces.

Not just screens, but the ways we move, touch, interact with and explore information and content.

The touch screen on an iPad, Project Natal and other forms of device-less interaction, and surface computing aren’t just precursors to augmented reality or “fancier Wiis”, they’re harbingers of what’s already happening: the Web is being decoupled from the desktop, and this change has been and will continue to be the most profound shift that has happened in computing since the first Web site.

And what this MEANS is that as much as Linden Lab might like to become a standard software company with release dates and roll-outs as if it was launching a new version of Office every two years – well, the metaverse isn’t sitting still. And it needs to continue to be a LAB as well, because the world doesn’t stop, the large city in which Second Life is contained continues to change.

In other words, Philip needs to get out of his damn hotel lobbies and come back and help some people to innovate again.

The Destination

Now, as it turns out, the event I was trying to get to in Prospect Park was fun but arriving was, well, a bit of an anti-climax.

I mean, I came in at the northeast end and it turned out I should have been in the southwest corner, and that there was a subway stop right beside it.

But I suppose if I’d never gotten off at the wrong stop, and if I had never walked through the park, well….I never would have realized where I was really, my experience wouldn’t have had a wider context.

All I would have seen was one tiny slice of a larger landscape and never come to appreciate its breadth, its beauty, and never would have experienced those little moments of serendipity along the way: the carousel, the pond half-glimpsed through the trees, the little kids playing baseball.

And I never would have appreciated its place in the wider city, or stopped at that cafe on Flatbush Avenue, or strolled past that odd little store that seemed to sell nothing but sequined shirts.

A friend of mine, Gary Smith, is a brilliant landscape architect whose projects include a renowned children’s garden at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

In describing his approach he says the following:

“I work collaboratively with professional horticulturists, artists, craftspeople, educators, and community members – with the central goal of creating immersive garden experiences that weave together local ecological and cultural themes.”

And I can’t help thinking that there’s hardly a better way to describe what needs to happen next.


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