A fascinating social (and perhaps political) experiment: Second Life

Not long after my first exposure to the Web I tried to argue with my older brother Mike that the impact of the Internet would alter the way people think about geopolitical boundaries and the role of governments.  

He's a high school history and government teacher who artfully twisted my viewpoints into oblivion.  I had no tangible examples of how this could become possible.  Historical precedents like the advent of cross-continental trade, low cost travel, and telephones are hard to isolate in this context.  It was a short debate that I've never been able to fully resurrect.  

But last week I finally saw a demo of the virtual world Second Life from Linden Lab.  Hmmm.  Suddenly the argument feels alive again.

This online game, or metaverse as they're called, allows people to rent locations and build whatever they want in that space.  People have built small virtual cities, research labs, wargames zones, gambling areas, nightclubs...you name it.  There's even a currency with real world US dollar value that is giving some creative entrepreneurs more than a comfortable financial support line.  (Wired has some interesting coverage of the game.)

Participants in this world come from around the globe.  The rules they adhere to are the rules of Second Life.  They are governed by the online community's social constructs and limitations of the software itself.  The physical location and government to which they pay offline taxes has absolutely no bearing on their life in this game.

I'm not suggesting that the role of government as we know it today will become irrelevant when games like Second Life become intermixed with our offline experiences.  I am suggesting, however, that the more fluid our connections to people become online the harder it will be to maintain strict political boundaries offline.

Rearchitecting geopolitics still feels a bit theoretical, but the guys at Linden Lab might be providing a glimpse into such a future. 


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A fascinating social (and perhaps political) experiment: Second Life