Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Connecting people

The net keeps on opening up new opportunities for cooperation, communication and access to information and it’s easy to get swept away in the euphoria. There are undoubted benefits in terms of increased democracy, better international understanding and access to education. However the same openness and ease of use also offers boundless opportunities to exploit, cheat and spread hate.
I read a recent article in the local paper about exploitation in connection with virtual worlds. Workers in poorer countries are employed to produce ready made hero avatars for World of Warcraft and suchlike that are then sold to the highest bidder. The bidders are players with money who don’t like the idea of playing all the tedious levels needed to earn a hero of this calibre. The idea is that you just buy your way in at the top and get someone else to do the “dirty work”. Of course I shouldn’t be surprised, that’s the way the real world works and why should the net or virtual worlds be different?
I’ve also found a fun tool called Bambuser that allows you to broadcast video on the net direct from a cellphone or web camera. A chance to share your experiences with friends and family, new opportunities to connect and collaborate. Enormous opportunities in education like live broadcasts from a field excursion. But on the other hand this sort of technology offers new opportunities to break copyright, stalk, spread offensive images and infringe on privacy. There’s plenty of that available on the net already. Even if siteowners tighten up security and delete offensive material there’s always someone with a server somewhere who doesn’t ask questions.
But somehow I have that blue-eyed belief that the net should offer us a new chance to build something positive, something better. Virtual worlds should give us a chance to be different and break out from conventions and preconceptions. Your second life could be somehow “better” than the first. Stupid I know but I don’t think I’m alone in this delusion.

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