worlds without decay and congestion

Digital objects typically persist just as long as the virtual world around them. Digital space can double every year or two with advances in digital hardware. Creative users acting in a virtual world can make it a lonely place:

More and more empty houses and castles and the like are lovingly constructed as monuments that few will ever see, and each becomes another wall between users, diluting their presence more and more.

… even if people do manage to find each other, the unbounded complexity of user-created data puts a low ceiling on the number of people who can get together, and thus limits the social dynamics that can emerge.

The upshot is that worlds that depend on user-created content a) suffer from progressively worse dilution of the user population; and b) limit the number of people who can get together when they do find each other. This is not a strong recipe for building effective, long-lasting community. [Terra Nova]

That’s much different from the real world:

The importance of geography is also evident across 8,000 years of history in the area now called Japan. The most densely settled regions in the Jomon period (6,000 to 300 BCE) were also the most densely settled regions in 1998. Consider as well the effects of U.S. bombing of Japan in World War II. The nuclear bomb that the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima, Japan’s eighth largest city, killed 80,000 persons (20.8% of the city’s population) and destroyed two-thirds of the built up area of the city. Kyoto, Japan’s fifth largest city, was not bombed at all because of its cultural significance. The nuclear destruction of Hiroshima did not have an enduring effect on its attractiveness as a place to live. By 1975, the ratio of Hiroshima’ population to Kyoto’s was about the same as it was before the bombing. The relative attractiveness of places to persons is a remarkably stable aspect of life. [Galbi, 2002; source references there]

In the real world, place is a powerful structure organizing long-lasting communities. Moreover, renewing and preserving the built environment is a central concern in civic life.

building demolition

While digital spaces organize digital objects in Euclidean neighborhoods (e.g. 184 W. 64’th St, NY), the web organizes digital objects in link neighborhoods. Link neighborhoods are much more flexible and dynamic than Euclidean neighborhoods. Link neighborhoods can evolve as communities of contemporary interest. Search engines can generate new link neighborhoods with regard for activity (modification date) and popularity (page rank or other ranking systems). Digital space, in contrast, is much more cheaply abandoned than re-organized.

Virtual worlds that encourage participants to create digital objects in a Euclidean digital space need to develop better ways to decay built objects and re-organizing space, or they will become lonely places.

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