Back in 2003, as a hard-working, dedicated civil servant in the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, I told my manager (now retired) that I wanted to learn more about massive, multi-player online games and other virtual worlds. What patterns of communication occur in virtual worlds? Voice communication seemed to me likely to become a significant aspect of virtual world communication. Should electronic voice communication between avatars in virtual worlds be regulated like plain-old telephone service between flesh-and-blood humans in meat space? Perhaps voice communication in virtual worlds would provide useful information about the cost structure of plain-old telephone service. Perhaps virtual worlds provide a leading indicator of communication services that would become more generally available. To investigate these important issues, I proposed spending some time at work playing online games and participating in other virtual worlds.
My manager said absolutely not. She pointed out that such activities wouldn’t look good if reported on the front page of the newspaper. She said that if I wanted to learn about online games and other virtual worlds, I would have to do it at home, on my own time. Undoubtedly she made a sound, prudent, managerial decision. No World of Warcraft and Second Life at work!
Change is happening. The FCC’s first broadband workshop on open government and civic engagement was streamed into Second Life (post-action blog report here). While I probably could have gotten permission to attend the workshop in Second Life, I would have chosen to attend it in person, just downstairs. I’m a flesh-and-blood-loving kind of guy. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the initial part of the workshop because I was in a meeting. But in any case, streaming the FCC’s first broadband workshop into Second Life is likely to be just a minor act in the FCC’s new engagement with new communication services.