Monday, April 9, 2012

Virtual Worlds in the Workplace

In the Linden Labs case study on IBM, they utilized the virtual world Second Life to hold an annual meeting.  Their Academy of Technology proposed holding a conference about the use of virtual worlds in late 2008, taking place within the virtual world itself.  It was estimated that they saved roughly $320,000 by having the conference in an online setting. Not only did they save in travel and venue costs, but gained in employee productivity what they would have lost if workers were unable to return to their work immediately after the meeting. An additional benefit for attendees was the ability to network with other’s at the conference and participate in several meetings and settings of their choice by teleporting from place to place in Secon dLife. Even after the meeting, IBM employees took advantage of Second Life during general meetings in physical locations. After meetings, attendees could log on to the virtual world and discuss the events that had taken place prior and exchange thoughts and ideas moving forward.  President of IBM’s AoT summed it up perfectly: “Second Life provided an opportunity for us to have a positive social and technical exchange, addressing most of our collaboration objectives. And, we delivered the experience at about one fifth the cost and without a single case of jet lag.” Based not only on revenue, but the outcome of the event and the growth of networking opportunities, virtual worlds appear to be an extremely efficient and successful way to help businesses in the technological world.
         Edward Castranova takes a completely different approach to virtual world, and instead looks at the potential negative outcomes it could leave in the real world.  He discusses the possibility of virtual worlds being intertwined with our real lives and having more dramatic influences on society as they continue to grow and prosper as a popular medium in today’s world. While nervous that his attempts to convert to his ideas of skepticism and virtual worlds may be futile, he still stresses the importance of getting people to understand and care about his efforts.  He describes our eventual understanding as an “interactive epiphany” of sorts – when we come to the realization that virtual worlds are not simply for gaming, but have many other, more serious purposes (not just kid stuff anymore). He urges us to learn of the dangers of immerging ourselves in virtual worlds, and getting lost in them. Because we can hide behind the screen, we may use virtual worlds to be something different than what we are in real life – toxic immersion, or losing consciousness in technological mediums. This doesn’t only speak to virtual worlds, but technology as a whole. While the machine may not be the “culprit”, by delving into all the possibilities it has to offer, we may lose ourselves, and the dangers could be detrimental.  

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