pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Wed Jan 8 16:08:31 EST 2003

Subject:   Virtualization

(from NewsScan Daily, 8 January 2003)

'REALITY' CRAZE INVADES VIDEOGAMES Silicon Valley startup There Inc.
has spent $17 million and more than four  years developing a virtual
world in which players use simulated avatars to chat, flirt, and
earn play money that they can spend on virtual homes, entertainment
and goods. The game offers many of the same types of  experiences
that other virtual communities do, but There has added a bit more
"reality" to its game. The shopping feature offers players the
opportunity to try on and buying a pair of virtual sneakers from a
virtual Nike store, or they can click through to the real online
store to buy real shoes. In addition, There has introduced a novel
feature: Users will be  able to trade real money for play currency,
using credit cards to buy  additional "Therebucks" to boost their
virtual spending accounts. The company decided to make the currency
sales a key revenue source after a user trial involving 300 players
found that "Something like 50 or 60 of them converted some or all of
their $100 to buy more Therebucks," says There CEO Tom Melcher. "We
were astonished." Several rival game developers decried the currency
sales feature, with an Electronic Arts spokesman noting that The
Sims "rewards players for what they create within the community, not
for the wealth they hold in real life. The fun is in building up
your character, not in buying a happy ending before you start." 
Philip Rosedale, CEO of Linden Lab, which offers an online community
game called Second Life, says, "The greater majority of people would
lose interest, because then the experience would start seeming like
a bad copy of real life." (Wall Street Journal 8 Jan 2003)
http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB1041984605975254824.djm,00.html (sub req'd)

Italians can now find spiritual advice and comfort just by checking
their cell phones several times a day. The country's largest mobile
phone operator, TIM, has launched a service to offer customers SMS
(text messaging) services featuring "the prayer of the day," "saint
of the day" or "gospel of the day." The service costs about 15 cents
for each message  -- a new twist on the concept of pennies from
heaven. In addition, a number  of Italian Web sites offer
religious-oriented content, including "Angels  online," which
explains everything you ever wanted to know about the 72 angels and
archangels and includes a section on "The contract with your 
Guardian Angel." Meanwhile, the Vatican Web site, which made a
splash when it debuted in 1997, is powered by three host computers
named after angels -- Raphael, Michael and Gabriel -- but doesn't
handle Pope-directed e-mail.  Pope John Paul remains one of the few
world leaders who doesn't have an e-mail address and writes his
speeches by hand in Polish or dictates them to his aides. (Reuters 8
Jan 2003)

More on the fascinating topic of virtualization. In the last item,
even the already virtual acquires further virtuality--though some
might say less. I.e. one could have Web sites akin to the "Contact
Us" pages of corporations, where by a click on a Saint's "address"
one can offer an appropriate electronic prayer. 

In the past I have often used the metaphor of technology as a fluid,
because once resourceful enough it loses its own 'shape' and takes
on that of the container it is put in. As a fluid, it has also
proven a powerful solvent, penetrating and eroding some of those
'vessels', institutional or otherwise, intended to give it shape.
Having, as a solvent, leached reality of our attitudes and purposes,
is it now precipitating them in various virtual forms? Who are we?

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