Most technology products have a roadmap. If you were to plot the roadmaps for mobile phones, social networks, and Second Life, I think you would find that the three lines converge.
This might not sound too revolutionary. Vodafone has already moved in to the virtual world. But understand the historical context, and add in a few new technologies, and the idea becomes pretty fantastical.
The thought was spurred by a friend at a party last night. His grandfather had said that our generation would never see the levels of change in our lifetimes that he saw in his. I think it is fair to say that this is unlikely. Although some of the changes happening today are more subtle than the redrawing of country borders and the move from steam trains to electric cars, the pace of change is incredible, and arguably increasing.
One of the biggest themes of change for the last century has been the ‘shrinking’ of the world. Improved transport, and electronic communications have made it much easier to reach someone either virtually or in person, wherever they may be on the planet. But there is a limit to how much smaller the world can get. Journey times are already increasing on some plane and train routes because of the volume of people moving, and environmental issues will make physical transport increasingly unpopular.
Yet the trend for improved communications is likely to continue, driven in part by the global nature of friendships created over the Web. So how and where will people meet? Virtual worlds seem like a pretty compelling prospect.
Second Life is just a starting point. Imagine you could dip in and out of this virtual world at will, using your mobile device, and experiencing it like a virtual reality. Each geographical location represents different aspects of life: islands and buildings devoted to companies, specific music genres, or sexual preferences already exist. But with a slicker interface and mobile broadband they would become accessible in a much more integrated, more natural way that creates a new layer over our physical reality.
Instead of a phone call you might virtually meet someone in a virtual coffee shop. You might have photorealistic avatars with animated faces mapped to your own. Or you might choose a different virtual identity altogether. Either way, it could take place while you’re on the bus home rather than sat at your PC tapping out commands on your keyboard and mouse.
There are all sorts of fictional/theological parallels here, notably the astral plane. And of course the Matrix. Except this is starting to look very much more science fact than science fiction.