Trend Day in Second Life: the Eco Way to Travel


CoreCon Convention Center. The Twelfth Annual Trend Day: Karma Capitalism

What could be more appropriate for attending a conference about the driving trends in society than teleporting directly to the conference with no use of fossil fuels? Of course in the green future, your computer and the SL servers are powered off-grid or with renewables, so your Second Life Avatar can just pop right in to the Convention Center of Alternative Reality, CoreCon, carbon dioxide-free. (Commenters: please don't point out all the minor deficiencies in this scenario, let's just play with it a bit!)

The Trend Büro in Hamburg gathered people in the flesh to hear speakers ranging from Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus to Director of the Eco-city Dongtan Project, Peter Head (pictured). But savvy Second Lifers could spare themselves the €850 admission fee and join the virtual conference. The experience was a thrill in and of itself: an introduction to the virtual alternative reality for newbies and an opportunity to see what great horizons virtual reality can offer...and where improvements could make the experience even larger than life.
The Avatars, as the altar-ego images in Second Life are known, were invited to the CoreCon Center half an hour before the official opening of the conference. Unfortunately, the hosts did not use the opportunity to test the sound and video so the virtual audience became a little impatient as adjustments were made. But with a few tweaks, the sound equalled that in the best conferences this writer has attended.

The on-the-go language selection also unsettled the attendees: because only one streaming audio channel was available, a choice between English or German was required. Trying to serve those tuning in from UK, Sweden, Italy, Poland, and other locales, the hosts soon switched to English. It seemed a real shame that the flexibility and capabilities in the internet world could not be used to offer attendees both options. The choice would also have pleased many unaccustomed to attending international conferences with simultaneous translation: it can be uncomfortable to watch the video of a man speaking while hearing the English translator's female voice. As a large number of the audience was surely bilingual, it would have been lovely to listen to each speaker's original voice. In the end, the choice of English seems justified in that some of the most interesting speakers--Yunus, Head and Josephine Green (Head of Trends & Strategy, Philips Design)--spoke English.

During the lunch break, Second Lifers were invited to chat with Trend Büro's Peter Wipperman--who juggled well the task of answering questions in both virtual and actual reality in parallel. This certainly contributed a sense of full participation and interactivity to the experience.

Networking in the Second Life was a bit more complex and confounding than in the real world, because Avatars often drifted off to sleep while their alter-egos absconded to the kitchen to fetch a hot cup of tea. Alternative beverages--several Avatars reached for a scripted cup of water or coffee-- are an entertaining diversion but leave the real person behind the "game" a bit dry. However, virtual reality makes it easy to exhange "cards" with other Second Lifers, and find them again at later visits. In addition, one attendee conjured up a quickie-Wiki for sharing www's and @'s.

All-in-all, virtual conferencing has all the advantages of being there live, without the time and expense and environmental impact of travel. You too can share virtually in the wise words of Yunus, Green's "pyramids and pancakes" or "walking school bus" examples, and the visions of Peter Head if you tune in for more tomorrow.