There are moments in life when it seems that a technology becomes mainstream, and they always seem to me, to when something very ordinary is moved to take place using what I have previously thought of as extraordinary technology capabilities. The arrival of an American Congressman in Second Life to give an address to Secondlifers seems just such a moment. Many of you may also share my immediate reaction of ‘oh no, now the politicians are even chasing us in SecondLife’, but that’s not the point.
If you want to know more about the actual event when George Miller gave a half an hour address in an open air amphitheatre see http://www.secondlifeinsider.com/ and scroll down some way to find the actual piece . The only part of his presentation that was interesting to me was that he apparently was not the actual avatar controller, thus proving what I have always suspected; Politicians seek to impress about their knowledge of technology through others help rather than actually being able to do anything themselves.
George Miller represents an area of San Francisco where one might suspect that his potential voters are generally technology savvy, and probably not inclined to turn out for a traditional politicians ‘barnstorming’ address in a local hall. In short if George wants to ‘meet and greet’ then he has to change his ways and do it on their terms. Suddenly SecondLife is not extraordinary, but becoming the ‘way things are done round here’, for this, admittedly high technology region of voters. Actually he is not the first politician to be in SecondLife, but he is the first who formalised holding a meeting for his voters, as opposed to the previous visits which have just featured virtual press interviews.
If you want recognition of the impact that any technology is having then the rule seems to be to look to see how everyday users are taking to it, and then how enterprises recognise that they must adopt to meet the consumers. Okay so far so good with the changes through Web 1.0 and websites, into Web 2.0 and interactions, but this is something very different. This is an example of a mass meeting, driven by mass presence, in real time, of the participants, and not a recording to be played back at a convenient time by those who find it at some future time.
It looks a whole lot to me like the moment when we turned into a new phase of using Web 2.0 as a public forum. We want to avoid the time consuming, and frustrating element of physical travel, however we are prepared to commit our time, and presence. Maybe, just maybe, this could be the start of a genuine reconnection with politics in a more representative and democratic method. Maybe George just did us a favour by showing us all that we could demand that politicians present themselves before us and be held accountable, and why not local government service managers, too. This train of thought rapidly expands to many aspects of public services.
Currently National and Local Governments are keen to use the Internet to allow the voters to tell them what they think about the quality of services etc, the so called ‘opening of a dialogue’ approach. What it makes me think is that using the Internet for a one on one connection model via email, and maybe Wikis might not be the democratic way to establish what services should be provided, it is more likely to be a route for individual pressure groups to communicate a particular concern.
The more democratic forum with voting that Secondlife is apparently on the edge of providing might be a whole lot more effective at ensuring real representative democracy. Truly an interesting moment to see where the path goes from here! And the USA government is trying to figure it out too! See http://secondlife.reuters.com/stories/2006/10/15/us-congress-launchs-probe-into-virtual-economies/