Travel or Not, Here I Come…

Metaverse U is in a few weeks, and I have a decision to make. To fly, or not to fly?

Truth be told, my presentation could actually be more effective if I were to give it from inside of Second Life. Given that I’m promoting Wikitecture, a virtual 3D wiki tool that enables remote global collaboration, I think it could be interesting to send Keystone (my avatar) to San Jose instead of spending the time and energy getting my body out there, only to flip off the lights during my presentation and ask the audience to focus on my Second Life demo… Besides, I have always felt that physical presence at conferences about virtual worlds is a bit counterintuitive. But I definitely appreciate the value of the networking opportunities and… oh wait, I can do those things in Second Life too…

I wonder if Chris Renaud will be flying to California for his own appearance? More importantly, I wonder if he renewed his vow to stop flying and instead utilize tools ranging from “telepresence to WebEx to avatar-mediated communications, to approximate the magic of physical proximity.”

Following his cue is what landed me back in Wisconsin in the first place when I found inspiration in this article that folks in the midwest can still be part of the Bay Area energy. Unfortunately my move came on the heels of the Second Life recession, so the transition hasn’t been easy, but I’m still connected. My wife is still able to do work for the firm she worked for in California, and almost all of my correspondences reach out to a global network of colleagues. Each of the the 4 potential projects I’m currently courting stem from contacts in California or Europe… all from my little home studio in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin… I can’t complain. =)

I still love real-life architecture, and have initiated lots of local Madison contacts to keep the Crescendo Design practice alive, but even those projects depend in large part on telepresence. We often email plan concepts back and forth with long-distance clients, and just started a new project for a client in Switzerland. In fact, a majority of our Crescendo projects have historically been derived from global communication with clients all throughout the states and Europe hiring us to design their new home ahead of their relocation to Wisconsin – all with the aid of telepresence.  It is no wonder Second Life was so appealing to me as a professional tool for architectural visualization!

But, back to the original question – travel or not?

Just look at the lineup of potential contacts that will be gathering together in San Jose, how can I miss it?

Jeremy Bailenson (Stanford University, Jon Brouchoud (Wikitecture), Parvati Dev (Innovation in Learning), Daniel Huebner, Wagner James Au (New World Notes), Brewster Kahle (The Internet Archive), Vladlen Koltun (Stanford Virtual Worlds Group), Raph Koster (Metaplace), Kari Kraus (University of Maryland), Wm. LeRoy Heinrichs (Stanford Medical Center), Mike Liebhold (Institute for the future), Henry Lowood (Stanford University), Rebecca Moore (Google Earth), Cory Ondrejka, Tony Parisi (Media Machines & Web3D), Byron Reeves (Stanford University & Seriosity), Christian Renaud (Cisco), Howard Rheingold, Jeffrey T. Schnapp (Stanford University), Reuben Steiger (Millions of Us), TL Taylor (The IT University of Copenhagen)…

Granted, a lot of the names on that list are already in California, but many are not. Just imagine the carbon footprint of these conferences? Then, imagine the irony of a group of people gathering together in meatspace to talk about the wonders of the metaverse, which, by its very nature, will limit the necessity of such long-distance travel. Yet the truth is, there is no singular metaverse community, and these people exist in many different mediums. I simply will not meet these people in Second Life, because most of them don’t have avatars there. I have to go to San Jose to shake their hands.. there is no other way, yet.

That still doesn’t change the fact that I’m confident my presentation would be a far more effective proof-of-concept if I were to connect remotely from my home-studio in Wisconsin. Plus, I wouldn’t have to leave my newborn baby who is only a few weeks old, and sit through the dehumanizing tangled mess at the airport. I’m not really trying to sell anything with Studio Wikitecture, not yet anyway. I don’t think we’re in any kind of position to seek financing, but are only interested in building a community of contributors. Will my physical presence in San Jose really help accomplish that goal? How many of the folks in this audience, because of my physical presence, will go home and sign up to participate in the next Wikitecture experiment?

Of course, there is the whole personal networking side of things. The serendipity of chance encounters and the potential of finding new work or projects would be great, especially at this point in my career, when I’m fishing for new work. If, for no other reason, it might give me a chance to chat with Christian about his ideas for the future virtual workplace, and share with him some ideas I have about the architecture of the virtual workplace – a subject I’ve become very passionate about. But then again, he has an avatar and a strong presence in Second Life. Maybe I can meet him there someday instead.

Travel or not?


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