I went to USC’s Center on Public Diplomacy at Annenberg Island (SLURL) today to attend the discussion group dealing with the role of philanthropy (promotion of human welfare) in virtual worlds, featuring MacArthur Foundation President Jonathan Fanton and Philip Rosedale, CEO of Linden Lab.
I had never been to Center on Public Diplomacy and arrived there plenty early to look the sim over. (there is a post coming on that island’s orientation area in the very near future) I wanted to arrive in time to get a seat in the main conference hall so I could see the speakers avatars, thus feeling more connected. That turned out to be a mistake due to my computers limited video card. Over 200 people showed up to hear this discussion, including many bloggers, and although split up over multiple sims… lag of course raised its ugly head.
Let me set the stage with information about the MacArthur Foundation. The MacArthur Foundation is a private, independent institution who would like to help improve human conditions around the world. (I know I simplify, but remember I am a country boy) MacArthur supports organizations working on human rights and international justice, conservation and sustainable development, housing, juvenile justice, and independent media.
MacArthur had basically decided to build a replica of their Chicago Building on an island in Second Life and say here we are. Fortunately who ever they asked for advice on this explained to them that would not be the thing to do. Now they are holding discussion groups over the next year to determine their best course of action.
I will not try to cover everything that was covered at this discussion, only a couple thing that caught my attention. The entire discussion will be archived on Spotlight, the MacArthur supported blog for digital media and learning, and Beth Kanter live blogged it over on Beth’s Blog. I can barely think fast enough to hear much less actually type it all up.
The first thing said that really perked my ears was “the hope of the MacArthur Foundation, upon entering Second Life, is to be of service in helping people come together and empowering them to do the things they want to do.” (to improve human conditions) Surely a worthy goal, and I look forward to seeing (if not participating) the different areas which should arise from this.
Jonathan Fanton then made a statement/question (I can’t quote him but) something along the line of: I have been reading articles, blogs, etc… most positive, some not so positive and dealing with security breaches, companies pulling out of Second Life, issues with pornography… Philip can you talk a bit on that for us?
Philip’s response nailed my attention. (I can’t quote him but I will try to stay with his intent) It went something like: On the topic of companies pulling out, or being successful or unsuccessful let me say; if you are looking at Second Life as little more than as a redeployment of brand or conventional media… it is not going to work. Remember when the internet and how it was adopted over time. At first businesses threw up some webpage and gradually they figured out what worked and what didn’t. Then you mentioned pornography and content… I think that “open spaces”, “free and open places” like Second Life… like the internet… are always going to have to empower people and there is always going to be, along with that empowerment, a tolerance one has to have for the many different things people are going to want to do in the space.
I don’t see a way of fixing that and I don’t want to fix it. (emphasis mine) I think that people need to be able to choose what they want to do in a new medium and we as the stewards of that medium should, and can be only minimally, ahh, controlling of those choices, and so I think that, uh yeah. Just like the people looked at the internet and said, oh goodness there is adult content here; I’m not going to come. I think those were thoughts that went away as everyone came to understand that the internet was a space that contained many things and was in the aggurate of public good.
We will do everything we can to give the people the tools to control, you know, what they want to see and not see, but we’re not going to try and control, at the highest level, what people do and wouldn’t want to.
They then went to questions from the audience, but my mind was still processing just exactly what Philip had said. Personally, I though Philip’s response was very good– although maybe in contradiction to some others statements.
Because I am a bit lazy, and Beth had already typed it up; I will quote from her blog Fanton’s closing statement.
As MacArthur begins is journey into Second Life, we begin with some assumptions. We assume that people in Second Life are people who care about others and who are open to most communicating across boundaries – both cultural and geographic. People in Second Life have optimism about what can happen and feel a strong desire to come together and work. We hope that together to make the virtual and physical worlds better. MacArthur believes that people who care and have the right information will do the right thing. We have a role to play to work with those of you in Second Life to figure appropriate policy and approaches. How can MacArthur harness the idealism that exists in Second Life?
Over all I think the MacArthur Foundation should be a welcome and successful addition to Second Life. Maybe helping to fund areas where individuals from different cultures can come together and get to know one another. Learn about each others problems and concerns, and help make the Real World a smaller, friendlier place.