Are you addicted to Everquest (i.e. Evercrack), Warcraft, Second Life, There, and/or Ultima? You won't be alone, says a new survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Pew surveyed 742 "internet leaders, activists, builders and commentators," asking them about the effect of the internet on social, political and economic life in the year 2020. (Somehow I was not included in the invite list. Obviously a clerical error.)
Among the interesting results, many respondents agreed that people will devote more time to "sophisticated, compelling, networked, synthetic worlds" by 2020. While this will foster "productivity and connectedness", it will lead to "addiction problems" for some.
I have no idea what this "addiction problem" is all about. Now excuse me while I head off to Virtual Laguna Beach during my lunch break.
Seriously, it's interesting that the Pew study even addressed virtual worlds as one of their questions, which span such topics as cyber-terrorism, surveillance, network accessibility and cost, and the dominance of the English language on the net. The actual scenario posed was :
Virtual reality is a drain for some: By the year 2020, virtual reality on the internet will come to allow more productivity from most people in technologically-savvy communities than working in the “real world.” But the attractive nature of virtualreality worlds will also lead to serious addiction problems for many, as we lose people to alternate realities.
Of those surveyed, 56% of respondents agreed with this statement, 39% disagreed, and 5% did not respond.
On "virtual world addiction" there was signficant debate over the terminology of "addiction". Technology consultant Robert Eller noted:
A human's desire is to reinvent himself, live out his fantasies, overindulge; addiction will definitely increase. Whole communities/subcultures, which even today are a growing faction, will materialise. We may see a vast blurring of virtual/real reality with many participants living an in-effect secluded lifestyle. Only in the online world will they participate in any form of human interaction. The gin holes of 19th century London or the opium dens of Shanghai are very likely outcomes.
Others found the word "addiction" to be inappropriate. Toby Miller of the UC-Riverside wrote that “addiction is a bizarre metaphor to apply to forms of labor and leisure other than drugs. It buys into the medical model's attacks into popular culture.”
One of the best quotes is from Paul Saffo:
We will survive to discover new horrors beyond VR. The history of media is a history of addiction for some, and moral hazard for others. Remember that half a millennium ago, Cervantes' Don Quixote was driven to windmill-tilting madness because he read too many books. Flaubert's Emma in 'Madam Bovary' got into a jam for the same reason. A century ago, parents lamented that kids were spending too much time inside reading. In mid-century the same fears were transferred to paperbacks, movies and then TV. Now it is videogames and the Web. VR is clearly next, and its seductive hyper-realism will be seductive indeed. But one generation's outrage is the next generation's mainstream tool. I will bet that in 2020, parents will be lecturing their children that they can't go out and play until they finish their VR-based simulation games.
A more complete report on the responses from the participants can be found on the Pew site.
It's a fascinating study, certainly worth the download. Perhaps the organizers of the report should be invited to discuss their findings in Second Life? I'll talk to some folks about how to make this happen.