Who Am I?

Toney, Alabama, United States
Software Engineer, Systems Analyst, XML/X3D/VRML97 Designer, Consultant, Musician, Composer, Writer

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Masque of the Red Death

Poe wrote this short story:

The "Red Death" had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal ...

But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys. ... The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the "Red Death."

Some time before the current virtual world rage began, I sent our CEO at Intergraph, Halsey Wise, a note suggesting that we host a virtual world as a means to engage our customers. He replied that this was an interesting idea and he would forward it to the Intergraph Sapphire Board for their consideration. Knowing that the idea would die there, I went on to more useful tasks.

Fast forward to today, and every day brings another announcement of some company or Federal agency setting up a virtual world presence. Many seem to believe that this is their personal career future and that despite all evidence to the contrary, everyone who is anyone will be at Prospero's ball.

I'm beginning to wonder if that is so. I'm not a newb at this. I'm a vet. I'm a fan. I'm a virtual world artist. So one might think I'd be very excited about these announcements, yet somehow they begin to look like an invitation to the ball.

It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade.

Two items of note:

1. The rise of the avamnesiacs who are now claiming that given the predatory nature of the web regarding privacy and identity, a virtual identity is becoming the preferred means of interacting. While anonymous and pseudonymous posting are nothing new, this goes beyond that because it is a assumed that a 40 year old office wart hog can create a lean mean beautifully busty blonde avatar and become a popular well-liked identity in virtual reality. The problems of taking this to the business worlds are obvious. Reputation built on performance and trust are not associated to virtual identities. Someone behind a mask is hiding something or protecting something and that is not the norm for business negotiations. The Federals talk security; the avatars talk anonymity and laissez faire economies.

2. A rising unanticipated resistance to virtual worlds among the netizens. It may be because of the natural aversion to the effects of item one. It may be a natural aversion to forced developments in web evolution. There are those that really don't like the idea of cartoon sex between bubba and baby. The pictures from the Chicago Second Life ball looked a little too much like a scene from a Vincent Price thriller for the common web surfer. As pointed out in the series "Malcolm In The Middle", some people really shouldn't go to Burning Man.

For all the giddiness about money invested, cracks are appearing everywhere in the market grids for virtual worlds.

... at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to hearken to the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation.

From the next-gen revelers such as Prokofy Neva who protest every commercial intrusion into the Linden Labs product dreamscape to the ever present griefers who disrupt gatherings onto the elite cabal of LL-beloved testers, the divergence of directions is apparent and amplified by their self-righteous indignant comments about the commercialization of 3D space.

"Who dares?" he demanded hoarsely of the courtiers who stood near him -- "who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and unmask him -- that we may know whom we have to hang at sunrise, from the battlements!"

But real dollars, not virtual ones buy servers and bandwidth. One may trade for craft, but IBM, Sun and the venture capitalist financiers want real dollars and those bills will be paid first.

The need for the serious business systems applications to distance themselves and their products from the midnight revelers is evermore apparent. This is usually accompanied by a rebranding, newly annointed thought leaders, claims of invention where there is only reinvention, and so on. Fifteen years past the web's emergence, we've seen this same pattern repeat itself. Perhaps the web really is a living thing in this respect: birth and death of ideas and communities are inevitable.

He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

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