11 July 2011

Rod Humble interviewed by "The Mark" -- with intriguing results

"The Mark" published an interview with Rod Humble, Linden Lab's CEO. (Thanks to Kara Trapdoor for blogging this.)  It's an interesting read, especially as it raises questions about some of Linden Lab's strategies, which seem at odds with Humble's remarks. In fact he sounds like he shares more views with SL's creative community than with Linden Labs, or at least the Linden Labs of today.
Humble: Second Life is a completely user-created virtual world. It's really, at its bare bones, a creativity tool.
LL's slogan of "Your World. Your Imagination" was killed off some time ago, but Humble seems to be raising its ghost. One can only hope that he succeeds!
Humble: At Second Life, we’re really just following our customers – our creators – and seeing where they take us next.
Umm ... we wish. Get this on LL's mission statement, please!
Humble (responding to a question about "true selves"): I don’t have a clear answer on that, but I do have an opinion. There have been a series of high-profile people, from the head of Facebook to the Pope, talking about how social media should be about centering the individual – that it is all about your real life and ensuring that you don’t become a fractured person. I respectfully disagree with that.
I think that one of the healthiest things that technology can do is actually help us develop the different dimensions of ourselves that we portray in different situations. For example, the "me" at church is very different from the "me" who plays an online shooter game. The "me" talking to you now is very different from the one who will be at my parent-teacher-association meeting later tonight. We’ve always had that. I actually like the idea of enabling people to say, "In this community, I’m a completely different person, and I can hold views that aren't going to seep into this other part of my life." It’s a slightly heretical position, but that's the one I take.
Has Ron been reading Botgirl Questi, Miso Susanowa, soror Nishi, et al? Sure looks like it. Then can we please cease the absurd pressure to connect our SL identities with RL identities in Facebook (and evidently also Google+)? Yes, some people might want to do that, but the great majority of people in SL highly value the separation between SL and RL, so just sideline the idea.
Humble: I think that something big is going to happen when it comes to online associations, which are going to run headlong into conflict – probably with some totalitarian country somewhere. It's a broader thing than just Second Life.
What's going to happen when people identify with each other more in some online community than they do with their government or nation? It's hard to see how that's going to be anything other than messy.
In the past, we've seen – even with slower modes of communication – certain ideas, like Marxist ideas, spreading around the world and uniting people around ideas, rather than around their current rulers. At some point, a new idea is going to take shape, and it's going to spread far more easily through this online system that we have. Then what's going to happen?
It's an open question; I don't have an answer for you. I think it will happen, and it's probably going to be one of the major thematic stories that will govern the mid part of the century. We're due for some kind of new global idea, particularly in the field of politics – there haven't been many new ideas when it comes to politics in recent years. It's been pretty stable for a while, and you have to wonder when that stability will run out.
It's startling to read a CEO suggest that there are (or may be) political consequences to virtual worlds ... still more, that it might be a good thing. He's certainly right that our current political realm is intellectually and morally bankrupt. Although I don't remember any explicit discussions of it, I think plenty of people within SL's creative community (and hopefully elsewhere) have similar views of how virtual worlds could impact society politically. We've already seen examples of how online communication can be used for political ends, the uprising in Egypt being the most recent. But the impact derived from instrumental use of the internet. Rod is talking about more a fundamental philosophical and ideational effect. It's a visionary view (again, he seems to be following the lead of SL's creative community), and remarkably, he doesn't get all dreamy-eyed and utopian about it either.

Still, I'm starting to get impatient. When will we see these views start steering Linden Labs? Will they really steer it? LL made a lot of changes in the past couple of years that have alienated (and sometimes priced out) many of the very people most deeply involved with creating the "user-created world," and those most interested in exploring the possibilities of identity that virtual worlds offer. Will Humble turn Linden Labs around? If so ... please hurry.


  1. Wow, be offline for 12 hours and not only does Google step into it, but Rod steps out most charmingly. Golly, I hope he can find the team members he needs at LL (and on the Board)!

  2. Great, at last, someone in power who hasn't succumbed to the illusion of the Integrated Personality.

    The introduction of the passport, and the mania that is patriotism, has divided humanity for years, maybe that new idea has to do with the realisation that we are One.