We are in the midst of a journey. We are moving from an atomic world, where physical stuff is critical to a bitonic world where things made of bits are critical. The atomic world is not going away. It is here to stay. The atomic world is augmented by the bitonic world — namely by a bit-like, digital, often called virtual artifacts. As researchers, our goal is to connect the two. Facilitate learning from one setting to another. At the forefront of this learning, we find the legal and governance perspectives.
In my mind, these “legal and governance challenges” highlight at least three points about (a) the maturity of the field of the “virtual,” (b) the special legal perspective on the virtual and (c) the early stage of our work field (and yes, there is a bit of a contradiction with the first point). Let me elaborate:
Maturity – What began as an esoteric discussion about legal issues in games, have moved into real legal battles about virtual goods.
Legal Perspective – The challenges that we met in the bitonic virtual worlds glided into the atomic worlds as the difference between atomic and bitonic worlds started to blur. As technologies like Augmented Reality and Google Glass emerge, we need to examine the definitions and meaning of Avatars, a modified WOW sword, and a re-mixed YouTube movie. We are celebrating 10 years of legal thinking about virtual worlds. What seemed like basic research at the time (for example about virtual money), is now a tax issue (with BitCoin). What seemed like a pure theory (e.g., anonymity) is now CNN news (e.g. Snowden, in Wikipedia). What affected millions of users in a game (e.g., World of Warcraft), now affects more than a billion users (e.g., Facebook).
Early Stage – What is “atomic” and what is “bitonic”? I am not sure there is a clear answer (See for example Negroponte, Being Digital, 1995). I am sure that the ratio between atomic and bitonic is changing. We are spending more and more time in virtual worlds (including Facebook, twitter, and the likes). More and more work is being done in virtual worlds (including Skype, WebEx, and Google Drive); we augment our life with virtual lenses (from smart phones to tablets, to watches and glasses). More of what we produce and do result in virtual artifacts.
I think 2014 will continue this trend, as our lives become more bitonic. So let me wish us all a healthy, interesting and productive 2014.
Edward Snowden. (n.d). In Wikipedia. Retrieved September 15, 2013 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Snowden.
Negroponte, N. (1995). Being Digital. New York. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.