UPDATE, 8/31, 3:07PM: The transcript is now available here.
UPDATE, 9/4: Post-Event wrap-up with media links here.
The first I learned anything about Mark Warner, former governor of Virginia, it was in “The Fallback”, Matt Bai’s much-discussed New York Times Magazine cover story published earlier this year. By “fallback”, Bai meant the national figure that Democratic insiders seemed to be considering, should Senator Hillary Clinton’s presumptive ascension as the party’s choice for President in 2008 ever fall through. And though he hasn’t declared his entrance in that race, I’ve often heard about Governor Warner’s exploratory political action committee, Forward Together, since it's been reaching out to members of the high-tech industry and the political blogosphere at large.
So it wasn’t totally shocking when a few weeks ago, out of the electric blue, members of Forward Together’s staff e-mailed me, asking me if I’d be interested in interviewing Governor Warner in Second Life. But it’s still a bit vertiginous to be in-world standing there in front of the avatar of a man that leading Democratic Party financier Chris Korge (speaking to Bai) pronounced as, “[T]he one to watch as an outsider in this race. He seems presidential.”
Mark Warner’s avatar seems presidential, too—tall, stern, and statesman-like. And tomorrow at 12:30pm Second Life Time (i.e., PDT), in a public event sponsored by Forward Together and produced by Millions of Us, I’ll be interviewing him, in a brief conversation that’ll touch on national security, foreign policy, the Democratic Party-- and, of course, future plans for the Governor and his team in Second Life.
Forward Together’s official announcement of the event here. Details on attending and a brief interview with Forward Together staffer Nancy Mandelbrot after the break.
UPDATE, 8/31, 1:34PM: The transcript of the event will be posted on New World Notes very shortly.
“Well,” Nancy Mandelbrot (RL info here) explains, “we were sitting in our offices one day and kind of goofing around, just geeking out about social technologies, gaming, that sort of thing, as we're wont to do. Someone made a joke about how great it would be if we brought an avatar of Governor Warner into Second Life.
“When we all quit laughing, we kind of looked around and said, ‘Hey, that's not a bad idea.’
“One of Governor Warner's operating principles is to go where the voters are,” she continues, “not make them come to you. We saw how rich an environment [SL] was. I mean, you can sit next to someone's avatar, strike up a conversation, and forget that you're not in the same room. We started to see that in Second Life, people can get together and talk politics with other folks without the obstacles of real life.”
I ask her if she’s concerned about skeptics who may wonder why Governor Warner would spend his time in something that seems like an online game.
Ms. Mandelbrot is undeterred. “The Governor likes to tell how when he decided to get into the cell phone business-- he co-founded the company that became Nextel-- his friends said he was crazy. ‘No one’s going to want a phone in their car!’ So he doesn't have a lot of time for people who will write off new technology without trying it. There's nothing trivial about social technologies. They connect people together, we need more of that. Why waste time trying to second guess innovation? Let's try it out, see if it works… He's used to giving speeches, answering questions, in the physical space. This will be a new experience for him.”
“I know he's planning to make some important foreign policy speeches soon," I ask. "Will he have time to offer some hints on those on Thursday?"
“Yeah, absolutely. And he has a big national security speech coming up on September 5.”
While this Thursday's event will be brief, Mandelbrot and her team have created a Second Life group affiliated with the political action committee, open to all SL residents, a group also called Forward Together.
“[W]e're encouraging folks to join up with that,” she says. “We're working on figuring out ways to engage our Second Life group in what Forward Together and Governor Warner are doing ‘out of world.’ Get in touch with the group's officers and tell us what we should be doing in Second Life. How do we connect with folks? What should we avoid doing in SL? And, of course, they can engage with the PAC and Gov. Warner at forwardtogetherpac.com.”
In effect, then, SL’s Forward Together group may become a virtual world version of the Meet Up, the Web-driven operation that was so instrumental in driving Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign in a short time from obscurity to the very front of the Democratic primary.
With the SL group, Nancy Mandelbrot says, “We'll let you know when Governor Warner will be back [in Second Life] for… a town hall-style meeting in late September or early October. That will be open Q&A. We'll be doing that event in the New Globe Theater again." (New Globe is a Millions of Us project on an island of the same name.) "He'll talk a bit and then take questions from the audience.”
By way of full disclosure, while the event and my interview is sponsored by Forward Together, New World Notes is a non-partisan blog. I’m not endorsing the Governor’s political aspirations with this event, and have every intent of interviewing him with all the rigor and skepticism any serious potential candidate in this most fractious and mortally serious periods of American history must be.
That said, I have to admit this strikes me as an incredibly rapid
culmination. Earlier this year, I
interviewed Lawrence Lessig’s avatar in Second Life, and he told me about his
experience pleading a case before the Supreme Court; last October, the avatar
of Pentagon’s New Map author Thomas P.M. Barnett told me about advising John Kerry
“I've worked for a couple political types,” Ms. Mandelbrot tells me with a touch of wonder, “And it's amazing for me to go into my boss's office and suggest bringing him into a virtual world, and having him say, ‘Fantastic. Let's do it.’ He's a different sort of guy.”
Then again, he’s still competing in the fiercely competitive arena of American politics, so some traditional prudence kicks in when I ask the question that’s most on my mind.
“The Governor has not officially announced his candidacy for the Democratic primary for the 2008 Presidential election,” I tell Ms. Mandelbrot, “but it's largely assumed he is one of the front runners after Senator Clinton. Any chance there'll be an announcement related to this on Thursday?”
“Nope,” Nancy Mandelbrot answers firmly, “not a chance.”
To reserve a seat at the Thursday event, send an Instant
Message to Millions of Us’ staffer Green Fate.
Governor Warner’s Thursday appearance sponsored by Forward Together.
Produced and hosted by Millions of Us, a sponsor of this blog.