Monday, July 22, 2013

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Remembering Helen Thomas, Who Challenged 9 Presidents About Their Policies... and Philip Rosedale About Second Life

Helen Thomas Second Life

Legendary journalist Helen Thomas died over the weekend after an admired career of many decades, and as it happens, it was a highlight of my career as a journalist of virtual worlds to meet her. It was also one of the oddest. And as a way of remembering her, I wanted to share that memory now:

This was in 2009 when Philip Rosedale, myself, and some others involved in virtual worlds and MMOs were invited to talk about journalism and reporting in that new medium, at the University of Washington's Edward R. Murrow School. She and Bob Schieffer (himself a journalistic icon) were there that day to get lifetime achievement awards, and for reasons I can't quite remember now, the two events were linked, so Second Life avatars of Helen Thomas and Bob Schieffer were created, and through them their Q&A talk was simulcast into SL. Yes they did, yes they did -- here is video of just that happening:

Afterward, all of us who'd spoken that day were invited to have dinner together, so Philip and I found ourselves sitting alongside two people who'd pretty much sat alongside modern history. Thomas and Schieffer talked a lot about their work as reporters, and they asked us about ours, so we talked about Second Life. (Both reporters listened with a look of polite but glazed, non-perceptual WTF.) Philip being Philip was the most passionate about it all, and he regaled Helen Thomas especially about the wonders of Second Life, at dinner and afterwards over dessert.

"I don't like your world," Helen Thomas suddenly announced to Philip in that same raspy, no-bullshit voice of hers she once used to confront US Presidents with, "It doesn't have any people in it."

Which actually was the opposite point Philip was trying to make, but maybe Ms. Thomas had a deeper insight in mind. For after all, while SL does have people, unlike say Twitter or YouTube, it never gained enough people to interest people like Helen Thomas. Anyway, we agreed to disagree on that point, and then her and I agreed to disagree on what to do about US troops in Afghanistan. (I'm an admirer of Thomas the journalist, but not necessarily Thomas the editorialist.) I like to think I made some good points on the foreign policy front, though at the end of the night, she told me sweetly, "I hope I wasn't too rough on you." And since by then it was time for her to go, I thanked Helen Thomas for all those years upholding the best traditions of the First Amendment and of the free press, and kissed her on the head. The world is a far better place for her having been in it, and I wish far more journalists would follow in her footsteps. And having been fortunate to meet her that night, I'd say virtual worlds could use more people in it like Helen Thomas too.

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Wizard Gynoid (@wizardgynoid)

At 34,500,000 signups and 600,000 regular users, that's not enough for Helen Thomas? I really don't think the numbers of users was Helen Thomas' issue with Second Life.

Wagner James Au

I think the main issue is she didn't get it. But if SL had hundreds of millions of regular users like YouTube and Twitter, she'd have made much more of an effort to do so.


Telling that today, when the BBC interviews Philip Rosedale about SL's 10th anniversary, it runs on "Witness," a history show:

Worth a listen; at 11 minutes, it's the most we've heard about SL from mainstream media in a long time. Just heard it broadcast yesterday.

@Wiz, those numbers were not enough for Helen Thomas and not enough to build what Rosedale wanted 10 years ago and seems to still want: to remake human history.

I'm not convinced that a mass audience wants his dream, any more than they wanted Von Braun's of lunar colonies and Mars missions after that other recent anniversary: 44 years since Apollo 11 touched down on the Sea of Tranquility. User-generated virtual worlds, like manned space exploration, are niche applications of technology. I suspect they'll remain that way, barring large technological and social shifts.


I wonder if many Foreigners will be deterred from using or joining second life by the revelations of NSA spying?

Hamlet Au

It hasn't significantly, provably deterred them from using Facebook or the other services the NSA is known to be requisitioning data from, so I doubt it.

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