Here's a far-out spur-of-the-moment post I wrote that places Second Life in a broader evolutionary context. Hope it's not too whacked out, that it's at least a little useful and that y'all enjoy it. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated as I plan to pursue this line of writing/thinking for a little while.
A BLURRING WORLD: POSSIBLE INSIGHTS INTO the NATURE of the CHANGE to COME
Not only is there emerging a generation of humans who seek to raise effective new institutions (www.millennialsrising.com), also evloving (autocatalytically -- to steal a term from Jared Diamond) is the effective new technological toolkit they will need to actualize sweeping change, a cluster of innovations that will help to catalyze the impening institutional shift that Strauss and Howe have dubbed "The Fourth Turning" (www.thefourthturning.com).
THE MILLENNIAL TOOLKIT: The Millennial Toolkit includes, but is not limited to, 3-D Virtual Worlds (Second Life [www.secondlife.com], Multiverse [www.multiverse.net], IMVU.com [www.IMVU.com], Web 2.0 (MySpace [www.myspace.com], Friendster [www.friendster.com], Facebook [www.facebook.com], RSS Feeds, Blogs), Bottom-up Reference Tools (Wikipedia [www.wikipedia.com], Hollywood Stock Exchange [www.hsx.com], Google Earth [www.download-google-earth.org], and Rapidly Deployable and Affordable Video Transfer (IPV6 [www.ipv6.org] , Bit-Torrent [www.bittorrent.com], Democracy Player [www.getdemocracy.com]). As predicted by Everett Rogers in Diffusion of Innovations, and supported by Jerry Paffendorf's examination of the Second Life Growth Curve (http://slfuturesalon.blogs.com/second_life_future_salon/2005/10/up_and_to_the_r.html), these new Interactive Communication Technologies (hereafter ICTs) are diffusing at lightning speed, faster than any previous ICTs. And they are helping to lay the structural foundations for the new hyper-dynamic and highly functional institutions the Millenials instinctively seek to build.
The construction process has already begun, but unless one is familiar with the writing and theories of Strauss and Howe this behavior may appear somewhat mysterious. According to one business consultant I heard speak at the recent Harvard Beyond Broadcast conference (www.beyondbroadcast.net), not even Rupert Murdoch, Bill Gates nor Steve Jobs can figure out exactly what is going on with all this new social behavior on the web, they just figure that it will be profitable at some point. :)
GENERATIONAL BLUR and GLOBAL PARADIGM SHIFT: At the same time as they are allowing for the bottom-up growth of new institutions, these new ICTs that compose the Millenial Toolkit are contributing to an unprecedented generational blur (http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=54575556&blogID=90581622&Mytoken=5A5EFA6C-50A3-4A99-8DCA3DD805844C9F1021073187) that corresponds to the trend that Friedman has dubbed the "flattening of the world". It's a Babel-like Effect that for good or ill is threatening the structural integrity of the common definition of the word "generation", as proposed by Strauss and Howe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation). By enabling highly effective and socio-economically rewarding trans-lingual, trans-national, and trans-age-group communication the Milennial Toolkit has the potential to dissolve what we now commonly regard as static generations.
In other words, this Fourth Turning may not be limited to Western Societies, but should instead be broadened to a Global Information Shift more closely akin to what Alvin Toffler predicts in The Third Wave (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_Toffler). Rather than splitting hairs, however, perhaps it's better to view this event as a global synching-up of Fourth Turnings.
TRANSGENERATIONAL INSTITUTIONS: Over the next few years the wheels, levers, pulleys, and other simple machines of the new world wide web will be invented, tinkered with, and then finally perfected. Much of this innovation will be accomplished by the Millenial Generation, but also broadly by a "Transgenerational Coalition" that is already begning to emerge. The Mozilla Foundation (www.mozilla.org), Electronic Frontier Foundation (www.eff.org), Creative Commons (http://creativecommons.org/), Acceleration Studies Foundation (www.accelerating.org), and Long Now Foundation (www.longnow.org) are just a few examples of fledgling social institutions whose goals seem to be in alignment with the instinctual goals of the Millenials. In addition to helping develop the Millenial Toolkit, these organizations are also part of it as they allow networking and access to paradigm-busting information. From the Strauss and Howesian perspective, these organizations can also be looked at as the legacy of a Baby Boomer Generation that once sought change en-mass, but was thwarted, but is at it again and is recruiting youth to the cause.
EXPONENTIAL TECHNOLOGY GROWTH: Taking a step back from the generational dynamics that we are now in the process of living, the current system behavior takes on different context when regarded through the lens of what Ray Kurzweil has dubbed Exponential Technology Growth (http://www.kurzweilai.net/articles/art0134.html?printable=1). It may sound maniacal that, according to Kurzweil, "we won't experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century -- it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today's rate)," but the fact remains that there is no compelling evidence, whatsoever, that contradicts Kurzweil's now infamous law, which many world leaders non-overtly subscribe to, and many business folks evangelize. In fact, theories like John Smart's MEST Compression (http://126.96.36.199/searchq=cache:2YVXDVA8d3sJ:www.accelerationwatch.com/mest.html+MEST+compression&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=2) directly support Exponential Technology Growth by indicating that broad convergence is in fact occurring. Therefore we must take it as a given, and come to terms with the notion that we have just now passed the point in global history when generations of technology are doubling at a rate quicker than 22 years, which is the average span of a classical human generation, and that as the trend continues we are going to witness a mind-blowing increase in the pace of innovation.
The reality of Exponentional Technology Growth supports the theory of Generational Blur. If human existence is dependant on a combination of Neurons, Information (soft technology), Hard Technology, and our Environment, then exponential technology growth indicates a directly related paradigm shift in what it means to be a human. The context of Exponential Technology Growth also makes Friedman's Flattening a whole lot more feasible. And it directly supports the Drucker/Toffler shift to an Information Society.
CONCLUSION: We in the U.S. are not only about to undergo an institutional reordering as predicted by Strauus and Howe, but are part of a global dynamic of convergence, generational blur, and exponential technology growth that will change the fundamental nature of our world by changing our form and relationship to information.