Yea-sayers and nay-sayers

There’s a very nice summary by Christopher Mims of a presentation by Mitch Kapor, chairman of Linden Lab, (complete with slides) over at Scientific American: Second Life chairman’s stump speech takes us down the rabbit hole. Kapor, of course, is a yea-sayer. Christopher Mims is, if not a nay-sayer, certainly a skeptic. Much of the public conversation about Second Life as a business platform is neither here nor there for me, and so I often find critics’ objections or cautions to be irrelevant. Mims has one statement, however, that reveals a narrowness of vision that goes beyond Second Life:

This is the part of the speech where Kapor tells all the haters to talk to the hand. I’m not sure what this proves other than that in any transition, there are people who lack vision. This doesn’t mean that the folks who say similar things about Second Life are wrong–it just means that Kapor left off the ten million other quotes that would have represented legitimate skepticism of technologies of dubious value. Like, say, the airship.

Yes, it’s that little gratuitous dig at the airship. What world does he live in? Does he pay for gas? Has he heard of global climate change? Does he know what a massive amount of non-perishable goods are shipped by truck, train, or freighter, all powered by non-renewable fossil fuels? Airships would be an excellent solution to many—not all, of course—long-distance transit needs.

If we’re going to survive in anything like the style to which we have become accustomed, we need to get real serious about what parts of that style are essential, and which are not, and above all we need to become more creative in our thinking. Airships of dubious value? They may not turn out to be the best (or even a good) solution to our long-term long-distance transportation needs, but to dismiss them out of hand as part of a rhetorical argument reveals a mind-set that isn’t going to help us get closer to solving some of the worst problems facing us.