The Future Doesn’t Stop at a 3D Web

CoolCat blogger Vicki Davis posted a few of her thoughts on SL and education and the implications for learning with the advent of a 3D web that is getting attention here and here. While she builds a heroic argument for why 3D worlds are important for the future of education, I believe this idea needs to be carried farther.

It is true that 3D virtual worlds are growing in number, but I don’t necessarily believe that this growth will culminate in the development in a Stephenson-style metaverse. Negotiation of 3D virtual spaces as they have developed so far leaves too much to be desired as far as interface and mechanism for how humans interact with the data in these spaces – it is still painfully cumbersome. It will remain this way until the convention of the “window” is surpassed.

I believe the virtual worlds in which we interact with today are the first steps in developing a vernacular for accessing information and interacting with each other in 3D spaces – not just virtual spaces. The 3D virtual worlds of today are where we are refining access to data and communication. With the exponential development of technologies we see today (ie. Moore’s Law, photonics, ubiqitous computing, and wearable devices) it will not be long before the virtual landscape transcends its own “virtuality” to become our own augmented reality. Where data is able to overlay our every day reality to provide us with information about the world around us and where we refine the concept of HUDs – turning them into powerful pluggable tools instead of the fragmented bits of two-dimensional noise they are today. Vernor Vinge’s book Rainbows End gives an inspired and realistic view of a world in which networking and computing are becoming truly ubiquitous.

3D virtual worlds in the form of MUVEs, MMORPGs, MMORTS, and the like are developing in us the skills that will contribute to our technological literacy in the future.


  1. Christen.. I couldn’t agree more. The wide acceptance and adoption of 3D environments accessible via a computer screen is only the first stage in a process that will take us to some really interesting places that will include augmented reality devices, like HUDs and other wearable ddevvices, that map data and 3D spaces onto real space.

    An intermediary step might be alternative interfaces and input devices that allow us to interact with what’s on the computer screen without having to rely on these fiddly keys or out-dated mouse. Linden Lab have flagged they are doing research into puppeteering devices that allow you to control your avatar and navigate Second Life with physical movements. Since they’ve open-sourced the client there have been several experiments in controlling Second Life with alternative input devices. And the popularity of the Wiimote points to all sorts of new ways users will be able to interact with their screens.

    Personally I can’t wait for the day when I can get out from behind the computer screen and can move around and still interact with my data while in the real world – my bad back and my RSI agree!

    I’m wondering also whether we might leapfrog the model of mobile learning that many are touting which relies on mobile phones and PDAs and jump straight to the wearable devices you describe, or whether mobile phones and PDAs will remain a necessary step along the way.

    I doubt whether we will be donning the old-fashioned immersive VR headsets though. The last I heard they still made people pretty sick. We will probably be more likely to see people jacked in via some kind of neural interface before that.

    As for the idea of one metaverse… I doubt whether it is likely to be one dominant virtual world, but maybe it is a unified data space accessed via many different devices and many different interfaces, not that much different from the way the Net operates now.

    I think the point I was trying to make in my post, building on what Vicki Davis said, was that we (and by ‘we’ I especially mean educators) need to pay attention to what is already happening with 3D interfaces and virtual worlds and get up to speed. From where I’m standing things seem to be moving pretty fast!

  2. Sean, interesting news about LL’s exploration of puppeteering devices. Imagine actual gestures triggering gestures – what a concept!

    I share your sentiment about leapfrogging over mobile technologies. While the convenience of googling from anywhere is nice, I cringe at the thought of transforming all of our course materials – especially all of the linked Word docs… and Blackboard (*shakes fist*). Hopefully the form factor of mobile devices will converge with the power of UMPCs so that we truly can skip the whole step.

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