I read a book called Future Shock a few years ago (probably more than a few) by Alvin Toffler. Toffler’s definition of future shock is “Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.”

With the rapid changes technology has been undertaken in the past few years this seems to be ringing true.
This was brought home to me even more so on Thursday night when I sat down and watched a television program on SBS called Future Focus – New Cyberspace Worlds.
The title of a review of this program by Judy Adamson certainly summed this up well “If your technological expertise is limited to clicking the internet icon, this documentary will be a jaw-dropping experience.”

The basis of this program was the growing business of ‘virtual worlds’. These have become massive businesses that everyone is trying to get a piece of. Virtual islands are being sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, even the ABC is getting in on the act. In a report by Michael Bodey titled ABC buys an island in an online world it is revealed that ABC managing director Mark Scott told a business forum in February that the ABC had bought an island on Second Life. It makes one wonder where this is all heading. Is it just another way to generate revenue and place advertising? The ABC says that they do not intend to use it to generate revenue but as a way to connect with its audience, just by having a presence in Second Life acts as advertising even if it doesn’t generate so called ‘revenue’.

I can understand this attraction to online worlds the appeal of television has been lost on most of today’s youth with them spending more and more time online. Many comment that this is not a healthy or very sociable way for them to spend their leisure time but when I look back on my ‘pre computer’ days what we did in our down time was watch a ‘box” that supplied entertainment for us but which we had little interaction with other than changing the channel. I am more concerned with the fact that when playing and being online is the major source of entertainment and relaxation when do their brains ‘switch off’. Will this in the future lead to the inability to just let go and relax or will it create older generations who brains have had continual stimulation as they have grown older and therefore not suffer from some of the aging problems of memory loss?? It is certainly interesting but also frightening times as our children encounter these things and not knowing what the outcomes will be.

One of the things that I found disturbing in the New Cyberspace Worlds program was what appears to be the new version of ‘sweat shops’. With more than 6.5 million people playing World of Warcraft (WOW) each day and the illegal trade of ‘virtual gold’ has lead to the development of ‘Gold farming’ business. An example of this was shown of teenagers working 10 hour days 6 days a week playing WOW so that the virtual gold can be created and then this will be sold to players. These players live eat and work on the premises. According to Wikipedia more than 100,000 people in China were employed as ‘gold farmers’ these statistics are from 2005 so it is anyone guess how many there are now there is even a movie on YouTube showing the workers in China in there small rooms playing games to farm gold. As the farming of gold is illegal the makers of WOW continually delete accounts that have purchased the illegal gold but I think they are hitting their heads against the virtual wall.

Now I will get back on track. Even though this was quiet a disturbing show to watch it also opens up a lot of possibilities in the education sector. Just as the ABC is using its island to connect with its audience the same is possible with education. As our students become more sophisticated in their computer use and understanding of these systems then we should look to the possibility of using it to possibly deliver content. I am not just talking about for distance learners but also in our classrooms. It is harder to keep our students under 20 engaged especially in the Cert II and Cert III IT levels. Maybe this would encourage them to be more involved and stop us from getting stale. It is certainly food for thought and something I would be prepared to have more of a look at. There are already islands created for educators.