America is obsessed about the price of oil which has hit $4 per gallon (about $1 per litre or £0.50). With a society and economy built on cheap fuel which until recently cost $30 a barrel, is now $139, and is predicted today to rise to $250 next year due to speculators and growing Asian demand, the media here is full of energy saving measures and renewables, and it’s now a bummer to own a hummer.
For Bob Franza, Executive Science Director of the Seattle Science Foundation, the way forward is to examine every human activity and see if it couldn’t be done better in SecondLife. This includes higher education where so many students travel so many miles to sit in large buildings on campuses which are expensive to heat and power. Franza points out that it makes much more sense to move photons around than electrons. At the ECAR Research Symposium in Boulder this morning he described many examples of activities being carried out in SecondLife in his institution, from building entire new hospitals so designs can be tested by future staff, to the dissection of bodies by medical students.
A member of the audience objected to Franza’s encouragement to stop thinking about physical space as the basis for everything. She asserted that young people now entering higher education will soon no longer have the skills for building telescopes – they’re not getting enough opportunities to interact with physical objects. Franza countered by saying that building a telescope is a perfect application for SecondLife – assembling the parts online allows you to try various combinations very cheaply, allows a lot more people to do it, and drives innovation in ways which we’d never imagined.
SecondLife and similar immersive technologies are going to be boosted by a nation of drivers increasingly confined to their homes. As the rising cost of fossil fuels is reflected in the costs of almost everything else including campus-based education, Americans will have to make hard choices about whether the benefits of a face-to-face university experience justify the cost. Online education programmes will be increasingly attractive.
Meanwhile, with my European mentality, I marvelled at the ability to fill a tank of petrol at the weekend here for just over $40… I’d like to see the headlines here if people were having to spend the more than $100 for a full tank I now have to pay back home.