Friday, July 13, 2007

How Virtual can the world get?

David Doane has been talking about identity transparency and growing trend towards the virtual workplace. He proposes the possibility of ultimately decoupling not only users from the physical network environment, but also allowing all of our files and technology resources to be decoupled from their physical platforms as well. A new level of "identity transparency" would exist that would allow us to set up our entire workplace instantly and completely from wherever we like.

A lot of us are already going down that route anyway. I use Google mail and write documents on its 'Docs & Spreadsheets' application. My proposals and lectures and courses are at PBWiki and my slides are also on kept online. It means that I can work at home and deliver everything without carting a laptop around.

But why stop there?

What does Facebook do? It helps us do all the letter writing, social gossip and keeping up with friends work all in one place. We can use micro time to do what took months not so long ago. We have merged the virtual and the real. We can sustain relationships with almost daily exchanges of value statements, photo's, music, videos and group activities.

A lot of organisations outsource all sorts of things and so do consumers. From manufacturing to book keeping, laundry to security we outsource a lot of things that we did not do before. It is an idea that can go a long way. It can include a lot of things that are tangible as well.

Serviced offices are at the posh end of cybercafes. So why not decouple the office as well. What about the car? Mine spends most of its time parked on the drive.

What is we also follow the lead of many third world economies and use micro payments to buy the sachet and not the packet? One aspirin instead of years worth of headache cures in a bottle?

Its not that we don't do it now online. I charge a micro payment for you to use this blog. Its the advertisements that (mostly) you choose not to pay because you ignore the 'G' brand at the top of the page and the Google ad. For Google, serving up millions of pages per hour, that is not a problem and I get a 'free' blog.

With ubiquitous communication, all these things are possible.

With the Internet providing both the communication and acting as a software application. We can make virtual, real.

We can use all those underused artefacts much more efficiently.

The robot that is silent in the factory over the weekend can come to life to make that iPod stand you dreamed up or the new garden gate. The directions you get from Google map can include a list of people going over the same route to allow you to car share.

What about the home? Lots of my house is not used for days at a time (e.g. the spare bedrooms). The bedrooms are not used for hours on end. Lots of clothes are only used in the winter. They could be part of the virtual world concept too.

What happens when we separate the tangible from the intangible. If bricks are tangible a house is only bricks and intangible design and skills. If we add ubiquitous communication to bricks (using, lets say, RIDF chips) and all the rest of the IP is provided online the DIY home maker can place the bricks in the right place and order.

Thinking at these extremes gives us a very good clue about the Internet Mediated future.

Working with these ideas that are certainly in the minds of futurologists, PR has a role to play in offering the concepts of relationships in creating the right environment for it all to happen.

For example, I might lend my coat to a friend, but would feel wary of lending it to a stranger.

There is time to think about these issues now But there won't be in the near future.