Thursday, October 9, 2008

The New West

Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau were a pair of pioneers. You may not know their names, but they changed the world every bit as much as two of their more famous brethren; Lewis and Clark. They may never have ridden in a covered wagon, or crossed the rockies while carrying their boats, but their contribution to the world has fundamentally impacted almost everything that most of us do on a day to day basis. These men set out to find a way for nuclear researchers to share information more easily. In the process, they invented something known as the World Wide Web.

Ever visited a website or a webpage? Yeah they came up with that.

Ever used a web-browser? They invented that too.

The didn't strike a vein of gold like the prospectors of old. They tapped a vein of information that has been yielding it's riches for the last 25 years. And in the process they opened the door for commerce and knowledge to sweep around the world in seconds.

During the dot-com boom of the last decade, the potential of the internet was often compared to the California gold-rush where many came seeking their fortunes in the untamed new environment. Many succeeded and many failed.

The Old West
The westward expansion of the United States during the 1800's brought with it all types of people beyond those who were looking to dig in the ground for precious metals. Many doctors, lawyers, and teachers, as well as the lonely and those seeking a new start made the movement west. And where they went, they brought their beliefs with them.

Praise by Proxy
The churches in this period were very simple when compared to cities of the east coast or of the cathedrals of Europe. Many, if not most, church meetings took place without the presence of musical instruments. However, as time progressed, one frontier church saved up the $250 necessary to purchase an organ, which was close to the $300 annual salary of their pastor. The church and others like it were criticized by Methodist preacher, Alfred Brunson, as being "in the habit of praising God by proxy [with] a thundering organ and a select choir to do their singing. As might be expected in such cases the services were cold and formal, nothing of the life and spirituality of religion being visible."

The first adopters, in this case, were those who, at great sacrifice, began to employ what would later become staples of church services. Brunson's words recorded above could easily be said today, only they would not come from the more conservatively-minded church-goers, but from those who are more liberally-minded.

This is not an attempt to stoke the fires of the so-called worship wars, but to illustrate the following point.

Beyond Independence
The internet is no longer the place for the early adopters. Sure, there are those who will remain on the fringes participating in the read-only web: searching Google, checking email, and reading Wikipedia. And there are those who dive deeply into the read-write web (Web 2.0): Uploading videos to YouTube, editing Wikipedia, participate in the so-called blogosphere. These are merely the Independence, Missouri of the internet, if you remember from the classic game, Oregon Trail.

Virtual Worlds - The New West
So where to the early-adopters move now? Some have suggested that microblogging, such as Twitter, are where things are moving. But this still feels too close to civilization for me. I believe Web 3.0 may bring us into virtual worlds, the likes of which we have yet to truly see so far.

Take a look at these numbers if you are not sure.
  • 11 million people pay US$10-$15 per month to play World of Warcraft
  • 15.4 million registered avatars exist in the Second Life universe
  • US$100,000 is the most expensive virtual item ever purchased (an asteroid in Entropia Universe)
  • Sweden and the Maldives both operate embassies in Second Life

To put these in perspective for you, World of Warcraft serves as the virtual home for a group of people larger than the nation of Cuba! Don't forget that they each pay monthly fees to make it their virtual home.

Second Life hosts more avatars than the nation of Cambodia!

These virtual worlds may be a representation of what the next generation of the internet has to offer. They are the New West. There will be those within the Christian community who will not accept the type of ministry that is beginning to take place in virtual worlds. Just as Brunson illustrated for us, the early-adopters are rarely accepted, but what was cutting-edge yesterday, is the norm today and the passe of tomorrow.

Most importantly, we must remember that behind each avatar or screen name is a person. Many of whom are seeking escape from painful lives by living their virtual lives. These new worlds offer us a chance to connect with them and to share the good news of Jesus Christ with people our "normal" churches may never have the opportunity to reach.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails