Online lives, Virtual Worlds and Evolution.

Lives are moving inexorably online.  World of Warcrack, MySpaces, Second Life.
Immersive worlds where people connect.
These world will keep getting more and more advanced and widespread as even better options come along like Wallop.

This digital evolution of lives bring two clear questions to mind that pull in seemingly opposite directions.

First, it seems that this type of online sociailization could have a positive social impact.  It knits people back together potentially countering the modern impact of suburbanization, moving away from extended families, excessive TV and the general fragmenting of modern socities.  (The fragmenting seemingly could be a natural effect of tolerance and diversity, but that is for another day.) The online socialization worlds and tools lets you knit your social relations with people you are interested in and share attitudes with, no matter where they live or work.  Although this breaks the fragments smaller it does pull people closer and closer within their chosen groups.  Intense, convenient interaction.
Groups and connections are good for people and generally good for socities.

Second, seemingly pulling in an opposite direction is what removal of our social interactions from our immediate presence does to people long term.
Kathy Sierra’s Passionate User Blog (one of my favorites) spends alot of time talking about our caveman brains.  The subconcious that has been formed over tens of thousands of years.  A recent entry on the Shangri-La diet and how to fix sleep problems with TV watching patterns (http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2006/05/the_strangest_e.html ) makes a great case for that primitive brain having a MUCH bigger effect on our daily lives than most people would suspect. 
Its doesn’t come more speculative than this but my intuition is that it is really bad for our caveman brains not to literally see and physically experience the people we interact with.  These highly intellectualized (really cool) virtual worlds may just not feed our brain all of what it needs.  Does it encourage anti-social behavior?  Depression?  It really might. 
Bring me some Zoloft…

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