IN TOUCH : A ‘newb’ in cyberspace

I don’t usually have martini glass in my hand at 9am on work day – particularly not when attending public forum. But then standing on the bar is also just tad out of character. I blame Vicki Jaxxon. She was the avatar attendee, alter ego, bad twin who enabled me to teleport in to last year’s Digital Futures Summit. And despite her ditzy behaviour, she’s probably part of that future.
Created by the techno wizards at IBM, Jaxxon was the curvy, jeans-wearing brunette through which I attended the Second Life version of this event. Although hosted in virtual setting, it was designed to emulate the real thing – complete with podium, speaker, signage, big screen for closer viewing, rows of comfy chairs, the nearby bar, the palm trees, the soft waves washing on the beach…. Okay, perhaps it didn’t strictly adhere to its physical original. But then neither did the delegates – one was wearing dashing pair of angel wings and some were quite openly asleep, which is what happens to avatars when their real-life equivalents go work-a-bout.
As ‘newb’ in cyberspace, I did get some basic training before being let loose at the forum and my more experienced minders issued general warning they were hosting guests with the cyber equivalent of ‘L’ plates. Just as well. I didn’t feel quite so conspicuous about my avatar’s several failed attempts to sit down, somewhat alarming tendency to leap several feet in the air for no good reason or her attempt to go for the birds’ eye view of events – by spontaneously flying across the auditorium.
That I could both be her – and also see her often bizarre behaviour from third-party perspective on shared big screen was bit unnerving. So, although having trouble hearing the presentation from the back of the room, I didn’t dare go too close in case I found myself inadvertently on stage – vigorously tossing back the martini I hadn’t quite managed to get rid of.
All of which would be distracting enough in terms of getting to grips with the summit content without the added degree of difficulty offered by poor sound – partially rectified with the use of speakers – and the odd dropped web link. But with better broadband connections…
Which in large part was what the summit was about. Getting to the next level, fulfilling the intention expressed by Communications/IT Minister David Cunliffe, to get “fibre” to every home.
How can New Zealanders collectively, collaboratively, as community climb aboard the digital juggernaut – use ICT to drive productivity, leverage the niche market power outlined in Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail, create strong links to global markets and build connectivity both within and beyond our shores?
“The outcomes we were looking for were collaboration and sense of people taking ownership for our digital future,” says Janet Mazenier, acting manager digital development at the Ministry for Economic Development, and summit organiser. “That very much came through in the spirit around the event.”
Summit chair, business commentator Rod Oram, noted that the change of guard at Telecom, its recent announcement of major infrastructure investment, and new CEO Paul Reynolds’ well-received assertion that the company welcomes partnership and cooperation in the sector, all signal major shift.
According to Oram, “This sense that the major players are more willing to cooperate and think about how they might work together while still competing in other areas was for me one of the two big shifts in the mood of the industry.”
The second is shift in focus from barriers to opportunities.
“I’ve always found the sector far too preoccupied with all that regulatory stuff – beating up on or being beaten up by Telecom – with the result that there’s not been enough focus on what we do when we’ve got the technology. I still think the sector has long way to go… but I thought with the summit that the journey has begun.”
The plan to create national broadband ‘map’ of all existing fibre optic cables – information formerly jealously protected by those who laid them – is another major step forward, says Oram.
It’s all pivotal to the rewrite of the Government’s Digital Strategy 2.0 due for release in March 2008.
A lot of hard work, negotiation and focus group input preceded the summit and, says Mazenier, flurry of ‘facebook’ communities springing from it will carry that impetus on. That includes an invitation to all Second Life attendees to set up an ongoing forum to meet and discuss digital future strategies. Possibly around the bar? With waves washing gently on the shore?
Vicki Jaxxon might yet live on.
Virtually yours, Vicki Jayne.

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