Will the next president be virtual?

Tomorrow, at long last, the Most Grueling Presidential Election in Modern Times will be over. Amen to that, brother. But while thousands of volunteers are sweating out the final 24 hours knocking on doors, making calls, and praying to the Deity of their choice, there's another group in the virtual world doing much the same.

Though I'd bet $1000 McCain has never heard of Second Life and Obama has never been there, both camps have volunteers that spent the past year in the virtual world holding rallies, watching debates streamed off the Web, passing out information, and signing up actual voters.

I thought I'd spend the last day of Election 2008 strolling around the virtual homes of the major candidates, partly to avoid the madness of the actual campaign. Like most things in Second Life, however, they're more sparsely attended than a Nader For President rally, primarily by people dressed like vampires and hookers. (Also strangely like a Nader rally).

Straight Talk Cafe

First I teleported to The Straight Talk Cafe at Sagamore Island. I arrived at a neatly manicured park with a gazebo in the middle surrounded by elegant looking buildings, including the "Conservatives Hall of Fame," sadly still under construction. (Insert your own joke here.)

I chatted with a couple of McCain supporters and one person who just was there to admire the architecture. Chatting on SL is like a series of awkward cocktail party conversations where everyone stands around trying to think of something to say (except in Second Life you also get to see them typing in midair). Everyone seemed as curious about the Cafe -- and as clueless -- as I did.

After a while a beefy security guard with feline ears and tail walked up. He said his job was to "kick abusers and people that don't aren't here [sic] to chat and such." He was pleasant enough, but I wasn't going to hang around long enough to get kicked, so I teleported over to one of the many Obama HQs set up across SL.

At the Unofficial Obama Headquarters on Silicon Island I ran into an SLer named Utter Beerbaum. Imagine Catwoman dressed as a Nazi and carrying a double-barrelled machine gun: that's Utter. A Floridian in real life, Utter says he/she likes Obama as a person, hates his politics, but is voting for him anyway because he/she wants to be part of history. "I despise Obama's class warefare retoric [sic]" he/she typed, "but believe he will govern towards the middle."

obama virtual rally

At the Obama for President - Heaquarters for Victory plaza I interviewed Willys Faulkes, who created the site and just happened to be hanging around. His site is chock full of Obama position papers, news stories that seem to hover in midair, and (until last week at least) links to online voter registration sites.

Says Faulkes, whose online avatar looks suprisingly normal: "I know I talked to a number of people in swing states and helped them get to the place in Obama's web site where they could do calling of offline people in their own state in real life."

I also sent email to McCain's Second Life organizer, Wyatt Forster (aka Gordon Olivant), asking him about the ST Cafe. If he responds I'll update this blog.

Will SL impact this election? Hardly. But it or something like it could very well point the way to politicking in the 21st century. With huge lines at the real polls, it would certainly be faster and easier to travel to a virtual voting booth to cast my vote. The machines there would certainly be at least as reliable as the touch screens used in many states.

One day we might be voting for two presidents – one to rule over the meatspace, the other to reign in cyberspace. A Linden Lab spokesperson (real, not virtual) says Second Life has no central government and no plans to create one. But you never know what the future will hold.

Who's your pick for virtual president? Cast your votes below or send them to me directly: dan (at) dantynan (dot) com.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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