I was so impressed with Linden Lab’s article about IBM’s integration of meetings and conferences in Second Life. As a technology company, it is only common sense that they would take advantage of the free online software SL provides. Not only did this save IBM hundreds of thousands of dollars, but it improved networking between employees within the company. Many people, for one reason or the other, find it difficult to socialize with people, especially at conferences and meetings where they are rushing from one session to the other. By having a picnic area within Second Life that provided kiosks that allowed the IBM employees to teleport from session to session saved a lot of time and increased productivity within the event. As one participant reported, “It was great at the end to meet at the sculpture garden and hear several Des reflect openly on the conference and where we could take the technology in the future. The ability to see others there and the sharing of an interesting space together did contribute to a feeling of attending a event in a different way than simply dialing into a large conference call” (p. 4). Other companies, especially those suffering economically, should follow IBM’s footsteps and take advantage of the endless possibilities virtual worlds hold.
Business works online in more ways than we could ever fully comprehend. Our current society turns to the Internet for all kinds of business: stock trading, online shopping, finding anything you could ever imagine on sites like Craigslist, Amazon, and Ebay, etc… When you are online shopping, you go to the company’s website, add items to your “bag” and then “check out”, just as you would do in a regular store. When we shop online or in stores for retail, most of us know in the back of our minds that the products we are purchasing through these sites are produced by factory workers and employees who are usually underpaid and under-appreciated. This is something that we often forget as we are typing in our credit card number at check out, but nevertheless we have been exposed to the sad truth of horrors of the retail industry.
What I have not been aware of before reading the NY Times article, Life of a Chinese Gold Farmer, is that even in online games there are underpaid, under-appreciated and over-worked workers who are there to enhance our playing experience online, even if they have no connection to the gaming company itself. “Twelve hours a night, seven nights a week, with only two or three nights off per month, this is what Li does – for a living” (p. 1). These “Chinese Gold Farmers” only make about 30 cents an hour as they work in dark rooms to earn coins to up-sell to American gamers who play World of Warcraft. I am unaware of whether these gamers know exactly how much behind the scenes work goes into their transactions, and the extent of the underground gaming economy, but I would assume that they do not. I am sure there are millions of other jobs out there like this. We are aware of the sweatshops that exist to produce high-class material goods, but we ignore the reality that there are plenty of underpaying, underground jobs out there. What I’m trying to say here is, we were already aware of the exploitation of workers who produce material goods, but as the virtual world and the Internet is rapidly expanding, it may be time to shift our focus. What comes next? As consumers are clearly immune to the realities of the exploited workers in factories and sweat shops, once gamers find out about this underground gaming economy, will they remain immune as well?