Using Virtual Worlds and Web 2.0 for ICT4ED and Eco-Tourism

A recent article in 3DTLC 3D Training, Learning and Collaboration reported:
“Lauren Papworth, a social networking strategist, told the Australian Tourism Futures conference that travelers will increasingly use virtual worlds to help plan their next vacation according to the Brisbane Times. The talk was targeted at the Australian tourism community, but has relevance to the entire global business.”

I have been working on a virtual worlds and web 2.0 strategy in the Dominican Republic. Some of the uses we are looking at are directed at eco-tourism. From a top down supply side perspective virtual worlds used for tourism is just another version of colonialism. But my idea is directed at the web 2.0 phenomenon of user generated content. In other words, the suggestion is, that as part of a content creation strategy (and unique intellectual property is a value proposition, and one way to create wealth, in a knowledge society) locally created content based on stewardship of the biome, is a way to develop an eco-tourism infrastructure. But if content is developed locally in an immersive and rich way, the interest of tourists would be aroused. Furthermore, those who cannot physically go–for political, logistical or financial reasons–virtual tourism and rich content created locally–can provide a way to generate income as part of a eCommerce strategy. Community supported conservation, or Local Stewardship of the biome is a sustainable eco-tourism strategy. Building an infrastructure of destinations devoted to this goal can contribute a wider support and help transition economies to one based on content creation instead of resource extraction or exploitation. Fundamentally this is a Creative Economy idea that leverages Information and Communication Technology for Development. I prefer to add “Emergent” development to the concept to re phrase the proposition to include the immersive internet and Bottom of the Pyramid wealth and knowledge creation strategies.
The Galapagos are a case in point. Tourism–even so called eco-tourism–is killing the very attributes that make the Galapagos a destination. But think about the volume and quantity of information that could be available–and most likely exists, horded by scientific institutions world wide– If this was generated, maintained and developed locally it would provide a solution to the onslaught of tourists, while providing income to the local people. Then, serious eco-tourists and tour companies could properly protect the heritage of the site, finding more equitable ways of allowing visitors to the delicate ecosystem.
Even this stage of virtual tourism that we are discussing is quickly morphing into augmented reality. A data rich environment, created and maintained by local people will be providing a new frontier to monitoring the planet and its resources and ecosystems. The sooner local communities can get aboard the sooner they will be in a position to generate wealth and provide a sustainable future.

Immersion in Design Science as a Wealth Creation Strategy Using Web 2.0

There has been some interesting discussions lately about Human Computer Interaction. After all, isn’t that what much of ICT is? Or is it? Another way to think about it is ‘computer augmented interaction.’ This is where the virtual, the electronic, merge and begin a dialogue effecting us as we effect our created world. No place is this as profound and powerful as in the area of design. The steps from dreaming and imagination, to rendering and drawing, to inhabiting in 3 dimensions, and then innovating before construction –offers an additional dimension to typical emergent systems. Through the use of the immersive internet–characterized by virtual worlds, web 2.0 and serious gaming–it is now possible to inhabit a design collaboratively, and co-create before a single tree is cut down. This is true of social, governmental and other systems which we design, in addition to structures or instruments.

Well, all very interesting –but what has this to do with wealth creation? First of all I am not speaking about Development. ICT4D is not going to do it. The process of innovating using Information and Communication Technology is an emergent one–for it to succeed. Emergent in the sense of an up swelling from below, a bringing forth from the bottom. It is critical to see the process of full capacity transfer as imitating biological processes more than specific historical political agendas, which the term “Development” surely implies. But “emergence” is something else. Thriving on diversity, openness, equity, deep self knowledge, respect for differences, risk, support for errors, serendipity, chance, collaboration–imagination, synthesis and creativity. This is not a factory environment. Happily there is a strong moral and ethical foundation in this process, based on a deep ecology.

The best way to transfer capacity at this very powerful level is to design, and redesign our environment and the sustainable systems which support and characterize it. Through a process of building a thorough knowledge of your biome–by building the many wikis of our cultures–we encounter the innumerable opportunities for designing a better world. But as importantly, the process by which this is learned and transfered, is itself a practice of the goals.

How does this create wealth? An emergent culture or group proceeds through a confident deep self knowledge to test and refine solutions to improve their way of life.
By taking advantage of the resources now available through the immersive internet, especially new technologies, software and devices that address the disabled, it is possible to have human computer interaction in a profound way. Solutions and efficiencies present themselves and soon emergent innovations and ideas are leading to new opportunities. No, it is not a get rich quick idea. The excellent part about this process is that it can be participated in by everyone. That is one the basic ideas, to get as much input as you can. Children can draw, what others can design, describe and build virtually, which others can improve, and then others build, inhabit –and the cycle repeats.

Carbon as a basis for data extraction cost

How do you create an information economy?  What is the relationship between the carbon emitted to gather data, or experience other places–tourism–and the potential for a community to create an information economy?  How do you begin to understand and account for the expenditure of carbon in our current paradigm? Now if I understand information in the broadest sense, there are many manifestations. One of the most prominent is scientific data.  A tremendous amount of resources are used to collect this data. The activity of the data collector, their will and desire for some given data drives the quest.  So I thought a place to begin might be to consider another side of “environmental economics”–the carbon emitted to extract data. 

I’m not trying to pick on the scientific community or the activity of collecting scientific data–but rather to use it as an example to understand and initiate a paradigm shift in taxation. Lets take the Galapagos islands of Ecuador as an example. Often referred to as the home of the idea of evolution, this tiny place is the focus of tremendous amounts of data extraction. Of course the scientists are not alone in their extraction activity, tourists are equally vigorous in their attention. These days, even when a scientist visits they are participating in so-called sustainable tourism. But the cost to the ecosystems which are the subject of all this attention is not really accounted for in terms of carbon.

There are many new carbon calculators popping up on web sites.  And you can purchase off sets for your travel.  But what would be the total carbon emitted for an individuals visit to the Galapagos? The taxi ride to the airport, the flight, the electrical bill at the hotel, the food consumed along the way, how about the the tour boat to scoot around the island? As far as I know all septic in the Galapagos are straight piped into the sea, so there is an additional consideration, not really carbon I suppose.  And then you return and retrace this journey of exhaust, laden with pictures or measurements.

The ecosystem impacted has its human dimension and an infrastructure emerges to service this activity–the tourism industry.  Many economies are based on this. Now if I consider the carbon cost to the ecosystems of the Galapagos there is a huge imbalance.  Not only is the survival of the biome itself being threatened but the people who service this activity are getting crumbs compared to the value of the data and the carbon it cost to collect or experience it. The scientist clearly adds value to the data because of its use and their intention– the analysis.  The tourist’s experience also adds value and extends the ‘data’ of the journey.  Yet in terms of the sustainability of the biome and the income of the people who inhabit it, the true cost is not accounted for.

Now I want to take a little leap.   In the richness of the world there are many places–all places?– where many of us would love to share the content. Our motivations could differ depending on the intent–the tourist, the scientist, the politician, the reporter, the cultural connoisseur, the educator and student all have reasons to want content from other places.  There are many possibilities for ‘data entrepreneurs’ to create information, or reveal and develop content that would be of interest as well– With the advent of ICT and wireless remote communication devices any place you could imagine is accessible. What I’m suggesting is that each local community ‘mine’ their data and retain a creative commons type of ownership of it, charging for access to it. The basis for the price would be the carbon not expended to gather or extract it.  Then if someone was bound and determined, or had a compelling reason to go to the places to experience or gather specific information, they would be taxed for the carbon it did cost to access this data.

To keep my mineral metaphor going, there are many by products from this. The one that strikes me is the transfer of human capacity building. If the scientist was interested in observing the temperature fluctuations of the ocean and its relation to sea turtle mating and habitat, for example, they would train the local community how to gather and maintain this data observatory.  If the sights and sounds of a vibrant city and its music and art scene was the subject of an observatory, the artists and community could learn ways to display, record, develop and share this ‘data.’ Constantly changing and emerging, a knowledge base would be created, archived and accessible for comparison and perspective. In the process of any of this observatory creation, or ‘deep mining instrumentation’ advanced ICT skills would be transfered. The diversity and uniqueness of each biomes resources and history would be documented and made available.

Well, I know this is somewhat a half baked idea.  I’ve been trying to think about this in terms of a social business model where the ‘profits’ of data extraction return to the inhabitants who dwell within an area as well as who create or mine their uniqueness rather than be victimized by information imperialism.  I’m not sure if I got the idea across–what do you think?