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.

Embrace the Singularity

What matters most is the decision we make every second to live to our fullest.  Our age is the age of heros.  The choice is constantly upon us.  There are a couple of definitions of ‘the singularity’ out there.  This is the idea that computing will surpass human intelligence.  Then there is the idea of gravitational singularity–that black hole hypothesis that not even light escapes from a star collapsing upon itself.  Well, my layman’s understanding anyway.  Then I like Vernor Vinge’s description: “It is a point where our old models must be discarded and a new reality rules.” This in reference to the technological singularity. In my own mind I mash it up to define it: the point when all of our assumptions are no longer valid.  Of course apocalyptic’s like to point to the end of the Mayan calendar–2012 for a specific date.  Even this smells too much like Christian tag sale mentality, like we had in the White House during the Bush dynasty: a devaluation of life.  Pointing into the future makes it easy to postpone action.  The future is now.  So the singularity, then, is also now.  It is a spiritual state of being that demands we live in the fullness of the present realizing our assumptions are conveniences. We have to trust gravity in order to move around and go up and down the stairs.  But what is occurring around us is the continual creation of being mutually agreed upon.  These are the implications of quantum mechanics sometimes expressed asconstructionist theoryor ontogeny: the simultaneous creation of being.

I am trying to embrace the singularity.  The largest window that has opened to glimpse the event horizon is peak oil. I am  as addicted as the next American.  But I see dissolving all around me the assumptions that make this American life possible.  40% inflation–the tip of the ice berg, and totally denied by everyone.  3 days of food on the grocery shelves without the Mac truck spewing forth its fumes.  The prospect of frozen bodies unable to pay for Big Oil deliveries.  The incremental erosion of the ability to move around our estranged suburban landscape.  The idea that the housing market will come back up.  How about tourism?  Think about that: sustainable tourism–well, if you have a sail boat I guess, or you can walk there.  But you see, I’m not a pessimist.  That’s why I am trying to embrace the singularity, in all of its definitions.  Mind melding in the good old Vulcan way with my computer contributes to the technological event horizon.  But the side effects are well worth it: emergence.  Just the act of trying brings you around to the moment between worlds.  I open up and receive all of your thoughts.  Well, not too many comments–but the thoughts are there and this alters the universe. I can feel it. We continually build the universe together and so have the choice to change it for the better. I am not alone. It is the urgency some of us feel that matters.  As they say the effects of climate change will be unequally distributed around the globe–just as wealth and just as intelligent choices.

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?