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Newt's Second Life

On the cyber-stump.

12:00 AM, Oct 3, 2007 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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Newt.jpgCyber Newt

LAST THURSDAY AFTERNOON, Newt Gingrich celebrated the 13th anniversary of the signing of the Contract with America by holding an event dubbed "Solutions Day." Where the Contract with America had been presented on the steps of the West Front of the Capitol in September of 1994, Gingrich's Solution Day address was held on the West Front of the Virtual Capitol inside the game Second Life.

The event began with Gingrich's Second Life avatar flying through the air and then falling to earth on the Capitol steps. As his arms and legs flailed during the landing, his virtual tie fluttered up about his face. The virtual Gingrich, clad in slacks, a blue dress shirt, a yellow tie, and silver-rimmed spectacles, was, in keeping with the Second Life ethos, a younger, trimmer version of the former speaker. You can view some highlights from the event here:

Roughly two dozen other avatars were assembled to hear Gingrich speak. In the front row was a large, purple cat wearing an "Obama '08" T-shirt. A buxom girl in a skimpy white top wore a John Edwards button. One libertarian-minded supporter in the audience held aloft a placard reading "No to Fascism and No to federal control." On the grass just outside the Capital area were a handful of activist protestors; one carried a sign with Gingrich's real-life picture on it and the words "lying hypocrite."

It was a momentous occasion for Second Life. In August of 2006, Mark Warner became the first major politician to create a Second Life version of himself. Some Democratic presidential hopefuls, including John Edwards, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton have since then established virtual campaign outposts inside the game, but none has actually crafted a Second Life avatar for themselves. Gingrich, who created his avatar last August, is the first major Republican to step into the computer game.

"Second Life in many ways is the first successful manifestation of an idea known among futurists as a metaverse," Gingrich explained to the small gathering. "The metaverse, that is a virtual world inhabited by real people, was pioneered in science-fiction novels, notably William Gibson's 1984 Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson's 1992 Snow Crash. The first intellectual treatment of the metaverse came in the form of David Gelernter's 1992 book Mirrorworlds."

(Two weeks ago, I wrote that Second Life was "the first successful manifestation of an idea known among futurists as the 'metaverse.' The metaverse concept--a virtual world inhabited by real people--was pioneered in science fiction novels, notably William Gibson's 1984 Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson's 1992 Snow Crash. The first intellectual treatment of the metaverse came in the form of David Gelernter's 1992 book Mirror Worlds." It's gratifying to know the speaker is keeping up with THE WEEKLY STANDARD.)

A committed futurist himself, Gingrich was excited about Second Life and the technology it points to in the coming years. "[E]xtranets and 3-D internet represent a brand-new approach to collaboration," he said, at the same time admitting that "While it is true that it's still fairly primitive by the standards of having holograms or being face-to-face in more complex ways. . . . I think that 3-D internet in all of its various forms is going to become one of the great breakthroughs of the next ten years and help us create what I've described as 'The World that Works.'"

Gingrich saw the use of the Virtual Capitol on the anniversary of the Contract with America as symbolically important. As Gingrich explained:

Thirteen years ago, the internet was in its infancy. The House and Senate websites had just gone online. And Republicans stood on the West Front of the Capitol to sign the Contract with America. In fact the THOMAS system did not yet exist; we actually invented it and I launched it the day after I was sworn in as speaker, allowing anybody anywhere in the world to follow the U.S. House without having to have a lobbyist or belong to a trade association.

Gingrich urged Second Lifers to seek "red, white, and blue solutions" and to avoid "red-versus-blue partisanship." Solutions Day and Second Life, he said, were an opportunity "to continue where the Contract left off."