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issue 09/15/1999

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vCity 1.0
by Dr. Adam L. Gruen

20 days in the life of a 21st century virtual city simulation.

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Howard Rheingold
photo by Marcellus Amantangelo

Dan Richards talks with cyberspace guru Howard Rheingold.

Part two of a two-part interview.

page 1 of 3
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Read part one first.

Continuing with a series of "talks" that took place throughout July and August during the scorchy summer of 1999.

Dan Richards: So, your experience has been that virtual community environments stand a better chance of providing fertile ground when allowed to grow organically over time in smaller barrels?

There is definitely an idea that seems to be in the air after some time -and we can now see an "experiment" such as the Well compared to the larger so-called communities like AOL. In this case, smaller appears to be better. Less is more. Would you agree, or am I comparing apples to orangutans?

Howard Rheingold: Yes, I think you are making a category error. There are plenty of communities within AOL. Building communities is not AOL's business, however, judging from their actions and not their words. Those communities within AOL thrive for the same reason that communities thrive within the WELL, because the members have a strong enough affinity, and put in the work, to keep them together.

DR: Howard, I'm thinking about the world of ideas. You've written about and have an interest in the subject of memetics. For those of us who are new to the world of memes, could you give us a general introduction -and perhaps steer us towards some further resources?

HR: My agent, John Brockman, runs an interesting forum called The Edge Foundation. You can find a lot of fascinating speculation from very solid scientists and scholars at Edge.Org. I also highly recommend the piece "THE EVOLUTION OF CULTURE" by Daniel Dennett, who is the first person who has done some rigorous thinking about Richard Dawkins' notion of "meme," which seems to have been new-age-ized by less rigorous thinkers.

DR: What, in particular, do you find compelling about memetics?

HR: I am an interested skeptic. We need a richer vocabulary for talking about the way ideas propagate, but I'm suspicious of extending the biological evolutionary metaphor.

[ Audience comments on asking Howard more questions. ]

HR: I am happy to indulge in answering people's questions, but I'm not altogether comfortable being a center of attention. I know that sounds strange, considering my image, but it's true.

I am basically shy. My Judy convinced me that the world wasn't going to beat a path to my door, so I started inventing a more promotional persona around ten years ago. I've always dressed funny, but never really advertised it. Then I started working the press, figured out what they wanted and how it could draw attention to my writing, and by the time Electric Minds was launched, I had my black belt in media self-promotion. I went all-out on the "Howard as brand" thing, and discovered that Adam [an audience member] is right. I also know that it skews perceptions in communities like this when people treat me too specially. I just want to be one of the group here. And I still talk to the press, but now I concentrate on a few key messages that I feel need to go out, and I turn down more interviews than I accept.

Having said that, I'm happy to continue this. I just want to make my position more clear.

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