My plan to teach a course here at the Johnson School has blossomed into a partnership with Metaversed to present a public speaker series and website called "Metanomics." Thie series is open to anyone who wants to hear from—and engage with—academics, industry leaders, regulators and influential virtual-world residents. So far, our speakers list includes legal scholars Joshua Fairfield and Bryan Camp, the unclassifiable Ted Castronova and Julian Dibbell, Congressional Staffer Dan Miller, Second Life tycoon Anshe Chung, and senior representatives from IBM and Intel—with many, many others yet to commit. Yours truly is kicking off the series with a session entitled "Metanomics 101."
This post defines metanomics, clarifies the scope and goals of the series, and asks Terra Novans for some help.
It feels somewhat silly to coin a new word, but "metanomics" does a nice job of communicating the scope of the series—and a field of study—in a single term: Metanomics = metaverse + economics. The term isn’t perfect, as this field of study is broader than just economics (it will include hefty doses of law, social science and technology), and everyone quibbles over the term "metaverse." But economics is the supremely imperialistic social science, and there is hardly anything economics haven’t laid claim to as their jurisdiction. My definition of the metaverse is equally broad—I don’t see any reason to exclude social networking sites or communication technologies like Skype from the metaverse, for example.
Three perspectives of metanomics
Residents of Second Life frequently talk about immersionist and augmentationist perspectives for residents. As the name suggests, immersionists immerse themselves a truly separate second life, while augmentationists add Second Life to their real life. (If anyone knows who coined these terms, please let me know.)
In metanomics, we can take similar perspectives.
- The immersionist perspective of metanomics treats the economic issues of the metaverse in their own right, without reference to the outside world. For example, immersive metanomics might ask how the economy of EVE Online operates, for example, or how its residents resolve business disputes.
- The augmentationist perspectives asks how the outside world might impinge upon the metaverse (by taxing virtual-world transactions, say), or how the addition of the metaverse to the business world might change how businesses operate.
- The experimentalist perspective views the metaverse as a giant laboratory, in which one can run controlled experiments. Researchers might conduct experiments inside Second Life (as many economists are now doing), while more ambitious folks might create and compare two virtual worlds that are identical in all respects, except that one has income taxes and the other has consumption taxes. Businesses might also take an experimentalist perspective by, for example, comparing customer satisfaction and impulse sales in different retail-store floorplan in Second Life.
Terra Nova seems to have countless debates that might be characterized as people disagreeing about which perspective to take. All of them are valid, but we need to make sure everyone understands the distinctions, and that the perspective being taken at the time is well-suited to the problem at hand.
Metanomics is geared toward the type of people I normally teach: executives, research-oriented doctoral students and faculty, MBA students, and the occasional undergraduate. Of course, because metanomics is so highly interdisciplinary, just about every speaker will have to bring the audience up to speed, so this will be much like a survey course.
The goal of the series is not simply to have interesting people speak to in Second Life to an island that holds only 70 avatars. We want to reach everyone interested in metanomics, even if they don’t a computer with the power to run Second Life. So although events are all streamed into Second Life, and most will take place there, they will also be broadcast live on the web, courtesy of Second Life Cable Network.
More importantly, events are only the grain of sand in the oyster. We hope to get pearls from constructing a way for people interested in metanomics to engage with the speaker and with each other in serious discusion before and after the session, and create an archive that future can serve as essential reading for future metanomicists (ok, that word doesn’t work so well. Metanomists?).
We plan to accomplish this by having suggested readings before each session, inviting readers to suggest readings of their own, as well as questions for speakers. After each session, we will post archives of the event, along with post-event analyses.
We are actively looking for speakers, and also for experts who would be willing to post suggested readings and post-event analysis on our website. If you would be interested, or want to nominate someone else, post comments here or on our site.