Image via KZeroclick for larger viewThis chart via Kristan at Sources and Methods (original source KZero) combines the existing/developing virtual worlds and the average age of "citizens" of each world. As Kristan notes the millennial generation is, essentially, growing up with the the concept of (to borrow slightly from Tad Williams) Otherworld. What will be interesting to see is how this effects social development both in this generation and future generations. Especially as these virtual worlds become both more realistic, mainstream and socially acute.
As sites like Facebook and MySpace (or to a lessor degree, blogging) have become extensions of ones terrestrial social network the virtual world, with it's pervasive quality, could increasingly become not a simple extension but a virtual replacement for the real world experience. Especially among adolescent social "outcasts."
What would the psychological ramifications be for someone who's near entire beneficial social experience (that which they were most comfortable in) was virtual in nature? A world in which their every characteristic was decided not by who they were but who they'd like to be? Will this phenomena become so pervasive that it melds itself into our social existence?
Futurist Dr. Ray Kurzweil predicts something which he refers to as the "Singularity." A point which human biology and human technology merge. And he predicts a rather exciting, if frightening visage of this era in human development.
"There will be no distinction, post-Singularity, between human and machine or between physical and virtual reality."
And my first reaction (in half jest) as an old fogey of the X generation is a quote:
"The 600 series had rubber skin. We spotted them easy, but these are new. They look human - sweat, bad breath, everything. Very hard to spot. I had to wait till he moved on you before I could zero him..."