analog reality is possible in the virtual world. As it were, we’re all just bits of energy anyway…
There are technologies which provide connection portals between points in the real world, i.e. photo sharing applications, video conferencing applications, e-mail.
Then there are technologies which somewhat virtualize and abstract and enhance the real world, i.e. message boards, which serve as both communication medium and repositories of information, thereby facilitating social connectedness.
And then there are completely virtual worlds which provide a deep shared experience between participants, thereby facilitating connectedness. These are realities such as Chess, Checkers, tennis, World of Warcraft, Minecraft. These realities consist of an abstract reality in which people can share experience and interaction. The ‘work’ that gets done in abstract realities is not directly useful or applicable to the ‘real world’ reality, but the shared experience and shared interaction is vitally important because it provides an experience of connectedness between the participants. The social connection and solidarity does transfer from the virtual world over to the real world.
Minecraft is interesting because as a 3D CAD system, it could be used to re-create a virtual ‘copy’ of a real world space which would be topographically accurate, so it could emulate some of the reality of the real world, and assist with visualization, orientation for members of the real world space, and planning of topography and layout. But the main value of Minecraft is in the social connection and solidarity which it enables.
A BBS is can facilitate collaboration for people, both on-site and off-site, as even on-site, not everyone can be in the same place at the same time, and not everyone can have a photographic memory to remember what all is being worked on, and what is on hold, and what various options are. Obviously a group doesn’t cram everything into a BBS, but a BBS can be useful in its own way, in the same way that a grocery list can be useful for not forgetting important things when you go grocery shopping.
Useful in different ways is a text-based chat room such as IRC. In my experience text-based chat can be extremely effective for supporting social connectedness. Most of the time there wouldn’t be much going on in the IRC window, or, if there was something going on, it might be on a subject you don’t connect with, and you would not participate, you might merely interject a : -) the same way you might just smile and walk by if you cross paths with an interaction that is old news to you. Still the IRC window is a portal into a virtual space where there can be shared experience and resulting social connection. Some of the real world does bleed into the virtual world, in the bits and pieces of real-world information that people discuss. So this mix of real-world information and connectedness from shared virtual experience is a powerful mortar that can cement connection and can allow people to feel involved, aware, and connected.
Another obvious platform for social connectedness is Minecraft. It might be hard to imagine busy people hanging out on a Minecraft server, as this is not something that lends its self to multitasking very well, and the obvious reaction to this idea is something along the lines of ‘why would I spend time working in a virtual world when there is real-world work to be done.’ Of course, the reason someone would do this is to relax. Most people don’t work 100% of the time, people need a break that allows them to engage in something different. Minecraft is no less of a challenging puzzle than a game of chess or checkers, and Minecraft can be a solo experience, or a shared experience, or BOTH… (you can build something alone when you feel like being alone, and later on you can show people what you built when you feel like social connection.)
So as to why anyone would spend time in Minecraft instead of doing something else non-productive, the answer is that of all the non-productive things you can do to relax and blow off steam, few or none of these have the added bonus of having an integral social connectedness with other people both in your local area and far from you.
One thing that would be very helpful for a Minecraft server would be a phone conference system such as ventrillo where people can participate in a shared phone call concurrent with their minecraft session. You don’t do a conference every time you are doing a minecraft session, but for those times when you are doing a shared minecraft session where you are directly interacting with other people in the minecraft server, the conference call adds so much value to the experience.