Real Growth from Virtual Economies – Part III: A Day Inside the Virtual Economy

This is the third part in a series titled Real Growth from Virtual Economies. In the first part, I made the case that the technology and demand is set for a boom in virtual reality within the next half decade. In the second post, I explained how the mass migration of people into virtual space will leads to the natural rise of economies of exchange within these spaces. Coupled with the erosion of physical scarcity due to mass automation in the meat world, I envision that virtualization could lead us into a new type of economy, one which is focused on the service of virtual wants rather than of physical needs.

In this third post, I will attempt to flesh out the future of virtual jobs and virtual economies with a look at what an average day in the virtualized future of 2025 might look like. Being only 11 years in the future, the nature of the virtual work in this story is still much closer to the meat economy of today, but also hints at how the real and virtual worlds are beginning to fuse. I also should point out that I don’t think very many people will be working in this way 11 years from now, but I propose that some will, and that number will be steadily growing. 


A Day Inside the Virtual Economy

You yawn as you stand at the coffee machine, watching the last few drips fall into your cup. Cream, sugar, stir. You grab the steaming cup and commute the 15 steps it will take you to get to the office, or anywhere else in the world.

You set the coffee down on the desk in front of you and pull on your headset. The headset covers your eyes and ears, providing you with a virtual view of the world in stunning clarity, and everything is the same. The desk, and the walls are still where they should be, your cat is still sitting lazily in the corner, and your coffee still sits steaming in front of you. You reach out and grab the coffee and sip the hot liquid tentatively. Still too hot.

You pull on the pair of thin pressure gloves sitting on your desk. Muscle-like nanopneumatics in the material of the gloves can squeeze to provide haptic feedback to any part of your hand. The gloves are not the most recent model which would feature sub-millimeter haptic accuracy across the entire hand, but they do provide a convincing enough effect to type on a virtual keyboard or hold a virtual newspaper.

You hear voices around you chatting and the room starts to dissolve. Your desk morphs into a worn wooden table, and the room expands into at bright space filled with wooden furniture and a few groups scattered around the room. You can bring your own coffee, but the Virtual Bean provides a carefully manicured space to meet up with friends, do a bit of writing, or just to sit and sip your coffee for a couple of nanobits per hour.

The barista smiles and waves at you as she comes out from behind the counter.You wave and smile back.

“How you doing this morning?” she asks genuinely as she walks up to your table.

“Oh, pretty good. A bit tired after a late night last night.” you reply.

“Busy night?” she asks with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh, just staying up too late running cargo through red territory in Spacerise

“Oh yeah? I still haven’t played it yet. I hear you can actually make decent money in Spacerise though…”

“Yeah, you can lose decent money too…” you say with a slightly sour note, remembering the pirates who ended up with your cargo last night, “it’s really more gambling than gaming.”

“Well, I still think I should give it a try. Virtual Bean is considering opening some franchises within the game, and it would probably be a career boost to familiarize myself with it.” she said back to you.

“Uh huh, I guess”, you nod and look awkwardly back at her for a moment, the idea of coffee franchises inside a Space sim just seems a bit wrong.

“Ok, I should get back to work. But you should really consider letting us deliver your coffee in the morning, I’m sure it’s better than your homebrew” she said as she started to back away.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll think about it.”

Your morning paper is sitting on the table in front of you. On the front is an advertisement. The text reads: Why are you still brewing your own coffee? Let us deliver your morning jolt – Try our 2 week free trial! Below is a stop-motion style animation of a cup being with the Virtual Bean logo being left on your doorstep by a smiling automaton.

Still too expensive, you think to yourself. Maybe next year.

You open the paper and browse through the news of the day. Crowd sourced, personally curated, and beautifully packaged, the Reddit Post is a popular re-imagining of the ever popular social news website for the modern virtual world. You calmly leaf through the paper and sip your coffee.

Around you, the coffee shop continues to fill with patrons. It is the usual mix of unfamiliar and vaguely recognizable faces, people who you don’t really know but who come regularly to this particular instance of the coffee shop. Theoretically Virtual Bean is supposed to be using some kind of serendipity algorithm which matches patrons to increase the likelihood of positive social interaction but you have yet to see much effect of it. Maybe the algorithm knows that your are just as happy to be left alone in the morning.

Ok, time to get to work then, you think to yourself as you fold up your virtual paper and place it down in front of you. You move your empty cup off to the side and sit up straight. You clear your throat as the coffee shop dissolves away and you find yourself back in your home office. You pull up your calendar on a virtual screen in front of you. You need to put a couple of hours into drafting the letter to the Nigerian Agricultural Minister, then you have that meeting with Emmanuel at 10:00 am.

You have been working for Drones Without Borders for just over a year now. The stated goal of the organization is the betterment of humanity through the application of non-military drone technology, but its really just a thin cover to try to drum up more international sales for drones. The NGO is funded by the extremely profitable North American Drone industrial alliance to promote the use of drones for agricultural, security, and transportation applications in the developing world. Just the same old mix of idealism and bullshit that you have found in every other job.

You pull your virtual keyboard in position and start to type. Your home office again dissolves away, and you find yourself in your office cubical. Why they decided to recreate the cubical farm you will never understand, something about office efficiency. At least you get a window, as you look out at a real time rendering of Dubai bustling below you. You hear a phone ring and a quiet conversation of a coworker a couple of cubicals over.

As with most days do, the work day proceeds along quickly. A bit of work on the letter, a somewhat confusing conversation with a coworker mediated by instantaneous translation between french and english, more work on the letter, answering a few emails, a phone conversation with some Botswanan bureaucrats, a late morning meeting meeting with the rest of the communication department.

Lunch time rolls around and you receive a notification that your lunch has arrived. You open the door to your apartment and pick up the neatly packaged carboard box. Inside you find a beautiful sandwich and some crisp veggies with dip. You bring it back to your desk and pull your headset back on. You meet up with some old friends for your weekly lunch in a virtual park. While in reality you might geographically separated, virtual reality brings the cost of getting together to near zero and you are sure to take advantage of that.

After lunch you return to the office for a couple more hours of work before calling it a day by the mid-afternoon. You pull off your headset and decide to head out for a jog in the sunshine. The hyper-efficiency of the virtual office means that most people work only a 4 to 6 hour day. The greatest advantage of the virtual office is that by also eliminating commute time, it leaves you with much more free time to enjoy the world… both in virtual and real spaces.