Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

Virtually Incensed

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Total Black: $63.15
Total Red: $230,600.32

While letting my apartment air out from the exterminators’ visit this afternoon, I took time at a nearby Starbucks to read today’s New York Times.  I was utterly befuddled . . . nay dumbfounded . . . by an article on the front page.  Claire Cain Miller and Brad Stone penned an article titled “Virtual Goods Start Bringing Real Paydays.”  I use social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.  And I’ve played a few hours of Second Life.  So I’m not unfamiliar to the idea of using real money to purchase virtual currency or virtual goods.  But I would have never imagined what Miller and Stone reported. 

According to their article, “virtual goods could bring in a billion dollars in the United States and around $5 billion worldwide this year.”  Five billion dollars.  That’s even difficult to grasp, so let’s take one billion instead.  One billion dollars!  Spent on purchases of an image of a champagne bottle that someone sends another person on Facebook for their birthday.  Or by purchasing Lindens to watch a show in virtual reality or buy virtual land.

As far as I know, none of my friends or colleagues purchase virtual goods.  I have never purchased virtual goods either.  And even if I or they had made a few purchases, such one-off purchases wouldn’t really be newsworthy.  But when the market for buying virtual goods tops billions of dollars, I have to wonder what exactly is going on out there.  Purchases of virtual birthday cakes or costumes for an online character netting billions leaves me scratching my head wondering why we can’t pool money in a similar way—through $1 donations or $5 gifts, for example—and use it to accomplish real change in people’s lives.  Distribution and spending of that money is another matter altogether, but just imagine what we could accomplish if we could net one billion dollars from our own spare change and use it to pay off all the student loans in the country.  Or perhaps to renovate our public schools or bridges and tunnels.  Who says only the government can pay to repair public works?

Some might say that what I’m describing is actually our tax system.  Money comes from individuals (and businesses), gets pooled and then is distributed for various projects.  The catch here is that what I’m describing is voluntary.  And it would have to be one-off purchases since we couldn’t guarantee the same income year to year.  But even a million dollars would be amazing.  I need to figure out a way to make this happen because I’ve written about this in Only Way Out is Through, The Lowly Penny, and Res Ipsa Loquitur.  Clearly it’s something that gets me incensed . . . well, virtually at least.

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