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The great UK ukelele shortage, video chat and Second Life

On Saturday I was way out west having some rather nice local ale in a pub slightly let down by the presence of a large screen telly in one corner. It was showing BBC News 24 and the large serious news graphic ticked out the words UKELELE SHORTAGE. A spokesperson from the Ukelele orchestra of Great Britain spoke of George Formby, demonstrated a couple of instruments and spoke of the current craze and how manufacturers in China cannot keep up with demand. It's all here in The Times.

So I thought - is this a craze that's here to stay or some flash in the pan, overnight fad like blogging.

Some crazes become part of the fabric of life - apparently ballroom dancing is now well entrenched again in Britain thanks to a surge of interest via the BBC Strictly come dancing series.

Likewise technology - some things persist and some just vanish. Mobile phones probably count as a success. Thinking about the web sites I use - online banking and things such as Amazon I can't imagine living without. They function well. They are just ideally suited for their purpose - useable and efficient.

On Sunday I found myself in another pub (unusual for me - honest) with my chum Dr Rowett who was waxing lyrical about how good Skype video is for e-learning applications - apparently it makes all the difference to be able to see and pick up on gestures, facial expression and body language. It enables distance learning to work, whereas the same conversation on the phone just doesn't cut it.

You could even imagine a scenario where you were videoconferencing with someone from your bank - proper face to face communication. It might even diffuse the anger from irate customers slightly and make the job less soul-destroying for the call centre staff.

All this for me illustrates what is wrong with things such as Second life. It's a game. It's clunky. It isn't real in any sense. These "virtual worlds" lack all the subtle yet important elements that allow proper communication between people, so why are these companies excitedly scampering towards them, clutching the ukeleles they panic bought on eBay?


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