Sometimes an idea is ahead of its time and backward thinking represses it. Other times, an idea is very much stuck in its own time but can't be realized due to crappy technology. Such is the case with virtual worlds, an idea that captured people's imaginations at the dawn of the Web in the early 1990s. At that time, people dreamed that "the future" would be all VR — just like in Lawnmower Man, or Total Recall. But our digital forebears didn't have the computer power to make that happen. Now that we have that power, using it to recreate a dream from the Rave Age puts virtual world companies like Linden Lab and Metaverse in the ashcan of history.
The future is a moving target, and what we thought would be cool a decade ago isn't as cool any more. Sure, virtual worlds are always going to be with us, especially as entertainment. MMOs like World of Warcraft and their inheritors are here to stay. But will we be venturing into places like Second Life for our social lives? Probably not. We're much more likely to see a system of augmented reality, where people use wearable computers to create a virtual overlay on the real world. Why? Because reality just works better, so why not bring the VR-style tech to it?