Software // Information Management
Commentary
2/4/2009
01:16 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
Commentary
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Second Life Plays Host To Healthcare Hearings

Avatars don't need health care, but the people at the keyboard do. That's why a Chicago marketer, who previously worked on the Budweiser "Wassup" campaign, organized a hearing on health care policy for then-President-elect Obama in Second Life.

Avatars don't need health care, but the people at the keyboard do. That's why a Chicago marketer, who previously worked on the Budweiser "Wassup" campaign, organized a hearing on health care policy for then-President-elect Obama in Second Life.

Siri Vita and her real-life counterpart Susanna Matukas
Siri Vita and her real-life alter ego Susanna Matukas

Susanna Matukas, a Chicago-based freelancer in marketing and advertising, signed up on the Obama transition site, change.gov, after the election. She learned, through that site, that the office of the president-elect was looking for citizens to organize hearings on how the U.S. health care policy should be changed. The reports would then be submitted, including photos and video, to the office of the president-elect.

She decided to hold hearings in Second Life, to allow people to access the meeting who might not be able to make it to a real-life event. "We had people that participated who are suffering from chronic illness, or who have child care issues, or who are traveling on business and can't necessarily participate in a three-hour meeting in their community," said Matukas, who goes by the name "Siri Vita" in Second Life. The Second Life hearing was one of thousands held across the U.S. on health care issues

People telling their story in Second Life included a woman from Omaha, Neb., with a double problem: her health care provider won't pay for treatments for her rare genetic disorder, and she has an autistic son who needs $40,000 annually in therapy. Also speaking out was an Indiana cancer survivor who spoke of the limited medical choices in her area, and a Denver resident with multiple sclerosis who runs Virtual Ability, an area for disabled people in Second Life.

Now that Obama is president, Matukas also is trying to convince the administration to put an official White House presence in Second Life. "They're very active in new media -- Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, they're everywhere." she said. "I think it's a logical next step for them and it'll provide them the kind of outreach platform they're looking for. I mean, the Pope is on Facebook, so why can't Obama jump to the next level and come to Second Life?" The Pope has 30,000 fans on Facebook,

Matukas is a board member of Peace Train Charitable Trust, a real-life not-for-profit that collaborates in Second Life with organizations that work for human rights, poverty, and peace initiatives. Peace Train is part of a broad culture of real-life political action in Second Life; organizations for both parties were active in SL during the recent presidential campaign. And activists recently used Second Life to protest Israel's Gaza attacks.

In her professional life, Matukas worked at DDB, managing Anheuser-Busch brands, which is where she worked on the "Wassup" campaign. She is more good-natured about people saying "Wassup!" to her than I would be in her position.

If the Obama campaign comes to Second Life it can visit H&R Block's virtual offices to get a little help with their taxes. Matukas's report on the Second Life hearings landed on the desk of Tom Daschle, who was then Obama's nominee for secretary of health and human services, but who withdrew his nomination Tuesday after it was revealed that he failed to pay taxes. Listen to the entirety of the interview with Matukas. It starts about two minutes into the audio file, and ends at about the 12-minute mark. I did the interview as part of Copper Robot, a live interview show and podcast in Second Life that I'm doing separately from InformationWeek.

Also, watch this terrific video report on the hearings, by Draxtor Despres:

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