A Second Look at Second Life
After spending a week and some change on Second Life I am ready to offer my thoughts on my initial misconceptions, the present state, and the future of Second Life(SL), and virtual worlds in general.
Misconception #1: Second Life is not real life.
Ok, this is partly true but only from a mediated communication sense. The medium operates in a virtual space to send and receive messages, but every interaction is connected to a real flesh and bones human being with emotions, feelings and thoughts. The interactions had in the virtual space invoke the same two primary senses we would have in real life – sight being the most dominate sensory in all interactions followed closely by sound. Think about the bulk of interactions in real life. The majority of them primarily invoke sight and sound with little to no impact on communication from taste, touch or smell. Not to say those senses are not important, but highly effective communication of emotions and feelings can occur with only using sight and sound. In this video clip, the guys ‘real’ friends form an intervention to save him from his real life.
Misconception #2: Anyone who spends huge amounts of time on Second Life is a loser.
OK, loser is harsh, but used for emphasis. I had this thought that the only people who are on SL were there because they had problems interacting with others in real life. I pictured an addicted and out of control person similar to the World of Warcraft episode from South Park. I saw them as being extremely introverted and severely lacking in social skills needed to make it in the world. While there are some people who are on SL with these traits, I don’t think the percentages are any greater in the real world. In fact, the ones who take advantage of the benefits of SL are likely to also possess these traits in real life as well.
Misconception #3: Everyone pretends to be someone else.
What are these avatars about anyways? Sure, we are obviously not lizards despite how hard Oscar may try, but a larger portion of people than I expected chose to be human, and relatively real. In our class meet up, most came in humanoid form and dressed normal. Wandering around for a while in other spaces, this seemed to be true more than not. On dance floors and clubs the preferred avatar was human. The medium does allow for us to escape from ourselves for a little while, but ultimately, our personalities come through and force us to gravitate towards a more realistic, but slightly enhanced self.
Second Life is what we want it to be. It can be a quiet corner to meditate, a meet-up with friends, a sexual encounter with a stranger or intimate relationships alike. We can choose one of these are all of these at any time in our interactions. These real life activities are available with much greater ease and at a far less cost than their real life counterparts.
The technology is also bringing people closer together. I highly recommend the PBS documentary called “Digital Nation.” In it, they take a technological deterministic approach to our interactions with technology – meaning that technology changes us and how we communicate. Here is an excerpt from YouTube specifically dealing with Second Life.
After watching this video, I think about the future of the virtual world space. Second Life can emerge as a space where business can be conducted and we can live our lives in a totally different dimension.
Will we meet up with clients in this space in the near future? Will multi-million dollar decisions be done between a ‘lizard’ and a ‘vampire’? The medium is largely limited by two factors:
1) Social norms. Will we be willing to become sedate humans with active personas? Perhaps one day we will run on a treadmill in real life while our avatar does the same in SL, but what will be the point? Is the act of exercise and hanging out at a virtual gym enough of a draw? Sexual encounters seems to already be a huge draw in SL as Levinson and others point out, but they can only emotionally replace the ‘real’ thing to a certain extent. What will be the long term effects of this transference of reality? How much of our selves are we willing to give to the technology?
2) The technology. Second Life is a huge power drain and there were many technical challenges in my experiences in the space. The concept of Digital Divide has not been mentioned much in this course thus far, but it plays a huge role in not only developing nations, but also the digital divide here at home. Rural vs. Urban. Rich vs. poor. Each demographic faces their own ‘divide’ and the lack of access to broadband internet and faster computers severely limits the amount of people who can experience the more advanced mediums of Second Life and YouTube.
Of all the mediums we have explored, I think Second Life has the most potential to largely succeed or largely fail. Virtual worlds are the only medium where we can truly become completely immersed. They offer an unparalleled experience of engagement, sight and sound. Yet, they are probably the least used of all the tools we have studied so far.
Perhaps, much like the electric car of the 90’s, virtual worlds are a bit ahead of their time.
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