Saturday, December 09, 2006

Mainstream is not wowed by Second Life

Second Life is bursting at the seams - the immersive world is due to reach 2 million residents next week and has a burgeoning economy transacting over $650,000 worth of virtual goods and services EACH day.

More and more people are starting to learn about Second Life and there is one repeatedly recurring reaction: that people are affronted, even insulted that others would spend time in an immersive world.

This reaction has been expressed at least twice on NPR, recently when there was a commentator from Harvard's Berkman Law Center for Internet and Society and earlier from a Columbus OH caller on the October 24, 2006 Talk of the Nation segment (minutes 15:30-16:19 of the 30:20 minute program)
"I’ve never called in before ... I’m pretty disgusted by the whole thing ... there are so many real problems in the world ... this creative energy could go towards solving a lot of the basic problems and things that are going on in Africa ... I’m sure there’s some good coming out of it ... like new car designs ... but I’m very surprised at the amount of energy that people spend on things like this when there are people that can’t even have clean water …"
Ignoring the conflicting presuppositions and logic breaches, the key point is that something is different about spending time in Second Life versus with those other uber-productive activities that people might be doing in stead. There are several levels on which to examine this conflict.

1) What is objectionable about being in Second Life as compared with other leisure exploits like watching TV, watching YouTube, reading a novel, or playing video games?

2) What is objectionable about spending time in Second Life as compared with other creative exploits such as painting, carving wood in the garage, programming software or designing a video game?

3) What is objectionable about making a living in Second Life (which requires developing and using advanced technical skills) as compared with other remunerative efforts such as being a corporate drone, pornographer or gambler?

The response is so quick, visceral and negative that it is as if people are feeling personal rejection. Second Life is somehow different than other activities, even different than video games such as World of Warcraft (despite World of Warcraft racking up far more hours per user), perhaps because of the story of what Second Life offers, an alternative reality, and that people who spend time there are in some part rejecting the physical world and by extension its participants, non-SLers.

However, like the book, one of the original immersive alternative worlds, and in fact like most technologies (e.g.; radio vs. records) most people will probably come to realize that online immersive worlds offer more not less and supplement rather than replace the reality they experience.

Real-time 3D weather data visualization from NOAA

MLK "I Have a Dream" exhibit at the Second Life Library

How does the brain work at Uvvy Island

Climate crisis education at the International Spaceflight Museum


Sean FitzGerald said...

Part of the problem is the unfortunate name, which instantly gives the impression that Second Life is an alternative to First Life.

I'm finding it quite suprising how quick people are to judge Second Life, often without having any real understanding what it is and what it can do.

There also seems to be an (unchallenged) assumption that Second Life is pure fantasy and escapism. Yet, as your examples point out, there are plenty of people who are exploring ways to use Second Life to build a better (real) world, but these are often overlooked.

You are right - the reaction it provokes is quite strong, even aggressive... something weird is going on.

It's all very reminiscent of 1995 - "Why would anybody want to sit in front of the computer for hours surfing this web thing?"

LaBlogga said...

Hi Sean, thanks for the comment, you're right, a different name might be helpful.

I've been laughing at the number of times I hear people now refer to the Internet as REALITY when they are having metaverse world discussions...I wonder what will be after immersive worlds

Anonymous said...

most people cannot comprehend how much SL and virtuality are going to change the internet and social interaction.

imagine the imapct when

(1) we can host entire SL islands (even worlds) on systems in our physical possession, under our control, via open standards and fiber optic interconnection

(2) the current concept of SL evolves into an integrated extension of the internet user interface

(3) VR technology moves beyond the graphical capabilites of today's (for example) Sony PS3

(4) ease of use is several orders of magnitude higher

Compare Windows 3.1's interface to Vista, or Mac OS 1.0 to Leopard.

This is the order of difference in capacity and capability which will be possible in two years.

LaBlogga said...

Hi vaporland, thank you for your detailed ideas. I totally agree with you - immersive world technology will likely be so advanced as to be unrecognizable in 2 years.

It will be amazing what you will be able to do. Hundreds of developers are already using to create their own virtual worlds, you should check it out.

And in the near future all those nay-sayers will probably be even more immersed in virtual worlds than they are in tv.

Anonymous said...

People often fail to realize that "activities" in Second Life can also have purpose. I'm currently using SL to supplement my ESL (English as a Second Language)lessons here in Germany. More info at:

Great blog - thx! Am coming back to read more!

LaBlogga said...

Hi Mister Kip, thank you for your comment, there are so many productive uses of SL and its great that you are using SL for ESL learning. How cool. Great website.