Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Second Life as a study in social dynamics

Second Life is seductive, addictive and intimate. It is jolly good fun.

Like Odysseus wanting to heed the Siren's call even as he was strapped to the mast of his ship, I find myself caught between the call of Second Life with its sheer fun, play, friendships and inspirational ideas and the sludgy entrapment of my First Life world with its mundane "duties" and other such responsibilities.

A scene in The Matrix describes how the human being is essentially being used as a "battery" for a vast machine. Our bio-electrical chemistry can be harnessed to generate a sordid, mechanical, austere, hard and blood-thirsty "life" on a post-apocalyptic planet despondent with darkness and barrenness of soul.

The humans who flee being a mere conduit of power for the hungry machines, endure vast hardships in order to remain "free".

One of the characters, Cypher, tires of this hard life and snitches on his fellow compatriots, in exchange for opting out of this life of drudgery and fear and reverting into being a battery again where his body is plugged back into the mainframe but his mind is fed this wonderful imaginary, completely seductive and beautiful "Reality" of existence. He wants to BELIEVE he is a powerful, sexually potent, wealthy and beautiful character inside this imaginary tale, fed into his brain by the machine, which itself, feeds off him.

Second Life has the potential to do the same for many people in this current life we know. We would rather enjoy the freedom inside our imagination even while under physical duress and stress than deal with those stresses and responsibilities in our first life for real!

That is a dark and rather alarming prospect but seriously? Why would ANYONE want to struggle for attention, affection, understanding and admiration in this life when these things are so easy and exciting to grasp hold of in Second Life? The allure of virtual worlds is the escape from the mundane after all.

Second Life is fundamentally about creativity and relationship. We can have either or we can have both. We can be as creative and as imaginative in our expression of our skills and abilities as we want to be... AND/OR we can create the Tribe we want to be with; one which promises to meet our emotional, intellectual and even to a point, our physical needs for intimacy and connection.

I've mentioned before that you can choose to be anything you want to be inside Second Life. You can create a persona that you feel "best" illuminates (or even hides) the true essence of your first life persona. If you choose not to use the voice facility this makes it even easier to create yourself into whatever you perceive yourself to be. You are the hero/heroine of your own story! It may write itself but you control the depth of that process.

As society fragments and we each become more and more isolated physically, in our first life (A recent report into population projections for households in Australia suggests that by 2026, 15.3% of our population will be living in lone households*), virtual worlds will play an increasing role in maintaining our need for social contacts. These contacts will begin to take on significantly more meaning over time to the point where cyber marriages and long-term cyber relationships as a whole, will become increasingly recognized as formal social alliances. The raft of political and legal implications in this trend will be enormous! The new world order of virtual community will begin to create a major impact on physical real life community. The cross-over will be ubiquitous, chaotic, and increasingly difficult for governments of all kinds to control or organize.

This will have both advantages for individuals and also, I believe, gross disadvantages for other socio-political reasons. Not everyone who uses SL is ethical or looking for connection with other like-minded souls...the ability to manipulate people in a virtual world is every bit as real and as potent as it is in FL - and much harder to recognize!

Still! Second Life right now in its toddling first steps as a "new" social paradigm, is effective in transcending time, place, gender and identity. It gives the world a new way of perceiving the Self, the Other and the "Us" of relationship and expands the possibilities of creative process and endeavor.

So while my sense of organization and order in my First Life is being severely undermined by my tendency to engage inside Second Life: while my FL bed stays unmade, my FL work is in a sort of stasis, my FL world is in this rather dreamy, sluggish, meandering mood of summertime laziness; I am compelled and drawn to escaping into another world of my own making and design...the world of my imagination assisted as it is by software and technology.

FL is simply boring at the moment! On the other Second Life is awash with energy, burgeoning friendships, creative pursuits and even "real" work of sorts (manipulating prims IS hard work you know! :)).

I could not give a fig about the bed I sleep in or the food I eat or the dishes in the dishwasher (hey? at least they are actually IN IT!)... just let me tweak trees and shrubs into position in "my garden"; talk to H and M, the Major, dear Archer and my virtual Landlord in conversations that energize and feed me in so many unspoken ways.

Second Life and the myriad of virtual worlds that are already available to people are here to stay. There may be darkness on their horizon but it won't be any less frightening that the cruel darkness of mundane responsibility we potentially face every waking moment of our First Lives.

(* cited from

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