If you’ve read my first book, or heard me speak at a local event here in Bozeman, or read my occasional blog rants, or magazine articles about how poorly supported this generation of young parents are in our fast-paced culture, then you won’t be surprised by the contents of this post:
Last night, PBS aired a program about Second Life; the virtual world that, apparently, millions of people around the real world participate in. Created by Linden Lab, this virtual world called “The Grid” by its’ members, is supposedly a place where you can “go” to meet other people, socialize, do business, attend distanced learning college classes, and live out your wildest (or maybe not so wild) fantasies. You can fly for crying out loud! I mean, who wouldn’t want to be able to do that?
When a person (a real, live, growing, eating, breathing person) joins Second Life, they create an avitar for themself that may resemble their true self, may look like a “new and improved” version of their true self (think big muscles, big breasts, more or better hair…you get the picture) or may look nothing like their true self. (Apparently, it is common for people to choose a “furry” avatar…some animal figure in clothes, or maybe even a robot.)
During PBS’ show, several Second Life participants were interviewed…all raving about the “experience” they have had helping to create this on-line universe. One woman, her avatar apparently being “the most famous” character in this pixelated world, boasts about the business she runs through Second Life–a virtual fashion design boutique through which she sells custom-made clothing to other people’s avatars. And yes, she receives real U.S. dollars for this.
You see, here’s the catch. Second Life has some sort of system through which players pay real money to participate…to “buy land” where they can build whatever the hell they want…and even buy clothes for their avatars. And, at some point, you can “cash in” your money…and receive real U.S. dollars ( I assume the check comes from Linden Lab).
If you’re a little slow on the uptake, let me spell it out loud and clear for you:
PEOPLE ARE ENTERING THEIR CREDIT CARD NUMBERS INTO THEIR COMPUTERS SO THEIR CARTOON CHARACTER SELVES CAN WEAR CLOTHES, DRIVE CARS, LIVE IN HOUSES, ETC. AS IF WE AREN’T OVER SPENDING IN REAL LIFE…NOW WE CAN SPEND EVEN MORE MONEY IN A SECOND LIFE AS WELL!
The woman who runs the fashion boutique in Second Life? The Lindens (the term for SL money) she “earns” translates into upwards of $3,000 USD/month at the time of filming the program.
Now, before you get all hot & bothered to join SL and start your own virtual business, may I step in as the voice of reason and suggest a few things?
1. THIS IS THE MOST IDIOTIC THING I HAVE EVER HEARD OF
2. In the name of “social interaction” people are spending what I presume to be HOURS in front of their computer screens…ALONE…pretending to interact with other folks.
3. Because of the anonymity of SL (from what I understand, rarely do the people behind the avatars of SL reveal their true selves to each other) strange things can potentially happen in this shrouded Internet world. I have to wonder, what types of behaviors are displayed within the confines of SL that would be considered culturally inappropriate in the real world? What is so wrong with these people that they have to hide behind a cartoon character in order to gain a little “social interaction?” And how can this form of “social interaction” replace, or even come close to satisfying the germaine need for human interaction that sets us apart from many creatures of the animal world?
To me, this is down-right scary: that people would invest hundreds of hours of their time, and who-knows how many hundreds of dollars, to participate in a pretend world.
In case you didn’t notice people, THERE’S AN AWFULLY BIG WORLD ALL AROUND YOU WITH A LOT OF real PEOPLE IN IT THAT YOU CAN INTERACT WITH!
And to the woman who earns thousands of dollars a month selling virtual clothing to other people’s virtual selves, I say: more power to you (I guess). You’re earning money off of other people who are stupid enough to pay you for the pretend clothing you apparently don’t have the courage (or whatever) enough to make in the REAL WORLD.
Lastly, and before my hands go numb, I must propose this:
Our westernized culture is becoming more and more disconnected all the time. People have their noses wedged so deep into their Blackberry’s, laptop computers (me being one of them), iPhones and the like…that they are forgetting how important face-to-face human interaction is. And quiet space, for that matter.
Are we really becoming a generation that doesn’t know how to unplug? Have we lost the ability to go to a park, sit in the grass, watch the wind blow through the trees and just be satisfied? Have we forgotten the lovely Serotonin rush that happens after a really good, heartfelt coffee date with a friend?
How do you nurture another person in Second Life? How do you give someone a hug that feels like a hug? How do you take joy in the sound of a friend’s laughter in a virtual world?
My God, what has this world (this real world) come to that people are feeling the need to escape into a make-believe world for “social interaction?”
Here’s a KQUED segment on Second Life that will give you, if you don’t already know about this stuff, a little glimpse: