07 November 2007

Second life? I'm still trying to get a first life..

Today my media audience and research class was out of this world -- rather, it was in the world of Second Life. To say that Second Life has always weirded me out is an understatement, but I couldn't help but find it an intriguing concept, so I was somewhat pleased to find out that my professor wanted us to learn about it by experiencing it. Instead of meeting in our traditional classroom that exists in the physical world (sooo last year), we met at the virtual University of Idaho campus.

That's me in the middle, with my hands on my head (don't ask why -- I couldn't tell you). My professor is standing in the front and the rest of us are attempting to take a seat... some of the class had not yet figured our how to sit. Like the fox-person on the left, for example.

So after our initial meeting, we divided ourselves into groups (quite a task when you're dealing with pixels, not people) and decided to "teleport" into different areas. The purpose of this from an educational standpoint was to perform ethnographic research about the users of Second Life.

My group made its first stop at the so-called flea market mall and yard sale. We arrived to what looked like a deserted shopping mall. The only two people I saw were on their knees scrubbing the floor to earn Linden dollars. Wait, what? People actually choose to spend their free time going online to scrub a virtual floor to earn virtual dollars? This was a surprise to me. One nice floor-scrubber -- who somehow managed to alter his appearance to look like Snoopy (wtf?) -- tipped us off to a cool location. He gave us a link that teleported us, but this one was no more entertaining than the first. Plus, somehow in the process of teleporting, I lost touch with my group. The last place I went, sans group, was some kind of Japanese dance club. People were standing on colorful pads and dancing. Upon further inspection I learned that they earned money as they danced. No one was even chatting; they all just stood on their pads dancing robotically.

Now that I have dipped my toe into the Second Life pond, I have to say it no longer creeps me out as much. Instead it just makes me somewhat sad. Why are hundreds of thousands of people exerting so much effort in this digitalized world that is like real life, but more boring? Communication is difficult and tedious because the flow of chat was often slowed when a lot was going on, and images often took a long time to load, so it doesn't serve well as a chat room when compared to traditional text-only chat rooms. Overall it was difficult to establish and maintain contact with people, even the two people in my group who I specifically set out to remain in contact with. Almost all of the people I came across were just trying to make a Linden buck.

Honestly, it seemed as though people were most concerned with making money to buy virtual land and new outfits than to make meaningful online friendships. Kind of reminds me of real life, come to think of it.

Oh, one redeeming quality I did forget to mention: in Second Life, you can fly. That's pretty sweet.

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