Someone mentioned to me that they were surprised by how much I hate Second Life, so I probably need to put the record straight. I don’t hate Second Life. In fact I love Second Life – above you can see my alter ego Taito Dahlstrom wearing his favourite grey leggings whilst having a great time in his favourite club Kittens.
I think Linden Labs have created an amazing piece of real Science Fiction. The fact that it’s got as big as it has, supporting an incredible virtual currency and giving such a huge amount of freedom to inhabitants is utterly astounding. From an academic and technological point of view it’s simply stunning.
The issues that I have with it are all around the way that it’s being used and abused by outsiders. And they’re the same issues I’d have with First Life stuff. If a big brand wandered into a small rural village and set up a mega-office without understanding the local way of life and the cultural implications of their actions, I’d be pretty pissed off too. But I gues if I was really bothered I’d do something about it in Second Life, just like the vocal activists are. Maybe as a voyeur and occasional dipper-in, I’m no better than a brand who isn’t properly involved either.
A brand going into Second Life feels different to setting up a website. A website has a kind of semi-physical presence, but it feels slightly different. Easier to avoid perhaps. Maybe it’s to do with the fact that a website doesn’t take up any space, I’m not sure how many atoms there are in a website, but I don’t think it’s many. A megamall in Second Life on the other hand feels like it has real volume. It’s been created with bricks and mortar, albeit virtual bricks and mortar. And therefore it feels like it’s made up of stacks of virtual atoms.
I think without realising it, I’ve just demonstrated why Second Life is so interesting. It raises all kinds of questions about the nature and value of virtual stuff. When I’ve talked to people about virtual services in Second Life (for example a virtual lapdance at Kittens) at first they’ve been really dismissive, then when they get their heads around it, they’re totally blown away by the idea.
And I think that’s the crux of it right now. The idea and the concept is so damn infectious and inspiring that creative people get really excited by it. But until you’ve hung around in there for a bit and realised how cumbersome it can be to do ordinary things in there, you don’t really get a feel for it.
Take for example listening to a presentation in Second Life (e.g. this interview with Chris Anderson (YouTube)). If you could take a seat in the hall (I’m very poor at even managing the basics like sitting down). Then manage to face in the right direction. You’d be subjected to reading a text based interview -v-e-r-y- -s-l-o-w-l-y-. And perhaps there is a feeling of presence, but for me, no more so than a live online chat. Currently the experience of this kind of thing is poor, and can be done better elsewhere in the digital space.
Which goes back to a point that I’ve made before, it seems odd to try to slavishly replicate real world ways of doing things, when you’re not constrained by the same set of rules. For example, in real life gravity is sometimes useful, but other times it can be such a chore. In Second Life, it’s up to you!
I’ve no doubt that online worlds like Second Life have got a massive future, I guess the question for me is whether it’s future is as an entertainment environment or an environment for communication and getting things done. Or once the technology’s good enough maybe my issues become null and void.
I love Second Life. And I love that it makes people think about digital and virtual worlds in new and interesting ways.