Originally uploaded by SunToad.
The One Man: So, what's up with you and this Second Life thing.
Me: Dude, it totally rocks.
TOM: How so?
Me: It just does.
TOM: Well, what's it like?
Me: It's like the most awesomest awesome thing ever.
And so on. So, here's a slightly more coherent version of why I'm enjoying SL so much.
Remember back about six or seven years ago, when all the social aspects of the web had yet to be developed to the point that they are today, and the internet was purely site to user based for shopping, etc.? If you wanted to talk to other people and just, hang out, you had to go to chat room, bbs', and the like. A lot of the time, people would log into these places from an FTP client and the user would have to know several commands or even a bit of coding to really navigate their way around.
Well, that's a bit what Second Life is like. SL is a natural evolution of the chat room. This thought struck me today as I was just hanging out. In real life, I was at home and waiting. My wife and I were going to be going to a party and we had about forty-five minutes before we needed to leave. I didn't feel like starting anything as I would just be getting into gear when I would have to stop, so I logged in and plopped "myself" as it were, into a deck chair and opened up a chat window for whomever happened to feel like chatting. Just like I used to do in the halcyon days of 2000 when I would do the same thing from my cube, when the boss wasn't looking.
People just came by to say hi, to ask questions, to babble about music or movies they liked, and just to have some social interaction in general. Which, of course, is where the immediate criticism comes in – why weren't these people out trying to have a real life, instead of a virtual one? Well, for a lot of reasons. Maybe they were killing time at home, like myself, or maybe they were in an isolated area (also like myself), or perhaps they have some ailment that prevents them from leaving their house much. Or maybe they're just shy.
But for whatever reason, real communication, with real people, does happen inside the virtual world. The avatars make it a bit more natural, as instead of an emoticon, your avatar can actually perform functions like waving a hand or nodding his or her head to agree. As a caveat, I will say that degree to which a given user perceives the communication as natural must depend on how comfortable they are with modern, electronic forms of communication; as I said, I have been using bbs and forums and chat rooms for many years, and this just seems to be the latest iteration on the road to a true metaverse, a la, William Gibson or Neal Stephenson.
That's only scratching the surface. I really think that for any budding sociologists out there, they would be doing themselves a great disservice by not logging some time in any of the growing number of virtual worlds and checking out the animals roaming freely about the zoo, pretending it's the great wilderness that they only think they want it to be.