Thursday, March 20, 2008

Second Life? I Barely Have Time for the First One!

I attended a course on social media yesterday, and came upon some interesting discoveries. The notion of "social" media, for anyone who isn't familiar with it, refers to the fact that the consumption of media today follows a more interactive path than the standard one-to-one experience. Sure, it can be argued that this was always the case, but the stakes have certainly changed.

Think about it: "back in the day", you could read a newspaper or magazine article and if you wanted to comment on something, you'd have to pull out a pad of paper and a pen (or a computer), compose your letter to the editor, fit it into an envelope, stick on a 35-cent stamp, and chuck it into the mailbox. Even just a few years ago, you could certainly send an e-mail to the publisher, but a quick hit of the "delete" button meant that your commentary was likely never heard by anyone but the recipient. Today, via blogs like this one and Website commenting features, one is able to give his two cents at the drop of a hat for literally the world to see! When it comes to TV, the viewing experience used to be 100% passive. Nowadays, we're constantly prompted to call (or text!) in a vote, questions, or even join in a game to win prizes...right from your couch!

The entire nature of media has changed. "Texting" has replaced what was known as "normal" conversation for the younger generation; and, taking things a step further, "virtual" worlds are constantly colliding with our real one. Part of the discussion yesterday was about Second Life, a virtual, online "world" where people can create avatars (likenesses) of themselves, and basically live a second life. Companies have built buildings and stores in Second Life; people buy and sell things with real money, join together for conferences, and pretty much do anything they can do in real life (and more). Supposedly people have made millions running "virtual" businesses in Second Life. Needless to say, we were all wide-eyed in awe that anyone would have the time to live a second life, and asked ourselves why would they even want to?

I took a step back and tried to think with an open mind. If computers and portable devices are replacing books and newspapers, and interactive TV is taking over the old passive, TV-viewing experience, what are virtual worlds replacing? Second Life is like a video game, and people use video games, and other similar activities, to somewhat escape from the real world, right? Then it dawned on me. Virtual worlds are like movies where you're the star. It's your own, interactive movie experience. But why would people want to control the outcome of a story? I'm not sure, but they obviously do: this got me thinking back to the old Choose Your Own Adventure series of books that let the reader flip to page X if he wanted the character to do one thing, or flip to page Y for an alternate course of action. This notion of control, and being involved in the media you're engaging in, has obviously been around longer than we realize.

Would I participate in a virtual world? Probably not. But then again, I did love those Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was a kid because, to some degree, I could control the story.

There's always an underlying fear that all this "social" media could lead to a very anti-social community as people communicate more with their computers and less with real people. But then again, maybe this is just a different way of communicating, and not a way to replace the old methods.


Anonymous said...

I suspect that all this "new world order" is far from evolving and that we have still a long way to go. Perhaps we will never again truly understanding how people are going to use of abuse it as it will always be evolving? When it comes to social networking...perhaps 3 or 4
generations from now we will all re-discover the wonderful simplicty of printing out a hard copy document and enjoying in great solitude without the aid of batteries or AC!!

Tateru Nino said...

There's no controlling the outcome in a virtual world like Second Life. It's a digital space, not a separate world.

Think IRC or the Web or email. Real people, real communications, real business activity. The world metaphor and the avatars just generate a sense of presence for the interactions of real people who are physically distant from one another.

Kiara said...

There are many reasons for creating and sustaining a presence in 3d virtual environments such as Second Life, depending on who you talk to.

First of all, one must have "the time" to do so, along with a fairly descent computer to handle the graphics and such. Second life offers opportunities for digital creativity for people like me who enjoy art, music and poetry as a side line. One can connect there on many levels with others.

Second life has become for modern people what used to be primitive men and women gathering around a communal fire to share stories and song. With Second Life though, the community consist of people from all over the world.

TV to me is the same thing, though not as interactive. A kind of communal gathering of the mind. I am not a TV viewer myself which is one reason I have a couple hours each day to have a Second Life.

JET said...

We hear all the time about how wonderful it is to have a sense of community that is from all over the world. I wonder why you have to look all over the world for your sense of community instead of looking in your own back yard! Kids texting rather than talking, colleges emailing rather than walking down the hall to communicate, folks living in a Second Life rather than concentrating on their first. 130 million bloggers full of self importance who feel they have something relevant to say. An abundance of narcism looking to see who can attract the most viewers. Is it not a little mad?

Remember the black out in Toronto a few years ago? No gadgets, neighbours talking?

Tateru Nino said...

Well, there's the thing. EVERYONE has something relevant to say. That's human interaction and conversation in a nutshell.

Not everything a person has to say may be relevant to you. Or perhaps you don't think it is. In either case you'll seek to cast your net wider for the same interactions. Traditionally this was done with travel.

Kiara said...

What if virtual environments and other electronic communications and technologies were in addition to and enhancements to face to face and physical interactions and community?

A Story:
Back in primitive times, just after people had tamed and controlled fire into the communal circle, there were some who stayed away saying "What happened to the days when we would just curl up and go to sleep? Or we wandered cold and in the darkness? Or we huddled together to keep warm and to find comfort in the days when we ate our meats and fruits raw?

Upon the invention of language and books, the technology naysayers attacked once again. They did so when the telegraph was born and then telephone and electricity, came about. (Oh my!)

And in the end all the mattered was that the people of the world,near and far, were communicating.

The End. :-)

Anonymous said...


You said: "I wonder why you have to look all over the world for your sense of community instead of looking in your own back yard!"

It's not an either/or. I exist quite happily in my local and family communities, but also in online ones at several levels, including Second Life. I get different things from each - for example I'm in my mid-40s and a software developer. I'm totally conversant with computers and web technologies (like I find what's new and cool before my kids :-). I know no-one offline of a similar age who is anything like me and I can have a decent conversation with about techie stuff, social impact and all that kinda thing. Online I know quite a lot of people and that's a community that gives me something I can never get in the back yard.
Unless you are very vanilla you are certain to have an interest in something that isn't common around you - be that tech like me, organic cabbage varieties, 18th century needlepoint or whatever. Online you can find other people who share your passions - why deny yourself the tools to enrich your life experience just because conversation is though the keyboard or headset?

Marketnews - Christine Persaud said...

Hi All,

Thanks for the comments. You are really helping me understand what this "virtual world" is all about. From your comments, I gather it's not just a fun pasttime, but also a way to connect with others around the world that share a similar interest, whether it be poetry, fine wine, or gaming. Sure, you could search your local area and arrange a weekly meeting, but who has time, right? I'm sure everyone does have something they do locally - a book club, a day at the park with the neighbourhood kids, a weekly sports gathering, etc. But there are some niche interests that there isn't time nor people to satisfy in your area. So I guess this is where virtual worlds come in. I would think that, as with anything else, it all depends on managing time. If you're spending hours on end at the computer in your virtual life ignoring your real one, then there's a problem. But if you find that balance, and simply treat it as a "hobby", then why not? Really, how is it any different from watching TV, checking e-mail, or reading a book? It's your alone time, and it's up to you what you want to do with it.

As for me, I'll continue to live in my "real" world and restrict my hobbies to watching TV and reading books. But for those who enjoy the Second Life, more power to ya!