Get a life…


Here’s an interesting story about Second Life: a US House of Representatives committee held the first congressional hearing in Second Life. I didn’t look into this, but it sounds believable enough. My alter ego Zen-like self asks, “is there a difference between the “virtual” and the other Congress?” And how can I tell them apart?


Second Life is kind of like Robby the Robot for the twenty-first century. Sure it sounds cool (and you can fly), you can alter your personal identity [somewhere in there is my avatar – floating aimlessly], and it’s a great way to pick up chicks. Oh, wait. It’s not real! In an older podcast or broadcast, Leo Laporte had a mini-rant worthy of DM on Second Life. I’ll paraphrase, “the only thing about this thing is that you can fly, idealize your physical image in the form of a cartoon avatar, and there’s a lot of exposed genitalia flying around here too.”


I had to stop and wonder after reading this news story if Congress doesn’t already have enough of a history with sex scandals that they now want to expose themselves virtually rather than in real life? I guess on the upside of this, Tip O’Neill and Newt Gingrich are no longer in the House – the thought of either of them flying around in the buff is enough for me to seriously consider supporting Ralph Nader for President!


But seriously, I hear a lot of discussions (mostly against) surrounding the increasingly virtualized world, and I have to sit and have a think. Most of the naysayers against virtualization projects, including Second Life, denounce the lack of personal interaction or something to do with the disconnected (anomie) of society. OK, two thoughts on this one: (1) as an extension of the Internet and the flat world, virtualization makes sense; and (2) it’s fine to rant about the polarization and atomization of society à la Durkheim or Giddens (here’s a great diversion on this topic), but what about the new networks being created bring the troglodytes of the world together?


Admittedly, there’s a lot of potential creepiness. Remember the early days of online chat, discussion lists, and early community sites? The anonymity of the Internet (kind of like a techno-trench coat) has been great cover for creeps and other ne’er-do-wells. Moreover, there are tools to surf the Internet anonymously (proxy servers) – or nearly anonymously [beware since these are workarounds, there are, of course, workarounds to the workarounds…and to paraphrase a popular entrepreneurial adage, “where there’s a will, there’s a way – and that cuts both ways.”].


Second Life has grown beyond the Pervert Stage (my own Internet taxonomy of the Internet evolution). While the freaks have staked out their island territories and there’s plenty of virtual sex (someone has to pay for the bandwidth); there are also many interesting places to visit. Education sites include Harvard, UC-Berkley (couldn’t find their link), NASA, and NOAA. Of interest to my 5033 readers, there’s also an LIS site (at least one). And, naturally, there are several computer science islands and locations within Second Life.


At the end of the day, I’m torn between the allure and possibilities of the virtual world and the potential for disconnect. Virtual worlds, such as Second Life, offer fantasy, distance learning, and an amazing opportunity to share and exchange information and knowledge. For example, in many ways I already work in a virtual office. My company has a brick-and-mortar (real world) office, but we’re also spread out in small numbers across the country and overseas. I don’t punch a time clock in the conventional sense; so what’s to prevent a company from creating a presence in Second Life – there are a few (outside of the Linden-seeking entrepreneurs)? Webcams would become obsolete, but then everyone showing up for a staff or board meeting would be flying around in various states of buffness…hmm, food for thought!


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