Ask most died-in-the-wool Second-Lifers what is central to their virtual life and they will no doubt talk to you about the time they spend inworld, living out their own Second Life. That might seem a pretty obvious statement, but if we were to pull the camera back just a little to take in the wider scene, we’d find that there is an even more nebulous and diverse virtual universe that revolves around sl – and a whole host of peripheral connections and conduits that spread out from sl in every direction.
This vast virtual and quasi-virtual environment ranges from those pursuits and activities that are intrinsically related to the nuts and bolts of sl, through the gamut of interconnections, parallels and tangents to the virtual world, and continues outwards to a eclectic mix of spin-offs, where the links to sl may be tenuous, but are nevertheless formative influences. In many ways, we can think of sl as a kind of DNA – in some cases, the strand remains unchanged through generations and countless iterations, where in others, mutations and changes to the code spawn new and ever-more diverse familial offspring. Sometimes the ever-evolving metaverse will come to an evolutionary dead end, whilst in other directions, the strands will adapt and survive, sometimes producing a result that bears little relation to the original… yet, poke around in the virtual closet and you’ll find that essential sl double-helix at the centre of it all.
At this point, you’re no doubt thinking that Haven needs to get a grip and come back to reality – but, i suppose, it’s often the reality of Second Life’s sphere of influence that we fail to grasp. All too frequentl, we residents tend to view ourselves as a minority – a smallish group of people, involved in a niche activity that, by and large, is completely ignored and unknown to society in general. That is perfectly true if we consider sl to be just a virtual world – but to me that is akin to saying that the internet is just a means of sharing information. It is the sum of Second Life’s parts – which is not limited to the inworld experience – that reaches way beyond the simplistic view we tend to take of it.
Consider how the DNA of sl is promulgated, we have as our first point of reference, our inworld activity – the things we see, hear and experience; but sl is not a static environment – like an internet radio station that plays the same programme every day – it is dynamic and participative: and this is where we begin to see its influence reaching out. We respond to sl by being creative – some build, some design clothing, some invest in virtual businesses and, although all these things are essentially inworld activities, the sl DNA begins to exert its grip outside the confines of the viewer. Driven by the need to further their own sl expertise, designers and creators build upon their skills in Photoshop, Blender, Gimp and a whole range of other tools – tools that have a wider application than purely sl and which equip their users with a whole range of abilities that can be turned to other, real world productivity.
Then there are those – like me – for whom sl provides the inspiration for writing… for photography, stories, art, broadcasting, music and more esoteric pursuits. These in turn may spawn other activities – where the link with sl is less defined, if visible at all, yet without sl as the spark, the flame would never exist. There must, for example, be many bloggers like myself for whom sl provided the first steps into using the written word, which in turn has led to writing unrelated to the virtual world and far removed from avatars, teleports and lag.
Let’s not forget the programmers and technical wizards, the musicians and artists, the researchers and academics who have found things of worth in sl that have inspired, developed and fostered ideas, talent and even careers that, in the absence of sl, may never have even been conceived!
To be honest, i’m fed up with reading about how sl is ‘dying’ and how things are at an all-time low – for one thing, i don’t believe it and, for another, if that’s truly the case then i don’t imagine for one minute that there’s much we can do about it… unless you have a couple of hundred million dollars spare and want to run the company, of course! i happen to think that such talk is in no small part due to narrow-minded thinking on our part, a blinkered appreciation of the outrageous potential of sl, and a virtual world view that stops the minute we log out. SL is patently – for a huge majority of users – far more than the few hours we may spend inworld; it is certainly not just pixels; and its DNA – the impact that it has on our lives and upon the real world – has the potential to extend way beyond the confines and limitations that we choose to impose – and believe – about the SLuniverse.
Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.
The Beatles – Strawberry Fields For Ever