Property is theft, according to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and – depending on your point of view – he may well have been right. However, i’m not so sure we’d apply that particular principle to sl, judging by the vast inventories that so many of us lug around our virtual lives. Even the most frugal of us, it seems, are not immune to inventory bloat, and though we may do our best to avoid spending our hard-earned lindens on new clutter, it still manages to accumulate, thanks to hunts, freebies and the inumerable objects we create, copy or pick up on our way around sl. If sl property is theft, then most of us should be languishing behind bars right now.
Stuff is far easier to come by in sl than its real world equivalent and i think we probably have a different set of values when it comes to virtual property. If we had the means, and the desire to accumulate things in rl in the same manner we do in the virtual world, then i’ve no doubt that we’d soon be swimming up to our necks in ‘indispensible’ items – our homes would fill to overflowing with furniture, ornaments and goodness knows what, spilling out into the streets, covering our gardens and turning us all into complete and utter hoarders. When i look at my inventory, i’m reminded of the Junk Woman from Labyrinth, and if i was to turf its entire contents out into the real world, there simply wouldn’t be enough room to accomodate it all! Apparently, there’s enough self-storage in the USA to give every American citizen 7 feet of space… believe me, the average sl citizen would need considerably more than that!
That’s by no means the only problem with applying sl principles to rl property. We’d not only need vastly increased access to storage, but we’d also need to think very carefully about how we dispose of things we don’t want. There are few things in sl that i find as annoying as random junk left lying where its owner dumped it. During my travels i’ve found vehicles at the bottom of the sea and embedded into mountains, wooden blocks of every size and shape, and broken bits of buildings, dangling in mid air – all rubbish, and all abandoned without a thought about who is going to clean things up. Now think about the colossal amount of waste and trash we produce in rl: we live in a throwaway society, but that simply wouldn’t be possible if our rl objects possessed the same system of permissions as our sl ones.
Picture a world full of rubbish that only its owner can delete, or for that matter, move. The resulting clutter from careless errors, plain forgetfulness and malicious intent, simply doesn’t bear thinking about. The ultimate sanction, is of course, to return the offending items to their owner: but what do you do when that person has passed on? And, even when those items do re-appear in the owner’s lost and found closet, what then? It’s simply the same trash, just in a different location… and if the owner doesn’t want to delete it, it has to go somewhere!
There are some advantages to having possessions with permissions: for a start, it would put a sudden end to the burglary business – something might be worth taking, but you’re a bit stuck if you can’t actually steal it! Then there’s those expensive and precious items that we inevitably manage to knock off shelves, lose, or drive into walls. If we could just delete the wreckage and rez a copy, imagine how much frustration, annoyance and tears could be saved, not to mention reduced insurance premiums all round.
Maybe, with a responsible attitude and rigorous enforcement of a few commonsense rules, we could get away with sl style possessions in rl, but my gut feeling – even if it was possible – is that it wouldn’t really be the same. Things in sl are so easy to come by: we don’t necessarily have to work to obtain them, and we have a different sense of value when it comes to our virtual goods – to say they are no different to real world possessions is to misunderstand the yawning gap between the real and virtual worlds, there are vast differences, and it would be foolish to pretend there aren’t.
Besides, i really wouldn’t want to slim down my inventory, anyway!
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
John Lennon – Imagine