Much depends on the circumstances, or your point of view – for the socially inept, a few dozen strangers can seem an inordinate amount, whilst others might routinely find themselves in positions in front of hundreds, maybe even thousands of people hanging on their every word.
It’s all relative: ten people in a lift can be far too many, whilst the same number of people in a multi-storey car park in the dark of night can feel like far too few to those of a nervous disposition. Even a few thousand people can seem a smallish number when absorbed into a large space.
A short time ago, i went – for the first time in years – to a rugby international. The gate for the day was 61,326, which by anyone’s reckoning is rather a large number of people, however as i looked around at the crowd i shared the space with, a rather surprising fact popped into my head. There were more people present in that stadium than there are inworld on most occasions that i log in.
To put it another way, you could take all the sl users inworld at any given time and fit every one of them into a decent sized rugby stadium, and still have a quite a few empty seats, (somewhere in the region of 15 000 empty seats, actually!)
When a fact like that hits you, it’s hard not to think of sl as being very, very small indeed – and it is… although the full Grid is theoretically around 140 times the world’s surface area, in real terms the amount of space that’s occupied is about the size of Luxembourg, and that really is titchy. We’re talking proper tiny – like considering ourselves in relation to the universe, in much the same way that the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy attempts to do…
‘Bigger than the biggest thing ever and then some. Much bigger than that in fact, really amazingly immense, a totally stunning size, real ‘wow, that’s big’, time. Infinity is just so big that by comparison, bigness itself looks really titchy. Gigantic multiplied by colossal multiplied by staggeringly huge is the sort of concept we’re trying to get across here.’
Indeed, when you consider that the active population of sl is around the one million mark, with an average concurrency of about 57 000, when set against the real world population of somewhere in excess of seven billion, sl pales into tiny insignificance. You could take the entire population of sl and house them in Birmingham (either one: UK or Alabama, there’s not much difference in terms of size), and there’d still be plenty of room to spare.
Even in the virtual world, it’s very easy to feel like the only person on the virtual planet. The pixel population is pretty sparsely spread across much of the Grid, and it’s incredibly easy to find entire regions devoid of souls as you travel around, which makes me wonder how on earth the sl economy manages to survive at all. After all, any rl business needs customers to survive, and it’s no different for virtual businesses, including Linden Lab itself, but with such a low population density you can’t help but wonder who exactly is sustaining the economy? Even the most lavish spending on the Marketplace must be so thinly spread that surely nobody can ever make a profit?
And don’t tell me that tier ensures sl’s continued survival. Consider the amount of land that you get for your money. First – of course – moan, and complain that it’s too damn little. Finished? – Ok, now consider how much that same piece of land would set you back in rl and you’ll realise that virtual land is peanuts in comparison to the real thing. Plus there’s a heck of a lot less virtual real estate than the real thing, so less cash paying the Lab’s bills – i bet the income from land tier barely covers the annual rental the Lab pays out for 945 Battery Street.
i can’t help wondering how sl even survives… yet it does.
Maybe the key is something more than numbers? Whilst i looked around at my fellow rugby fans crowding the Millennium Stadium, i realised that ticket costs, travel expenses and the effort of getting to the match, though they may have been significant, wouldn’t have stopped the majority of those 61 326 people from turning up and supporting their team – they were there because they were passionate about the game.
And perhaps it’s passion that keeps sl going too.
One mind, one heart
Every creed, every color
Once joined, never apart
Kiri Te Kanawa – World In Union