Stranger in a strange land

I’ve spent several hours wandering around the Second Life landscape over the last few days, and a couple of things have become clear to me.

The first is that the interface has a steep learning curve. I know that it has probably been designed for younger and more plastic minds than mine, but even so it is still insanely complicated. I haven’t really got the hang of moving around without banging into things and falling down hillsides yet, which must make me look pretty uncool, and certainly makes me too conscious of my newbie status to try interacting with anyone. I have managed to customise my virtual appearance, but only to the extent of trading my generic white shirt for a green one. I’m clearly going to have to devote a considerable period of in-world time to acclimatisation, and since I have at most four (discontinuous) real-time hours to spend on this per week it’s going to be while before I’ll be able to call myself a naturalised resident.

The second thing I have realised is that my original ambition for this blog is completely unachievable. In my first post I said that “my intention is … to wander around … Second Life and report back on what I find, enlightening readers with erudite comments on the interaction that occurs there.” Even a brief visit to the grid has made me aware that that plan is about as realistic as saying “Hey, I’ve just heard about this country called Argentina. I’m going to go over there for the weekend, then come back and write the definitive book all about it.” The subject matter is much too big and complicated, and anyway better people than me are already working on it.

I’m not too discouraged though. Second Life has permeated mainstream culture sufficiently for it to have become the generic term for virtual interaction, and the interest in it can only grow. At the moment its main role is to act as a hook upon which lazy journalists can hang horror stories about whatever moral panic is currently exercising the public mind, in much the way that comic books, video nasties and Beavis & Butthead have been blamed for the corruption of previous generations, but I’m sure it won’t be long before less prurient curiosity about how social relations function in a virtual environment moves beyond academia and into popular consciousness. That should create a publishing niche for the sort of stuff I want to write, but failing that I can always turn out articles on online deviance, the demand for which I’m sure is inexhaustible.

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