Electronic Arcadia

I’m reminded from time to time that a lot of people, even those who have embraced other aspects of Web 2.0 like blogging, find the appeal of Second Life almost incomprehensible. Consider, for example, the opinion of Kimmelin Hull, who after watching a PBS documentary on SL, was moved to comment “THIS IS THE MOST IDIOTIC THING I HAVE EVER HEARD OF”.

In common with many who pour scorn on Second Life, Ms Hull is sceptical of the value of virtual interaction:

In the name of “social interaction” people are spending what I presume to be HOURS in front of their computer screens…ALONE…pretending to interact with other folks … What is so wrong with these people that they have to hide behind a cartoon character in order to gain a little “social interaction?” And how can this form of “social interaction” replace, or even come close to satisfying the germaine need for human interaction that sets us apart from many creatures of the animal world? … In case you didn’t notice people, THERE’S AN AWFULLY BIG WORLD ALL AROUND YOU WITH A LOT OF real PEOPLE IN IT THAT YOU CAN INTERACT WITH!

Despite apparently being an active blogger, Ms Hull appears not to know a great deal about online discourse, since she breaks the First Rule of e-communication: “NO ONE WILL TAKE YOU SERIOUSLY IF YOU POST IN BLOCK CAPITALS”. She also seems to assume that, because she faces no barriers to interacting with real people, things like, say, physical disability, mental health issues or geographical isolation, that no one else could possibly have these problems either, as well as believing that “hid[ing] behind a … character” is something that nobody ever does in face-to-face interaction.

As you can probably tell, I feel that Ms Hull is being a bit hard on us SL enthusiasts. One could be equally disparaging about any minority interest, like train-spotting or quilt making. I have no idea why anyone would find those activities enjoyable, but I’m prepared to accept that they do, and that they are free to get on with it without having to explain themselves to me.

I’ve posted before on how some people tend to over-value their Second Life experience, but it’s possible to under-value it too. Ms Hull asks:

How do you nurture another person in Second Life? How do you give someone a hug that feels like a hug? How do you take joy in the sound of a friend’s laughter in a virtual world? My God, what has this world (this real world) come to that people are feeling the need to escape into a make-believe world for “social interaction?”

Humans have been escaping into fantasy worlds, and finding real meaning in them, since the dawn of time. When we read the works of Homer, or Sophocles, or Virgil, do we not interact with the characters, feel their joy and loss, even though they exist only in our imagination, conjured by the words of long-dead poets? Does this not enhance our real lives rather than diminish them?

It may seem ridiculous to mention Second Life alongside such classic literature, but the important point is that SL and other virtual worlds provide a medium in which human creativity can be expressed. It’s like a massive, non-stop dramatic improvisation. Most of the time the million or so monkeys hammering away at their keyboards produce nothing but gibberish, but occasionally everything will come together to produce a brief moment of beauty.

I’m not usually so vociferous in my defence of Second Life; it’s more common for me to complain about how boring it is. I must be feeling that I need to justify the amount of time I’ve been spending on the grid recently. I would go to a park, sit in the grass and watch the wind blow through the trees, but it’s cold and snowing outside, and the sun is always shining outside my virtual window.

One Response to Electronic Arcadia

  1. Kimmelin says:

    Electronic Arcadia,

    Thanks for offering at least one aspect of participating in Second Life that I can imagine to be beneficial/enticing:
    for a person with some sort of physical or psychological handicap, I imagine the escapism they might experience through SL could be refreshing. No, I don’t have a significant handicap myself, however in helping our youngest son through a significant speech disorder, I can appreciate, to perhaps a small degree, of what you’re saying.

    Regardless, I still hold firm with the belief that our culture (western) has seen a DRASTIC (those caps are just for you) decrease in social skills, personability, and interconnectedness. If you’ve ever been a new mom stuck in a house with a crying baby for days on end with next to no moral support, you know what I’m talking about.

    Thanks for adding your perspective to my blog post.

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