2020 vision

[I guess it bodes ill for my serious writing career that I have been unable to resist such a painfully obvious title for today’s post, but I was up late last night, so I think I can be excused.]

What lies ahead for SLS as we enter the new decade? I expect that we will feel compelled to continue commenting on the unfolding political situation, on both sides of the Atlantic. My prediction is that the Brexit question will actually calm down a bit now that Boris Johnson has a solid majority and, no longer beholden to the ultras in his own party, is able to negotiate a sensible trade deal with the EU. Things are likely to get more lively in the US though, since the long-awaited impeachment process has significantly raised the already-high stakes in the 2020 presidential election. Donald Trump will be going to jail if he loses, giving him the motivation to abandon the scant regard he has for constitutional niceties, assuming he allows the election to go ahead at all.

Away from politics, I would like to start posting longer, more considered, pieces on broader cultural topics, perhaps once a month or so, but that’s an ambition I’ve had for several years now and it’s never happened yet, so we’ll see.

And Second Life? I did renew my annual subscription back in October, which cost about $90, even though the only way I have of accessing the grid these days is via an old copy of the now-defunct Lumiya app on an elderly tablet, which, unsurprisingly, doesn’t produce a particularly satisfactory graphical experience. Theoretically that shouldn’t matter too much if I just wanted to interact with people, but the perennial SL underpopulation means that one has to wander around for ages before bumping into anyone, and it’s difficult to stay interested without something pretty to look at. I should try to get back into virtual living again, because I’m sure SL will just disappear one day, and I’ll miss it when it’s gone. It might be quite interesting to compare my thoughts about it now with my first impressions from back in 2007.

So, politics, culture, Second Life, that should keep me busy for the next twelve months. I may even find time to cover our other main neglected category, psychology. I could do something tomorrow on avoiding procrastination….

State of disappointment

It’s the evening after the morning after the night before, and I have to say I’m still feeling pretty bummed out. I’ve purposefully avoided reading any news today, because I know it would just have depressed the fuck out of me even more; instead I spent most of the day in bed, and the rest watching movies.

I guess I’ll pick myself up in time, and get back to the struggle, but for now I just need a bit of space away from reality . If only there was some sort of virtual world I could lose myself in…

Ten Years After

Rather remarkably, today is the 10th anniversary of the very first post on this blog, and, while I started out full of enthusiasm, I don’t think I would have predicted that I’d still be churning them out a decade later.

It’s not been a steady stream of course – when I did a retrospective on the occasion of our 5th birthday back in 2012 I had a lot of material to work with; the pickings this time around are somewhat slimmer. There have been a few highlights though; here are my favourites:

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

So there you have it, 16 worthwhile pieces in 5 years. Is that a good enough return to justify keeping this blog going? On balance, I think so, though I guess we can revisit the question in 2022. In the meantime I’ll revive one of our traditions, which had sadly fallen into abeyance, the contrived musical link.

Trouble in paradise

I was thinking about Second Life for the first time in ages today, prompted by reports in several publications about the SL Bunny apocalypse. The ever-dependable New World Notes has the full story (and updates); the abbreviated version is that ersatz pet dealers Ozimals have shut up shop due to various legal entanglements, cutting off the sole supply of virtual rabbit food, and thus dooming countless beloved furry companions to an untimely demise.

This unhappy tale reminded me of a couple of columns I wrote in the early days of this blog, wherein I noted that one of the few ways of making money in SL was to induce residents into becoming dependent on some substance you controlled. Of course I never acted on this insight, partly due to my high ethical standards, but mostly due to laziness, and so missed out on my share of the millions of dollars that Ozimals were reportedly taking in.

I guess that with that sort of money washing around it was inevitable that things would come to a sticky end, but it’s still sad that there should be so much collateral damage. The whole sorry episode can be read as a parable of what happens when ugly commerce encroaches upon an innocent Eden. Bunnies – even virtual bunnies – should be free.

Pool’s re-opened

We’re not the only metaversally-orientated blog that’s woken from a coma recently; after a gap of nearly three years the legendary Alphaville Herald has started updating again, with Peter Ludlow back at the helm. (Presumably he has time on his hands after leaving his last job just before getting fired for sexual harassment).

Ludlow, through his alter-ego Urizenus Sklar, has proclaimed a new mission statement for the publication, promising to extend his characteristically overwrought analysis from the virtual realm to real life, specifically contemporary US politics, on the somewhat shaky grounds that “Real Life has become a virtual world”.

So far the fruits of this project are limited to amusing but fairly pointless trolling of an obscure white-supremacist, but presumably it will move on to consider the whole Trump phenomenon, which, representing as it does the griefing of the entire body politic, should be right up Ludlow’s street.

Waking from the virtual dream

Towards the end of 2011 I wrote a post about the different strands of my online life; back then this blog, and my associated Second Life persona, were by far the most time-consuming portion of my virtual existence.

Fast-forward to today, and we find SLS almost moribund, and my avatar utilised only sporadically. The total time I spend online is about half what it was, and my most active presence is the Facebook account which carries my real name.

Does this shift away from anonymity and virtuality have any deeper meaning? Probably not. My retreat from the (relative) depth of blogging into the shallows of social media seems to be in line with general trends, and there are various personal factors that have kept my focus on reality of late. I’m not sure whether these are good developments; the time I spend consuming mindless click-bait on Facebook probably would be better employed in composing thoughtful posts on this space, but I can’t say that eschewing SL interaction in favour of seeing my real friends a bit more has been an entirely bad thing. I am a bit sad that the liberation from corporeal limitations that Second Life seemed to promise never really materialised though.

I guess these things go in cycles. Perhaps come 2017 I’ll be be re-immersed in whatever iteration of virtual life is fashionable, and boring the world with my pseudo-philosophical pieces on the significance of it all. In the meantime I am going to keep on blogging – I’ve managed at least one post in each of the last 89 months, which seems too good a streak to break…

Always hopeful, yet discontent

Second Life made a rare appearance in the mainstream media this week, when the Guardian picked up the story of new Linden Lab head honcho Ebbe Altberg’s interview with TheNextWeb.

It’s been a while since I’ve had the energy to get interested in the internal world of the Lab, but one thing in the piece did catch my eye; Altberg’s announcement that SL will be relaunched on a new technological footing in the next year or two. Presumably they’ll be throwing out proprietary standards like prims and LSL, and replacing them with mesh and C, or whatever the rest of the industry is using these days. “We’re not going to constrain ourselves with backwards compatibility,” says Altberg, worryingly.

I guess this means that I’ll be waving goodbye to my little virtual house, and all my virtual possessions, and starting afresh in a virtual Year Zero. I’ve not paid attention to TOS developments for ages, but I vaguely remember “ownership” of land and objects in SL being redefined as a revocable licence to use the service, so when they take my stuff I’ll be due precisely no compensation. (Of course, as a hardcore communist who doesn’t believe in private property, I can’t really complain about this, but still, it’s a bit annoying).

I’m all for progress, but the fact is that it’s been the comforting stasis of Second Life, the calming respite from the uncertainties of reality, that has kept me paying my subscription over the last few years. If that goes I’m not sure that I’ll have a reason to stick around.

Oh well, as they say, changes aren’t permanent, but change is. I suppose I’ll adapt…

The Spy in the Cab

As if we denizens of Second Life were not paranoid enough already, we learned today that US and UK intelligence agencies have been covertly recording our in-world activity over the last few years.

In reports published in the Guardian and the New York Times, drawing on files provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden, it was revealed that the spooks viewed virtual worlds like SL and World of Warcraft as a “target-rich communication network”, which could be used by terrorists and subversives as a tool to plot the overthrow of Western civilisation. At one point “so many C.I.A., F.B.I. and Pentagon spies were hunting around in Second Life … that a “deconfliction” group was needed to avoid collisions”, and “while GCHQ was testing its ability to spy on Second Life in real time, British intelligence officers vacuumed up three days’ worth of Second Life chat, instant message and financial transaction data, totaling 176,677 lines of data, which included the content of the communications”.

Interestingly, while Blizzard have denied they were aware of the WoW snooping, both Philip Rosedale and the current Linden Lab management declined to do likewise when invited to comment by the NYT, which also reported that Cory Ondrejka, then Chief Technology Officer at LL (and also apparently “a former Navy officer who had worked at the N.S.A. with a top-secret security clearance”) had “visited the [NSA’s] headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., in May 2007 to speak to staff members”.

I used to believe that no one would ever bother to trawl through the minutiae of SL interaction looking for subversion, but it seems that my faith in the anonymity of the virtual crowd has been badly misplaced. It’s certainly made me think about some of the political conversations I’ve had with people in SL over the years, which, for all I know, may have triggered all sorts of automated warning bells, and landed me on some agency’s watch list. Scary stuff. I’ll certainly be more circumspect in the future.

Once more unto the breach

Back at the start of the month I renewed my SL premium membership, for about $80 (though it didn’t actually cost me any real money, since I never spend any of my monthly stipend, so I had accumulated enough Linden dollars to cover it), and for the last few weeks I’ve been wandering around the grid again, trying to get back into my virtual life after an absence of nearly two years.

I’d love to say that I’ve been as excited as I was when I first ventured into Second Life, over six years ago now, but sadly it’s all been somewhat underwhelming. This may partly be due to technical factors; I’m using the Lumiya viewer on a particularly cheap Android tablet, and the short draw distances and sluggish movement don’t make for a terribly immersive experience. Also, just about all the places I used to hang out seem to have disappeared, and the few friends I had are all long gone, so there’s no sense of familiarity.

I suspect though that the main problem is that, without the novelty and the hype of the early days, I’m coming face to face with the fact that virtual reality is actually fairly dull. I think that I’ve always sort of known that, but have been reluctant to admit it to myself, since it implies that this whole blogging project has been a complete waste of time.

Still, SLS is hardly the most egregious example of inefficiency in my life, so I guess I’ll keep plugging away. Who knows, I may stumble across something interesting again, and rediscover my joie de vivre virtuelle

CD

So here we are at post number 400. Looking back over the six and a half years it has taken us to get this far, I can’t avoid noticing that we have strayed somewhat from the purpose we outlined in our very first post:

My intention is … to wander around the likes of Second Life and report back on what I find, enlightening readers with erudite comments on the interaction that occurs there.

Regular readers will recall that the main reason for our recent lack of SL-related content is that my desktop computer is far too ancient to run the current iteration of the viewer. It’s about 18 months since I resolved to get a new(er) box, but I haven’t got around to it yet, partly because I’m too cheap to buy a brand new machine, and too lazy to order and fit the parts to upgrade my old one, but mostly because I never actually use my desktop these days, as my IT needs are all satisfied by my smartphone, from the comfort of my couch.

I had been waiting for Linden Lab to release an iPhone viewer, but there were no signs that was ever going to happen, so last week I finally lost patience, bought myself a cheap Android tablet, installed TPV Lumiya, and got myself back on the grid:

image

This set up is less than perfect; although Lumiya does have a fairly decent 3D mode the draw distance isn’t great, and it tends to slow down alarmingly if there are more than a couple of other people about. It’s hard to go to specific places too, since it isn’t possible to type in coordinates directly; instead one has to acquire and click on an SLURL via the web, which is a bit of a hassle. (Of course I haven’t bothered to RTFM, so there might be an easier way to get around; if anyone knows, please enlighten me.)

Nevertheless we are, potentially, back in the virtual world business; look out for some SL updates in the weeks ahead, before my attention inevitably wanders…