Friday, October 27, 2006

Tour Second Life

Gotta grab this for blogging. Don't have time to read and study it all, but I already know from the graphics it will be another blog post. This looks really cool.

Go take a look. If you're there by tonight, you'll beat me.
See you later.


Okay, then.
As Caesar would say, Veni, vidi, vici. Well, not altogether "conquered", but I read enough not to feel entirely ignorant. Looks like something important is about to happen, but at this point the promise is bigger than the present. Here's an article from the Boston Globe that says what needs to be said better than I. Saves me the trouble of writing more. What we have here is a puppet show.

Launched in 2003 by California-based Linden Lab, Second Life is a website where users create animated cartoon avatars to represent themselves -- usually as humans ( often buff, busty, beautiful humans ) , and sometimes as fanciful or furry creatures. Linden sells land in this virtual frontier, and users (a.k.a. "residents") design and make everything from virtual stores for the land to virtual sweaters for the avatars. They buy things and sell things that exist only "in world" -- so many that last month $6.6 million in user-user transactions changed hands. They role-play, gamble, teach classes, make music, open restaurants, push politics -- all as they guide their avatars through the elaborate virtual landscapes and cityscapes that give Second Life its stepping-into-Wonderland quality.

"Second Life is no more a game than the Web is a game. It's a platform," says John Lester, 39, of Somerville, Linden's community and education manager. "This feels exactly like it felt when the Web was first coming out. I remember feeling the hair on the back of my neck standing up."

The avatar Tuna Oddfellow, dashing in silver mohawk and windswept cape, has a virtual Gothic mansion, "Collinwood," that a fellow Second Lifer and aficionado of the old "Dark Shadows" television show built for him gratis.Oddfellow -- in real life Matthew Fishman, 38-year-old magician and fund-raiser from Watertown -- also runs a virtual wedding business, complete with invitations, catered food, disc jockey, and premarital counseling, for avatars he's convinced are committed to each other.

"I can't marry you in Second Life," Fishman says in an interview, "unless you realize you have First Life emotions."

In Second Life, Fishman has experienced both heartbreak and friendship. Last October the woman behind an avatar whom Oddfellow was dating died. They'd never met in real life, but, as avatar Oddfellow, he typed words of comfort to her son's avatar and was comforted himself by avatar friends. He conducted her virtual funeral.

I can't marry you in Second Life unless you realize you have First Life emotions. Indeed. I cannot help the urge to say Been there, done that.

I don't want to splash cold water here, but years ago I had to come to terms with the question of multiple identities on the Internet, posting at a Yahoo message board. Most people understand that for a variety of reasons it is not advisable to advertise one's real identity for all the world (literally) to see, so alias screen names and "profiles" have been around from the start. Here is something I wrote on the subject in 2001.

I find it hard to manage one alias, let alone several, but there are people who have as many as the Yahoo rules will allow. One individual on this board has at least three or four of which I am aware. It makes for confusion to the reader to try to keep up with more names, but that is the intent of some with ideas too poorly formed to be consistent. Public schizophrenia is the only way for them to avoid obvious contradictions or, in many cases, publish red herring ideas or character jabs with the intent of inflaming or distracting others from thinking clearly.

Message board protocol is for me a kind of disciplinary activity. I cannot resist exercising the manager in me when I see problems that need to be corrected or writers in denial about parts of themselves or the world around them. I also invest energy wrestling with the question of credibility. How does one establish and maintain credibility in a world of shifting ideas, no binding rules, and transitory traffic? Credibility is the only currency that buys respect in politics, in business, in religion, in life. And respect is the only meaningful tool in the leadership toolbox. In many ways the message board presents the same challenges that running a cafeteria does, but without having to smell like onions or grease when you get done.

For the moment I suppose I'm just old-fashioned. I'm having enough of a challenge being Hootsbuddy. My hope for the future is that we can all move to identities that are clearer, not more opaque. And by that, I mean writing and interacting on line with a measure of civility that would be appropriate if we were in the same room about to ask someone at a nearby table, "Excuse, me, but if you are finished with the ketchup, may we have it over here?"

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