[iDC] An Inconvenient Youth and Second Life

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Sun Feb 25 01:24:45 EST 2007

The Second Life (SL) buzz sounds just like the tech-salvation propaganda that surrounded the telegraph, the BBS, and later mailing lists. Rheingold and Lessig gave lectures in SL,
70 universities built a "campus" on the island, non-profits are storming in, businesses are opening up, avatars are exchanging "real life books" in SL, people set up galleries (but
where is the audience?), performance groups do their thing, and avatars demonstrate against the war. It's a stunning social experiment.  

But not for a second do I buy the argument that synchronous virtual worlds like Second Life are the future of the net. Nevertheless, I'm quite interested in SL as a model for civic
participation and cultural production. Environments like Second Life are one emerging aspect of networked sociality and I am curious to hear more about the amateurs who, on the
proprietary grounds of SecondLife, are willing to give their immaterial labor away for free. We discussed that before with Amazon.com. 

The always amazing Henry Jenkins writes: "I take my good news where I can find it and for the moment, the coverage of SL, bad though it often is, is helping Americans in general
adjust to the idea that there may be something positive to be gained by having an active fantasy life on line." But SL is not just an all-American phenomenon. Just look at attempts
of re-branding Africa, for example. There are, of course, obvious limits to the use of such environments in developing countries as it takes high-powered computers and a whole lot
of bandwidth to have a decent experience in SL. 

Particular examples of participatory culture may fade but networked participation will not go away.  

Jenkins: "And for the moment, the debate about and the hype surrounding SL is keeping alive the idea that we might design and inhabit our own worlds and construct our own
culture. That's something worth defending." 

My main question to Jenkins and all of you concerns the relationship between this virtual world and "first life." Do these virtual worlds merely provide an inconvenient youth with a
valve to live their fantasies of social change (elsewhere), or do they, in some measurable way, fertilize politics in the world beyond the screen?   


Second Life

Get A First Life

Teaching experiments in SL

A Western shot in SL

"More than 70 universities have built island campuses in Second Life"

Lynn Hershman screens new film in SL

Avatars Against the War

Re-branding Africa in SL

Images of Activism in SL

More information about the iDC mailing list