Remember Second Life? For anyone who may not know, Second Life is a virtual world where people can interact, learn, shop, build, meet and pretty much every other verb you can think of, all in a virtual location. Second Life gives you what so many people dream of – the chance to live a different life to the one you are living now. The site was enormously popular when it first came to mainstream attention around 2005, despite the fact that internet speeds weren’t as fast as they are today and the site was seen by many as a place for geeks to escape from their current existence. And then, after the hype and excitement (as well as after a surprising number of corporate consumer brands bought space in the virtual world), it seemed to die off.
Or did it?
According to a recent report, it seems Second Life didn’t disappear at all. In fact, it appears to be going from strength to strength, boasting enormous user numbers with attention spans far greater than users of any other social media site. Frankly, this doesn’t surprise me. Second Life is one of the first sites I have seen which combines real interaction, business and commerce with a game-like mentality. Unlike the other popular social media sites which you can spend only so much time on, Second Life offers the equivalent of walking through a city, with different sights, smells, sounds and activity. No matter how clever the apps, Facebook just doesn’t manage that kind of sensory stimulation.
I do think virtual worlds will become an integral part of our future and Second Life will remain strong.
But whether I think that is a good thing is another matter altogether.
Am I old fashioned? In some ways, I am. But no matter what, I cannot believe that virtual relationships could ever successfully replace face to face interaction. Don’t get me wrong – they may replace them. But that will turn the human race into something a lot worse than it is now. Interestingly, at the same time as I read the Second Life article, I also found this post from Valeria Maltoni advising people to get away from their computers and ‘touch’ others. Valeria used the term ‘to touch’ someone to mean providing something valuable and showing you care as well as physically touching. I think both of these things can easily be lost if we submit to a sterile, cyber world and forget what makes us human.
I don’t for one moment extol the slippery slope argument that as soon as kids are on Second Life they will never leave their computer screens again and turn into obese zombies who can’t communicate without a keyboard, but I do feel that there has to be balance. By all means, use a virtual world to connect with people internationally, or do things you don’t have the resources to do in the real world, or learn, or build or experiment. But then shut down the computer and get outside with other living, breathing human beings and do the same things. That way we can still advance with technology while retaining our humanity.
What are your thoughts?
Thank you to HolgerE for the image