Thursday 22 January 2009

Crushed's Voyage to Second Life

I went for a bit of a walk yesterday evening to a neighbourhood I had not visited in- oh, about a year and a half.

Hence the ersatz posting of an incomplete post on Aramis. I fully concede it's a poor post, but I'm afraid my posts editor is full of incomplete posts right now, none of which are the final article.

Anyway, I had a little look round Second Life. I do have it installed on my PC, though I only really pop in at short intervals to have a look. Yesterday evening I happened to be in for a good few hours.
And it certainly leaves one speculating.

Is it a brave new world?

I'm not sure. At present I don't think it is what one day developments from the principle have the potential to be. It did certainly make me think of the post I had myself published only recently regarding a hypothetical situation between hypothetical individuals in 2525.
At the moment it fulfills several functions. For most users, I guess it's primarily entertainment. But for some- it's clearly more than that.

How to draw the line between what is and isn't healthy? I actually would use different criteria to some people. Some would say that one should really focus on First Life rather than Second Life and I think that's generally a good point- up to a degree. Interaction is interaction and it's a whole new form of interaction to be sure. I'm not sure how much time people spend in there is the issue.

I would say that if someone is using Second Life to do things not possible in First Life, or more cumbersome in First Life, then it is good use of the technology. There is, for example, the bedridden invalid who can never again go out and enjoy a normal life. Second Life gives her that chance.

But. Can someone please tell me the POINT of a cyber joint? Seriously. These things exist in Second Life. Are there really people who smoke pot, but only in Second Life?

And one hears that every niche that exists in First Life, exists there too. But I can't help feeling that there's a difference. I doubt very much that Second Life Swingers are Swingers in First Life. So people are actually using Second Life not just to live their fantasies, but to actually keep their First Life a stale lie.

And what are we to make of the couple who met in Second Life, married in Second Life and then got divorced (in a very REAL court of law) because- you guessed it- he 'cheated' in Second Life.

How can you CHEAT in Second Life?
Apparantly he was having a whole string of Second Life Affairs.
I'm sorry, Earth calling Neptune!
'Cheating' is one of those things which no matter how amazing the technology is, will always require two people to actually be touching in the flesh. You cannot 'cheat' via the internet.
And I know I'm going to have people disagree here. I read a blog only recently about someone who felt deep angst about their partner (or ex-partner, I forget which) and her numerous online 'affairs'. Apparently she had an army of cyber lovers.
I guess there isn't much to be gained from pointing out to people in that situation- it's not real. A cyber lover is NOT a real lover. It's harmless fun. At worst, she's neglecting you to flirt online instead, but you can't call the people she chats to online lovers in a real sense of the word. Cybersex is not sex. It's simply people masturbating, nothing glamorous about it at all.

Now I can see how people get carried away by these things. Because over time, one can get to know people via this medium. There are several people I have come across through blogging I would count as genuine friends. And one can genuinely emote to people, even over a medium such as Instant Messenger. And those emotions are genuine. But since this is a totally new phenomenon within the human condition, mass emoting of people using modes of communication devoid of physical proximity, people are still struggling to interpret it.

People lose perspective.
I'm not disputing that people can indeed develop strong feelings for people in a place like Second Life. I'm not disputing that for a moment. What I am disputing is whether such a situation can ever be described rationally as a Romantic relationship.
And as I implied in my post, I'm not disputing that one day such concepts may well be rendered totally meaningless by human technology on the one hand, and the total collapse of the monogamous ideal on the other.

But whilst human technology remains what it is, unable to accurately replicate human presence and proximity, and whilst we have a concept of the Romantic relationship that is essentially exclusive, monogamous and ultimately has a view to people actually sharing their lives for a protracted period, owning property in common, etc, etc, then there are a number of conditions that must be in place before such a situation can actually be called a Romantic relationship.

And as far as I understand it- call me a traditionalist here- but for people to be in a Romantic relationship, they actually have to be having sex. Real live, actual sex. People who meet up in Second Life aren't having a Romantic relationship, they're simulating one. That doesn't mean a day couldn't come when they stop simulating and actually do it for real, but until their loins combine in a three dimensional way, then they are not having a Romantic relationship, they're imagining what a Romantic relationship with the other person MIGHT be like.

Is this a bad thing? Maybe, maybe not. Not if handled the right way. It's potentially quite a good vetting procedure, I guess. As long as both parties are aware it's a simulation and not the real thing.

But this of course, is part of a wider problem, not just with Second Life, but with the internet generally. And it even hangs like a cancer in the blogosphere.

Sadly, the internet was discovered first by people who used it as an escape. Now there's nothing wrong with that in principle, when normal balanced people do it. But the problem is, situations like the Second Life couple described above get circulated. And unfortunately, whilst the general perception of the wider world out there is that the internet is a place where social inadequates and misfits roam freely, a lot of people will give it a wide berth, not just in practise, but in terms of it's potential.

When I relate to people in Real Life some of the issues I've come across online I get responses such as 'Yes, but if you're actually responding to e-mails from people online, you have to accept that ninety percent of them will either be Sad or Loony' to 'But they're bound to be freaks, these people'.
And no, no, that's not true. Ninety percent of people who comment at blogs, or write blogs are neither sad OR loony. But a higher proportion of them are than one finds in one's local pub, by a long shot. Seriously, the craziness I have come across in the heads of some people online, one just does not come across in Real Life. And to be honest, it gives the internet a bad name.

Now obviously, some don't mind that. They want to keep this a kind of misfit medium used by socially inadequate males, balding divorcees looking for young Russian or Indonesian girls, fat bunny boilers and people who believe NASA is hacking into their electricity meter.

Now long term, that lot will go. Their doom is written, they will not be here in twenty years time. Their aim to make the internet their sanctuary from the rest of us, much as the Mormons moved to Utah, will fail in the end as the potential of this medium increasingly gets seen by the mainstream population. Facebook has already been taken over the socially adept, and blogging will be in a matter of time and ultimately the entire internet will be. And the misfits will crawl off somewhere else to be inadequate. Or maybe chatrooms will make a comeback and they can go back there and stay there. And leave the useful bits of the internet to people who've actually got a bit about them and can behave like grown ups.

Because until then, the real potential of things like Second Life will not happen.

And what is that potential?

Believe it or not, a side concept that exists in the plotline for my currently not-progressing-anywhere-at-all novel, foreshadows that.
An idea that I developed for my novel in it's original premise was an idea called 'The Construct'. Now this was really before I had come across the internet, or at least didn't really know much about it, but one of the reasons the novel is in stasis is I dreamed much of the plot up years ago and eight years of greater knowledge now leads me to be greatly dissatisfied with some of my first conceptualisations. But I think 'The Construct' will remain.
{Basically, the central premise of the book is it is set in a time where a fraction of the human race are born with telekinetic powers. And these can, with training, be used pretty much without limit. The user can manipulate particles at sub atomic level.
The result is, the galaxy is ruled by an elite quasi-religious military order, composed entirely of those possessing this ability, whose sole aim is continual expansion of their Empire, increasing the total number of lifeforms owing obedience to a God-Emperor who thus continually approaches closer and closer to total omnipotence. Their religion is based on actualising a deity.}

The Construct is actually created by the continuous conceptualisation of every member of the elite, the 'Servants of Order'. They are each able, as one might expect, to link thoughts with eachother. 'The Construct' is a shared thought concept, which has been built up by simply making every member aware of it on initiation. It exists, because everyone is aware of it. Since there are over a quadrillion 'Servants', it never ceases to be out of consciousness. It can be added to, altered, manipulated, but ultimately it exists as a kind of parallel reality, existing entirely in the collective minds of its creators. All of whom need simply to will their minds into it, and then they will perceive themselves to be in it. It's existence makes possible meetings and discussions in safety that would not be possible in reality. Because 'The Construct' is safe. And in 'The Construct' the laws of space and time can be ignored. And it can be used to plan and conceptualise, it is able to be used as a total simulation for reality.

One important reason for this, was I intended (still intend if I ever get on with it again) to have a mysterious child figure who the central figure will keep coming upon in 'The Construct'. At once all knowing and precocious, yet also curiously ambiguous in motive, sometimes callous and capricious, sometimes seemingly a friend. And as the novel progresses, the reader would get the distinct impression that the child was ultimately playing the central character for his own ends.

But I digress. The point is, Second Life could hold that function. Right now, it probably isn't developed enough for it to be possible, and things such as the Second Life marriage saga mean that seriously minded people don't consider it, but certainly it would seem far more sensible for board meeting of global corporations to take place in such a setting, in the future.

And for architecture and construction. For these sorts of purposes, creating virtual models that people can actually visit would seem eminently sensible. If the centre of a town is be redesigned, why not allow people to actually visit the proposals and interact with them? See which town centre they actually want to exist in three dimensional form?
There are in fact a variety of circumstances for which the existence of a simulated reality would be perfect, and we're not using it for that.

I can't help feeling that it's a real shame that the technology exists there and it's not being used. You don't need to go into Second Life to practice fetishism. E-mail me, and I'll give you a whole list of Real Life places you can go to. And smoking a Second Life joint won't get you high. If you can do it in the Real World, DO IT in the Real World.

But- can you or I go to the Rome of Tiberius?
Or the Athens of Plato?
Can we walk on the surface of Mars, can we stand on the hills above the Battle of Naseby?
Can we walk round the Palace of Versailles at the height of the reign of Louis XIV?

These are things I'd like to be able to do.

My guide had certainly made a good job out of his time there, but for him it is a place where he can find grounding in a life which involves much movement and very little time to hang up his hat. So he has built an island of constancy and stability to suit his tastes. He cannot be at home that often, so has a familiar place he can come home to at will.

And looking what he had done with his little niche that he had carved for himself, it occurred to me that there is nothing wrong with the principle of Second Life, if it is used to its potential. And that is, to enable people to conceptualise their dreams, to give form to our thoughts, our visions, to make real within the range of human experience what cannot be made real in our material universe. Such as our history. If you really wanted a Jurassic Park, here it could be, and safe it could be.

But as it stands, the attractiveness of concepts like that are lost. Because the visionaries who might be attracted to pursue that are not being drawn in. Right now Second Life IS being used to fulfill dreams, but the dream that is being dreamed of, is attainable reality in First Life. What is the point of going to a Second Life pub and drinking a cyber beer when there is a First Life pub down the road serving real beer?
It's a shame because I think that once the potential is realised, it will become really big. It has, from what I gather, an amazing amount of design freedom. You can pretty much design anything in there. And a lot of people are taking it up. But the general perception of the world at large is still that which comes across from the average user. And trust me, pop in at random and if you're not rescued within ten minutes by a friendly teleport from someone you know, you will meet some VERY odd people indeed. These people ARE living their dreams. It's just their dreams aren't very exciting. An ordinary Friday night in FIRST Life to you or I. It's just they can't have that in First Life.
And of course that isn't the character of the average Second Life user. But the average Second Life user won't be in there as MUCH as these people and so the average newcomer can easily be put off.

And yet, it seems to me that brave newcomers could really do something with it. People who don't need to go into Second Life to smoke a cyber joint. People who don't actually think two avatars canoodling bears any remote resemblance to human love making.
Because there are people in there who are fully grounded people and use it to push the boundaries, to make the impossible conceptually possible. They just need help in taking over the asylum. In fact, I think that sensible, grounded people are actually the silent majority of Second Life users, just as sensible, grounded people are the silent majority of bloggers.

But I did reflect how sad it was. The internet has such potential, in so many, many ways. And yet it has a bad reputation, it does.
I actually don't publicise my blog overmuch in Real Life, precisely because of that. Even if I mention it, I downplay it. Because of the reputation the internet has. Because of how it's seen. Because of the perceptions people have of it. And I know very well how the average person out there, the people I work with, the people who drink in my pub, people I meet at parties view people who have internet related interests. Sad or Mad, basically.

I only told one person in fact when I went to meet Haydee and we went round the National Gallery. It might sound shallow, and it probably is, but I am painfully aware that in most people's eyes, saying you were going out for the day with someone you met through blogging, has repercussions on your street cred. And in case you haven't noticed, vanity is my main vice.
But if anyone had met her, they'd have noticed what a normal, balanced, intelligent and beautiful woman she is. Not the sort most people would expect to find online.

But then again, nor am I. It amuses me how often people in the pub ask me 'You got internet, Joe?'
Because I don't really fit the stereotype. People are usually shocked when I tell them I actually have a website I update daily. But I downplay it for reasons of street cred, pure and simple. It's not 'cool' to admit to being a frequenter of cyberlife. For many people, it's about as cool as cottaging.
And it's a shame that that is what the perception is.

That the internet is the home of perverts, bunny boilers, conspiracy theorists and the new brand of train spotters. That's what the wider world sees.
And yes, they're here. The perverts. And the bunny boilers. And the conspiracy theorists. And the new brand of train spotters.

But so are an amazing majority of really cool people with a lot to say who are experimentally pushing the boundaries further.

And I concluded my voyage to Second Life by- well, by being booted out, actually. My PC decided to freeze Second Life.
But I found myself thinking, as I often do, that those of us who've come here to cyberland, in many ways we are pioneers. I guess we are fighting a kind of battle, laying roots to encourage other colonists to join us in this brave new world. And not be put off by the hillbillies and the trolls.

Maybe we should be out there shouting out the virtues of this medium. And we have to shout out loud, show the world that people like the Second Life couple, they're a minority. The social inadequates who troll blogs with their nasty vitriolic hateful behaviour, they're a minority. We need to be showing people out there who fear coming in because they believe it to be a home for the Sad and the Mad, that it isn't, that many great human minds are doing great things here, and there is so much potential for so much more to be done.

Tell them that the internet is the avant garde, the cutting edge, the conceptual frontier of collective human intelligence.

Because it isn't yet. But it can be.

If we make it so.


Anonymous said...

I went to Second Life too for a look and got bored very quick. I agree with your post, what is the point? Besides it was mostly empty shopping malls and very silly sex clubs. World Of Warcraft on the other hand, smashing things, blowing up humans, politics, it's fun.

Anonymous said...

Very cool post. I tried to download 'second life' on my computer but it wouldn't do it - and I guess I'm actually glad.

The whole concept did seem a bit strange to me - why focus on a second life indeed when you're meant to be living the first!!

Yes I would agree with you that MOST people on this internet are normal and nice and mean nobody any harm..I think the perception of bloggers is changing for the better actually. I tell everybody I blog.

Hope you write your novel Joe! Get cracking x

Anonymous said...

Crushed...Never tried Second Life, never will. You make some very good points. I believe reading your post has elicited almost every emotion I am capable of feeling.

I shall address the first thing that made me laugh...

...but until their loins combine in a three dimensional way, then they are not having a Romantic relationship...

Could we change that to loins combining in an 11 dimensional way?

(Oops, I mean 12 dimensional, as I previously declared myself to be a non-conformist.)

Anonymous said...

Well Crushed. If you want to promote the interned then I figure you really messed up. After reading this I am considering pacing it in.

Nice you got to meet some loonies and bunny boilers tho.

Anonymous said...

PS. About NASA doing electricity... Do they do gas as well and are they cheaper than the French owned companies. Oh and did you find out if they were cheaper from a price comparison website?

Anonymous said...

Well those are some interesting thoughts Crushed but to be honest you need to make more than the odd random visit to get a real feel for Second Life.

Putting aside the more unsavoury (certainly to my mind) aspects of SL and they certainly exist as much as in Real Life, it is an unbelievably creative outlet for many people. Everything you see in SL is created by some resident. Technically the challenges must be enormous and everyone is always pushing the envelope. There are some very beautiful places there to explore, some wonderful exhibitions and great musicians perform regularly, some even live, others via a stream. You can attend lectures about so many interesting topics and I actually attended a round table discussion in SL with an author of a book I have read. She lives in San Francisco but we sat in a room in SL and talked to each other. That just would not happen in RL. Plus she had read my review of her book on my blog and she has her own blog which I follow. So SL, blogging, RL, all intermingling.

As you know I met Moggs in SL and we have continued our acquaintance in RL, albeit by email. Plus I met her through another BP blogger who frequents SL, Stainless Weatherwax. In SL I acquired a mentor for my new MacBook Pro, a librarian in Maryland who teaches computer courses to patrons and staff and has been a wonderful resource to me.

I have met some very interesting people from all around the world both blogging and in Second Life, people I have learned things from and I can only say how much I admire some of the creative things that people do in SL.

You should go to the art exhibit of Last's friend who photographed some of the original people in SL who were so innovative in their thinking when the whole place was so small and rudimentary. It is a true eye opener. By the way, she is also a friend of mine in SL and we had lunch together in RL when I was in New York, which was a wonderful experience.

Second Life is not to everyone's taste or interest and sometimes it takes a while to find a niche but trust me you need to explore quite a bit more before you can make any real sense of what is really happening there.

So like Dr Seuss's green eggs and ham:

You do not like it.
So you say.
Try it! Try it!
And you may.
Try it and you may, I say.

And if you don't really take to it well, that all right too. Personally I find it fascinating and after 9 months I still find new places to explore and things to do and I meet new and interesting people.

Anonymous said...

I must admit, I was bored to tears with Second Life. I like action gaming though. Warcraft, Halo (all shoot'em ups) and Guild Wars is nice and relaxing although strategically inferior to Warcraft.

The next Guild Wars is meant to address this, so I'm looking forward to seeing that, especially as it's free and you can play it with younger people without fear of too much blood and guts!

Anonymous said...

I side with JMB on this 100%. Crushed you put me in mind of a celebate Priest giving advice on finding the g spot. Like yeah...

Sue, did you try action gaming in Second life?

Anonymous said...

I've not tried second life. I believe any attempt to deliberately construct a cyber world is doomed to failure. A cyber world will develop out of the group dynamic, and is likely to be quite different than we can yet imagine.

Anonymous said...

Gingatao- I think there is a point, but it is being lost.

Shopping and sex are things that need to be done in Real Life, but there are things for which Second Life is an improvement- the conceptual elements.

I've not visited world of warcraft, but my feeling on such things as they actually advance the human condition. Because yes, the need to be violent and vent rage seems to be in us. And I can't deny I enjoy a good 'shoot em up' game. Better we do it in fantasy, methinks.

Kate- I think vurtual reality can be used to enhance reality, but often it's used as a substitute. Perhaps I see it differently. to me, my blog is part of my private space, it's almost a room in my flat. The internet is kind of my living room. But my social life takes place entirely in 3D.

Most people on here are good folk, yes. And I think the perception of bloggers IS changing for the better, too. It's just the chatroom mentality types who ruin it. People incapable of knowing how to behave in public.

Well, the novel needs replanning. I may upload more at some point.

Sweet Cheeks- I think we're still dealing with teething problems, shall we say...

With regards the romantic relationship thing...

Sadly- and this is my experience- one comes across people online who don't get out enough in real life. What this means is they behave in a very adolescent way regarding 'romantic' relationships generally.

It's not just that they treat an internet relationship as actually being the same as a 3D romantic relationship, but they actually take romantic relationships too seriously, period.

I just find myself thinking 'Christ! Do people really take this crap that seriously? It's supposed to be fun. That's it. If it's giving you grief, don't bother. Give them the flick, have done, end of. No big deal'.

Moggs- I'm going to reply to all your comments at once :)

i actually did give this post a good re-read before publishing, with the sensibilities of yourself and jmb in mind, as well as others. Because I'm not criticising what people like yourself do there, not at all. In fact, if you notice I did specifically state at several times how much good use many people were making of it, the blogger jmb refers to amongst them.

In fact, I was quite impressed with several of the design elements I saw, things that people have done thinking outside the box. In fact, I actually asked about that because if someone could artificially creates elements of Imperion (the chief scene of my novel) for me, that would be an amazing leap forward for my novel in stasis.

When I do go in, I tend to leave sharpish if not rescued by people such as yourself, for the main reason that I have no idea who the people who accost me are and I'm very wary of someone who approaches me on the basis I'm a sexy avatar.

Don't get me wrong, I love cyber flirting, but then I love flirting. But when people treat cyber canoodling as real?

I think it has a great deal of potential, and I'm sure I need to do more exploring.

But I guess for me, the internet is here to be my home life, not my social life. The internet for me, is (as I said to Kate) the thing I come home to. If I can do it out and about I will.

What I can't do is travel in a rocket ship :)
That's the sort of thing Second Life is fun for.

Loonies and bunnyboilers- Actually, those weren't met in Second Life...

NASA's electricty? I really don't know. They don't try take over my meter for some reason. I'm with NPower.

jmb- I would agree, I wasn't knocking the principle, I was more commenting on how the internet is being used and how that puts off people who would really appreciate those aspects, if they came to see them.

For example, I know people who practice in REAL LIFE many of those 'unsavoury' things. They wouldn't enter Second Life to do them. But if you showed them the design potential of Second Life, they'd be in there like a shot. And never go near the 'unsavoury' aspects.

I guess I need more guided tours from people who can show me the things I'd find interesting :)

Sue- I played a game called Halflife once- got well into it.

So much so I can remember actually walking out the door and holding my arm out to move forward and finding that the movement seemed odd- because it didn't feel like walking forward on the PC...

Way too much time on that game...

Charles- Oddly, Second Life seems to have that potential. It's just not fully developed yet. But I think all that will come.

I think all this will be the major technological shift of our time.

Anonymous said...

"Shopping and sex are things that need to be done in Real Life"

Crushed, Can't comment on the sex bit, surely it at least amounts to flirting on the net, or in sl, but curiously enough not an hour ago we had our weekly shop delivered. It was done over the internet. Thus proving that shopping, at least certainly from my perspective as one who detests shopping, is infact best not done in real rl.

I must put in a word of support for the pro SL lobby. You sound a little like my old Mum used to on the merits of pubs.

Anonymous said...

Second Life is ultimately just another way for humans to interact and express themselves. It's - duh - therefore as good or bad as the humans who use it. Yes there are weird people. If they are your kind of weird, fine. If not, move along.

The people who ask "what is the point?" would have said the same in response to many past innovations. The true answer is that it doesn't have a single "point", but it does have huge potential. I have read at poetry readings, listened to authors read their books, attended live comedy shows, supported theatre projects and provided the set for a sci-fi SL movie.

There are many hugely creative people there, caught up in the possibilities. From their endeavours, I can't imagine what will emerge - but I believe something will and I am fascinated to watch them experiment with its potential. The technology has moved on dramatically in a very short time. The ability to "voice" (talk naturally to each other using the computers microphone and speakers rather than chat in text) has transformed the experience and encouraged less geeky people to try it out.

For myself, I enjoy the building and the potential for business simulation (my own business loses big, because I waste too many expensive resources on my "fun" builds, rather than the rentals). I have reached a situation where I pay my subscription to have a LOT of land, but inject no further money into SL, because all the money I spend there comes from my lettings business.

The range of quality in the building, the scripting, the art and the conversation is wide but there is enough space and variety to find what interests you. And in the end, if you don't find what you want, you can always make it. That's the point that's easy to miss. SL is not a ready-made entertainment experience, like World of Warcraft. There are no rules and no ready-made content. It's made by the members and it changes every day.

Anonymous said...

Oh my God.

Crushed is disappearing up his own arse !

Come back, Crushed ... walk away from the light !

Anonymous said...

Moggs, No I didn't get that far.. spent a couple of hours making myself look superfab, flew around a bit, chatted to some equally looking confused and spaced out people as me and then gave up!

I'm not a patient person. I like complex games but I don't want to have to read a tome to get the gist.

Anonymous said...

yeah, I think you can cheat in Second life. for free! :)

Anonymous said...

Sue, I don't think there is a manual for sl lol.

I think there are some wow affiliations to Renaissance Island for some reason.

Quite a few swords and sorcery groups/lands. You ever come back there and need a pointer look me up.

Anonymous said...

Phil- Flirting is flirting, sex is sex.
We flirt for reasons that often have little to do with sex.

I flirt with pretty much everybody, really for the sake of flirting.

Yes, I have shopped online using Tescos before. I guess I wasw thinking things like music or clothes shopping.

Hey, I did say it had much potential, I do think that. It really was only certain elements I was commenting on.

Tom- Yes, that was my overall impression. Luckily I've not many any real crazies any there.

I would agree on past onnovations. On the whole I think virtual reality DOES add to our lives. I think thje ability to create envirnomenments we can't in RL, that's the amazing bit.

I guess I need to visit more and explore the possibilities in design terms.

Conceptually, its limitless. I guess that's what I meant, that's a concept that needs to be siezed on more and expanded.

I do fancy the idea of experimenting with futuristic simulations :)

E-K- That would be quite a feat of acrobatics...

Sue, meets Moggs, Moggs, meet Sue...

Ian- As I say, people take these things too seriously.
Interesting blog you have there!