Someone always has to harsh the mellow, don’t they? If it’s not grey goo (ding! ding! ding!), it’s do-gooders like the World Development Movement. Yeah, I’d never heard of them either, probably because they haven’t been adopted by Bono or Sting. Their big move is to place a counter in Second Life which ostensibly keeps track of the (estimated) number of children who’ve died from poverty and other preventable causes since the virtal world went live in 2003.
Unfortunately for the message, the counter is in fairly small type at the bottom of a large, underdesigned billboard which reads DON’T FORGET THE REAL WORLD. A valid if admonishing message, as is the counter, but what exactly are they expecting? That Second Lifers will see the billboard from afar, decide for some reason to come in for a (much) closer look, see the counter, then have an attack of conscience and do something about that world with its children croaking like clockwork?
An argument could be made that if it makes just one user, like Aimee The Scary Blowup Doll, get off their Frito-enhanced duff and do something”something” probably meaning making a
contribution to the WDMit was worth the effort. I guess, but even if Second Life shut down tomorrow, social conditions in meatspace would not improve. I’m reminded of the arguments against NASA and space exploration: we should take care of our problems on earth before we go into space! Yeah, well, if NASA was dismantled, the money would not go towards feeding the poor or educating children. When Napster was shut down, I kept an eye on the Billboard charts to see if Metallica albums would shoot to the top of the charts. Never quite happened.
Something that did happen the day the counter went live was the release of a study:
Nearly half of all Americans who belong to online communities claim that the virtual world they inhabit is as important as the real world.
According to a new study conducted by the USC-Annenberg School Centre for the Digital Future, 43 per cent of those who are part of a virtual community said that they felt as strongly about this society as they do about the physical world that they are a part of.
The report found that over 50 per cent of members log-in to their online community at least once a day.
If I may express my buried rage by possibly injudicious use of the d-word…duh! Human nature has not budged for thousands of years, nor is it likely to, yet with every technological innovation the cultural doomsayers act like the Very Bad Things are new. Granted, there was a sea change in availability with the development of mass media over the past century, but in spite of what a highly stupid MSN article from last August would have you believe, teenagers have been listening to music with “raunchy, sexual lyrics” for decades before they had iPods to fill, and having sex for a good while longer before that. I felt a self-righteous anger towards Tipper Gore and the PMRC in the eighties for daring to block my access to pr0n rock. It didn’t worklife finds a way, and I got my Jane’s Addiction albums just finebut it sure was fun to resent her for trying.
Hrm. MSN running an article accusing their competitor’s product of causing teenage promiscuity, while their corporate parent Microsoft prepares to launch their own product, and…nah. Just a coincidence, I’m sure. Moving right along
The thing is, Second Life users are (by and large) the same demographic who once took the Star Trek vs. Star Wars rivalry seriously, or could explain to you all the ways that Paramount totally ripped off JMS with DS9, dude. Their escapism is important stuff, so much so that it ceases to be escapism and an emotional connection is developed.
This is nothing at all new, and I’d daresay it’s a possible definition of good serial fiction: not in terms of literary merit, but about how it affects the consumer. There was a public outcry when Sherlock Holmes got killed off in 1893, so much so that Doyle resurrected the character in 1905. That was…er…hold on, there’s a calculator somewhere on my laptopwow. One hundred and one years ago. Hell, that was even before teenagers were listening to “sexually degrading music” on their iPods.
I get it, I do. There was a time when my schedule was structured around my shows, my stories. September 30, 1990 was a super-important night to me and the people around me (I’m looking at you, Jim), being the premieres of the fourth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the second season of Twin Peaks, each the resolution to a nail-bitey cliffhanger which we’d debated all summer long. Very big deal.
If you’re reading Medialoper, I probably don’t need to tell you how I reacted when I watched the Battlestar Galactica episode “Pegasus” for the first time. Or the second time. Or the third. Or how I get just thinking about it, that look on Sharon’s face, the tone of her voice when she says what the frack?, and…make-believe characters on a fictional spaceship on a teevee show which I downloaded via BitTorrent and watched on a less-than-stellar fifteen-inch CRT, and so what? In that moment of experience it’s all too real, and Brian O’Blivion was right: television is reality, and reality is less than television. Add in the interactive, self-determining element of Second Life, make yourself a character, and if you fall in love or your heart is broken or anything in between then of course it’s going to feel at least as significant as your real life. Especially if your real life kinda sucks.
I only hope that somewhere in Second Life, there’s a billboard with the truly important message Winners Don’t Use Drugs, familiar to those of who frequented arcades back in the day. Didn’t work then, but maybe it will now. And if it reaches just one person…