I recently spent many hours in Second Life with the goal of showing people at the recent Balaton Group Meeting what all the fuss was about. One of the goals of our climate change-focused meeting was to explore accelerated learning tools, so my workshop on Web 2.0 applications to environment and development issues was one contribution towards this end. In the main programme of my workshop I did not get into Second Life, mainly because my avatar had been stuck in an unfinished ski resort for months, still in her first change of clothes and going nowhere. So I rustled up another avatar and was determined to get her going (at least get a skirt on her) and go out and have some fun.
I succeded on that front, to get off the initiation island, to get her decked out in long blond hair and a jazzy outfit, and took everyone watching my screen to a few places that I knew were concerned with sustainability issues. First I went to Better World, a collection of socially conscious organizations and their various neighbourhoods. I visited the water centre and wandered through Camp Darfur. Then I teleported to WWF’s Conservation Island to have a look around – lots of lawn chairs, assorted animals running around, a couple of donation boxes in the shape of Panda Bears. But my main reaction was “HEY, WHERE IS EVERYONE???” These places are interestingly built and totally empty (at least the few times that I was there I saw no one.)
Well, that was a little embarassing to show to my open-minded colleagues. However, I busied myself in learning how to uncross my arms, sit down, and change the colour of my hair. It wasn’t until I met my husband in there (a software engineer for whom this stuff is at least Second Nature if not Second Life itself) who then took me to some fun places – on a hot air balloon ride (I still managed to fall out somehow), to a swimming pool where you can slide down a high water slide. He showed me how to dance and we went to look at speed boats. That was actually nice as I was in Hungary and he was back home in Switzerland with the kids. But even in these places people seemed to zoom in for a moment, wave their swords or whatever, and then split. I guess you can be as clueless socially in Second Life as you can be in Real Life.
My complete absorption in trying to figure it out, and find the interesting environmental sites (not to mention telecavorting about with my husband) was seen as a very scary sign of how people can get sucked into this virtual environment and ignore the world around them (the world around me at that time was participating in Hungarian dancing). My colleagues were intrigued, but not totally convinced. They asked, how can Second Life model climate change? Can the lights dim and go out from time to time? Can teleporting be rationed or controlled, or at least affect the energy available to do other things? Is cyclonic and anti-cylonic activity increasing in Second Life like it is in First Life? And what happens if the weather starts to destroy the coastal developments? Is there Linden Insurance coverage?
Tonight I got an email from one of these colleagues with this link for a website called “Get a First Life” – I love it – it makes me want to walk out of my office and find someone real to talk to!