Wednesday, May 23, 2007

O Brave New Second Life

I have recently discovered another life—Second Life. It is very interesting—one of those things that make you want to say “Hmmmm.”

My first reaction was to make this pronouncement:

People who spend hours living virtual lives must have great need in their real lives. The virtual life—let’s face it—is not real life.

I am afraid that the virtual life is addictive. I think people who get into it in a big way become so hooked on it that to them, it is more real than real life. This view is opposed by James H. Burnett, III, whose article “More real people are living virtual lives,” states “. . . even though a meaningful virtual-world life requires a lot of time, (MIT professor Beth) Coleman says she doesn't believe it carries the addiction danger of virtual multiplayer games, because simply living online isn't competitive.”

I beg to differ. It may not be competitive in the gaming sense. But it seems very competitive with real life, real relationships. In real life, we must deal with pain every day—physical pain, hurt feelings, fear, disappointment, rejection.

Burnett goes on to say, ''But the trend has been toward more realistic representations . . . because more people are now trying to escape not who they are -- what they look like, I mean -- but where they spend their time.''

Au contraire. In Second Life, you create yourself—a slender, beautiful, young self; who would want to create an avatar that looks exactly like you when you could so easily fix up all your physical disadvantages? You would make a new identity, complete with a new name, and be whoever you wanted to be. Of course. That’s what I would do.

Then you go about building “relationships” with other “people.” And, as Burnett points out, “Twenty-two percent of Second Lifers polled by GMI said they had more virtual-world than real-world friends, and 29 percent said their virtual lives interfered with their real lives.”

On the other hand, there is my friend Laura, who introduced me to Second Life. She is handicapped and must spend most of her time at home. When I voiced my concerns to her, she said, “But think about this. In Second Life, I can walk fast. I can go wherever I want to and talk to as many people as I want to. I can fly. It’s wonderful.” I can understand that.

This strange new world is catching on in a mammoth way; over six million people “inhabit” it. It is growing businesses, clubs, colleges and universities. All those “people” are really just as needy as real people--after all, real people create them. Jesus said we must take the good news of God’s love to the whole world, and I guess that now also includes the virtual part of the world. My friend Laura is doing what she can about that. She has recently “built” a Methodist mission, where over three hundred people have visited and many have dropped “cards” into her “God Box” requesting prayer.

I am reminded of Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel Brave New World, described in this linked article:

“The world it describes could also be a utopia, albeit an ironic one: humanity is carefree, healthy and technologically advanced. Warfare and poverty have been eliminated and everyone is permanently happy. The irony is that all of these things have been achieved by eliminating many things from which people currently derive happiness—family, cultural diversity, art, literature, science, religion, and philosophy. It is also a hedonistic society, deriving pleasure from promiscuous sex and drug use, especially the use of soma, a powerful stimulant taken to escape pain and bad memories through hallucinatory fantasies.

“. . . The ironic title comes from Miranda's speech in Shakespeare's The Tempest, Act V, Scene I:

"O wonder!

How many goodly creatures are there here!

How beautious mankind is!

O brave new world

That has such people in't!"

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