I managed to find a short-wave radio on Friday, which has changed my life instantly because in the mornings, with a lot of fiddling I can pick up the BBC World Service. It’s strange to suddenly have the real world booming inside my little shack after nearly two weeks of living in what seems a sealed-off world, where a nuclear war could be erupting in the Korean peninsula and I would be quite happily oblivious, lost in a 19th century novel and talking to the goats. But they make rubbish conversation.
The World Service is probably the best thing that the British FCO fund, and I have a special affection for it because my routine in England, if I wasn’t out, would be to listen to music until 1am and then switch over to the World Service and get the news for a little while. It operates on a GMT schedule, so at 7am here I can still listen to the 1am bulletin, and it’s as if my two extremely different lives are now united by the same dulcet broadcast.
On Sunday morning they served up some religious programming, and my attention was caught by a feature on the introduction and evolution of religion in Second Life. For those of you unfamiliar, Second Life is essentially a new world that you can inhabit online. You register, create an avatar to represent you, and you’re off. Because its over the internet, other users also inhabit the same world, so you can see their avatar and interact with them (through typing on the keyboard). There are vast lands to explore, lands which you can ‘buy’ and build on, people to meet, and you can basically do anything. It’s like another life.
And it’s becoming very popular, up to 1.5 million users now, according to the report, up from only about 10,000 a few years ago. A ‘first life’ economy has emerged, with an estimated GDP of $64 million, as people pay real US Dollars to buy land and property in Second Life from other users. Big money too, thousands of dollars, which they wouldn’t do if there wasn’t a profit available. General interest in it is growing, and companies are beginning to investigate marketing and promotion activities. Last summer the BBC broadcast some of their radio output ‘within’ Second Life, so you could send your avatar to go and listen to Keane or whatever, German tabloid Das Bild is going to start publishing in it, and Reuters have recently appointed a correspondent to cover developments. To give a better picture, the Wikipedia entry for Second Life is here, a recent Guardian article here, and the Economist’s take is here.
If I was an ambitious anthropologist, I would be getting my arse in to Second Life now quicker than you can say geek. When I was working with the ippr’s Digital Media and Society team earlier this spring, I read a few articles about it, but on principle I’ve gone to the homepage and no further. I want to experience, learn and do as much as possible in the real world, not one hidden inside a computer network, so the idea of spending time interacting with imaginary people in an imaginary environment online when I could be outside in the natural one is an anathema to me. Continue reading ‘Second Life – Geek’s Playboy Mansion?’