Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Virtual guilt

So lately I've been noticing that I feel surprisingly guilty whenever I neglect my myriad virtual lives, whether it's keeping up the blog here (or at the Library Ass, and don't get me started about the other ones), chatting and gaming with my old Jersey friends on our shared private message board, or maintaining my digital homestead on Second Life. These presences being as important to me as many of my "real world" roles and responsibilities, it's difficult at times to figure out how to balance one's various incarnations. In my free time do I blog, explore Second Life, update the game pages, or do I behave selfishly and spend those moments with my family or on my own pursuits such as fishing or - God forbid - writing?

Each virtual self is an essential part of the larger whole. Here at the Jersey Exile I can touch base with everyone I know and countless others who stumble upon this blog through a Google search for something else; at the Library Ass I can think out loud about the big picture of librarianship and how I fit into it. While the private board with my friends can even to me seem like a colossal waste of time, it's become my only lifeline with my childhood, and in between running a bunch of online roleplaying games the old crew and I all manage to find common ground even after long having since gone our separate ways.

But it is Second Life that I've been wrestling with the most these days, as I've come to realize that not only is it an extension of real life more than it is a game or simulation or whatever you may think it is, but it's also a harbinger of what's coming next. As "metaverses" such as SL come of age, it is inevitable that they will intersect with social networking in ways that are far more fluid than they are right now, such that the Web 3.0 will be a mashup of metaverse and metacommentary. People who get this are already exploring the potential of these online worlds, as even if Second Life isn't quite ready to supplant Everything That Has Come Before chances are that the thing which comes after SL and all of these embyronic metaverses will.

(Facebook is a fascinating example of where all of this is converging, especially as the ubiquitous social network takes on additional dimensions such as virtual commerce and file sharing. Already kids in South Korea are overwhelmingly hooked on Cyworld, a combination of a MySpace/Facebook social network with a 2-D metaverse that some people are calling a "2.5" application.)

But there's also a personal dimension to my exploration of Second Life. I don't know whether it's the fact that avatars can look and act so real, but personal relationships formed in SL feel more like real relationships than the other virtual acquaintances that I've made on other parts of the Web. Moreover, I've also noticed that even people I know in real life behave differently when I encounter them in Second Life - not so much in an escapist sense, mind you, but as if people there get on some deep and meaningful level that there's something altogether new and exciting about this universe that exists both parallel and perpendicular to our own at the same time.

I don't know where my virtual lives are all going, whether they will diverge or intersect or do a little of both, but I do know that I ignore them increasingly at my own peril!

No comments: