Get a (First) Life!

February 5, 2007

Via Mark Linder’s blog, I found links to a satirical website called Get a First Life, as well as a London Review Bookshop article by Jenny Diski that details her adventures in Second Life. Those of you who have read my blog know that I have quite a bit of skepticism about Second Life, so it should come as little surprise that I appreciated Linder’s posting with the two links.

Get a First Life provides needed relief from all the hype surrounding its digital counterpart. It obviously targets Second Life, but the satirical aspect of this site could easily encompass other digital environments… or, perhaps more accurately, the obsession that some people have with such environments, which may cause them to lose out on the vitality of inhabiting the non-digital realm.

Diski’s article looks more deeply at her own experience with Second Life, which makes one question the point of Second Life even further. Granted, users can create an idealized version of themselves with no limits, but that sounds like the only main virtue. Speaking for myself, my own Second Life avatar would look very similar to my real world manifestation. It would just have no receding hairline, a voice with no nasal twang, and a slightly slimmer waist. Of course, improving on these aspects in real life would feel more rewarding to me than tinkering with some Second Life cartoon counterpart.

I suppose most of us would like to make idealized versions of ourselves if given the chance. However, one aspect gave me pause. Diski noticed the absence of avatars that looked older, so she created one that looked like an older woman… with whom very few people engaged in conversation. Taken together, the lack of older-looking avatars and the “invisibility” of Diski’s avatar (though an anecdotal case) makes one wonder about the kind of “ideal” world that Second Life might subtly promote. (Anyone ever hear of Logan’s Run?)

Besides the lack of older people, Diski comments on how easily one could imagine their avatars to be great “whatevers.” As she points out, Diski could fancy herself or her avatar a great painter, even if she is not. At least in the real world, one actually has to put forth some effort to be a decent amateurish artist or pseudointellectual (and I know whereof I speak). As for battles between political factions, they end up descending into almost Marxist silliness:

    Political rage, Second Life style, is expressed by chucking exploding pink pigs at your opponents, strafing them with virtual machine guns, pelting them with holograms of marijuana leaves or anything else you fancy making with your little bits of processing power.

(As you might have figured out, Marxist refers to the “Brothers,” not Karl.)

You can even indulge in sensual pleasures in Second Life, but don’t let the virtual versions of “Amsterdam” or a library fool you. Diski even finds those rather disappointing.

I suppose that Second Life sounds like fun for those who like inhabiting online environments, or who would like to unleash a more attractive or scary version of themselves on the (virtual) world. Unfortunately for Diski, she just ended up feeling bemused disappointment about the many ways in which Second Life already resembles real life… never minding the lack of actually “experiencing” what your avatar might experience.

For anyone who thinks about the potential of virtual reality, Second Life has to feel like a relatively crude and unfulfilling version of the holodeck on Star Trek: The Next Generation. I would be willing to “get on board” with something like that, but Second Life sounds like a sorry placeholder in comparison. In the meantime, as I keep hearing about the supposed wonders of Second Life, I almost feel like repeating what William Shatner infamously shouted to hardcore Trekkers in the infamous Saturday Night Live sketch. I would probably also add the word “First” in the appropriate place.


One Response to “Get a (First) Life!”

  1. […] reality, Information overload) As you may recall, I recently admonished hardcore Second Lifers to Get a First Life, and I have questioned the intrinsic educational value of Second Life. I have received no irate […]

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