The Atlantic’s Leslie Jamison Looks At Second Life and Virtual Living

Mitsumi Town Tokyo

Back in June I asked Leslie Jamison what her Second Life article for The Atlantic would be about, Leslie replied; “The piece is focused on why SL is meaningful to particular residents, as well as the kinds of relationships & community it makes possible.”

The article; The Digital Ruins of a Forgotten Future, was published on November 10th and certainly highlights why SL is meaningful to particular residents, as well as the kinds of relationship & community it makes possible, the article also goes much further, deeper and beyond Second Life into the concept of living online.

The article is long (although there’s a soundcloud recording on the article page if you would prefer to listen), beautifully written, honest, written for an intended audience who may not be familiar with Second Life and exemplifies the type of journalism I admire greatly because it allows Second Life residents the opportunity to voice why they enjoy or embrace Second Life.

New World Notes Land

The article has largely received positive feedback but is not without its critics, as can be exemplified by the comments of show 162: war of the social worlds, The Drax Files Radio Hour (with Jo Yardley). The critical comments avoid being abusive, which is both welcome and constructive.

The article features a number of interviews with Second Life residents and I’m particularly pleased to see Gentle Heron, of the excellent Virtual Ability Inc. featured because accessibility is such an important subject that doesn’t get anywhere near the attention it warrants.

Virtual Ability Island

Gentle Heron (AKA Alice Krueger) tells the heart warming story of a man with Down syndrome :

“Alice told me about a man with Down syndrome who has become an important member of the Virtual Ability community. In real life, his disability is omnipresent, but on Second Life people can talk to him without even realizing he has Down’s. In the offline world, he lives with his parents—who were surprised to see he was capable of controlling his own avatar. After they eat dinner each night, as his parents are washing the dishes, he sits expectantly by the computer, waiting to return to Second Life, where he rents a duplex on an island called Cape Heron, part of the Virtual Ability archipelago. He has turned the entire upper level into a massive aquarium, so he can walk among the fish, and the lower level into a garden, where he keeps a pet reindeer and feeds it Cheerios. Alice says he doesn’t draw a firm boundary between Second Life and “reality,” and others in the community have been inspired by his approach, citing him when they talk about collapsing the border in their own minds.”

The article takes a look at a wide range of subjects, race and religion are featured, with race in virtual worlds not being the idyllic change many of us would hope for and religion using technology for reach and rolling thunder.

Epiphany Island

The article also mentions how Philip Rosedale (AKA Philip Linden) used to enjoy exploring the virtual world, quoting him as saying “I was like a god,”

The article however seems to miss out on the tongue in cheek fact that some residents have also viewed Philip Rosedale like a god, in the shape and form of the First Church of Rosedale, which can still be found in Second Life.

First Church of Rosedale Steps

The article mentions live music, a virtual vesrion of Yosemite Valley and much much more. The article is also open and engaging in the way Leslie reports her impression of Second Life, even though some of Leslie’s thoughts aren’t exactly a great advertisement for a virtual world :

“When i initially envisioned writing this essay, I imagined falling under the thrall of Second Life: a wide-eyed observer seduced by the culture she had been dispatched to analyze. But being “in world” made me queasy from the start. I had pictured myself defending Second Life against the ways it had been dismissed as little more than a consolation prize for when “first life” doesn’t quite deliver. But instead I found myself wanting to write, Second Life makes me want to take a shower.”

Leslie also describes how her resepct grew by the day intellectually, this wasn’t a pop in, turn her nose up and write a dismissive article visit. There are also humourous or embarrassing tales of difficulties with pose balls, not getting anyone to dance with you on a conga line, oddly placed attachments and clothing not downloading.

Leslie’s experience isn’t all negative, she says :

“Did I find wonder in Second Life? Absolutely. When I sat in a wicker chair on a rooftop balcony, chatting with the legally blind woman who had built herself this house overlooking the crashing waves of Cape Serenity, I found it moving that she could see the world of Second Life better than our own. When I rode horses through the virtual Yosemite, I thought of how the woman leading me through the pines had spent years on disability, isolated from the world, before she found a place where she no longer felt sidelined.”

Yosemite Valley Horses

The article also features input from Tom Boellstorff, Professor of Anthropology at University of California, Irvine. The general rule of thumb is that any article that takes the time to talk to Tom Boellstorff is worth paying attention to.

Some of the points Leslie raises, such as watching an avatar not being an immersive experience, may well be tackled by virtual reality, unless of course we’re already in virtual reality, as the likes of Elon Musk suspect. I’m not quite sure what would happen if we discovered that was true.

Leslie Jamison’s article for The Atlantic is well worth reading if you have time, please do so with an open mind and appreciate the depth of the article. The article also features some interesting information on Second Life’s history and where virtual worlds may be heading in the future.

Overall, I enjoyed the article and greatly appreciated Leslie’s honest approach and commentary.

2 Replies to “The Atlantic’s Leslie Jamison Looks At Second Life and Virtual Living”

  1. Ciaran for the record – Tom was NOT approached for the story but quoted via other sources. We are adding more comments from people who were approached by The Atlantic on my podcast page and the more I hear and we discuss in-world the more depressed I get about the process how this was put together and the choices of the editorial staff AND what that says about the relationship between powerful media institutions and the general population.

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