Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Living in a Virtual World

On Sunday I went to a talk/demonstration at The Philoctetes Center concerning Virtual Reality, specifically Second Life and something called Qwack (which reminds me of the way some bloggers refer to Krystal on All My Children as Kwack), not to be confused with Quark which is publishing software.

Well, the demonstration was a bust because Second Life was busy and kept crashing the computers and other technical disasters. It reminded me of how the SIMS kept crashing my computer every time I tried to use it because I didn't have enough memory/RAM/whatever that it needed. I could waste hours with those silly SIMS, creating their homes, decorating them, torturing them by not building bathrooms, setting them on fire. Oops! Did I share too much?

Still I got enough of a taste to realize that I made a good decision when I decided not to activate my Second Life membership. I spend way too much time online as it is what with blogging here and over at Scandalous Women, and doing what I call research aka wasting time (no, seriously I do use the internet to research when I'm not wasting time).

Spending time in Second Life would seriously put a crimp in what little social life that I have. I'm sure everyone by now knows a little bit about Second Life, it's been featured in major newspapers and magazines. You sign up and create an Avatar which I'm told can take hours to dress it and make it look like something, and then you interact with other people. You can join groups just like on Facebook and MySpace.

And of course, there are people who take being on Second Life to extremes. Someone mentioned that a couple broke up because the husband married someone else in Second Life. Its so different than the people who misrepresent themselves in chat rooms (see Dateline) or on internet dating sites. Living in a Virtual World can seem much cooler than you real life, because you're creating your life in Second Life or whatever world the way you want it to be with less effort than it would take to create it in real life. It's totally seductive.

I did learn some cool stuff particularly about doing virtual book signings in Second Life. It looks like it could be another interesting way to promote your work, particularly if you write a certain type of book. It turns out that Mike Naismith who is one of the Monkees is involved with Second Life. His mother invented Liquid Paper and when she died, she left him something like $50MM. Apparently he came up with the concept for MTV and then sold it to Time Warner (at least that's the rumor).

While there are misgivings about Virtual World's like Second Life in terms of people losing the ability to navigate outside the virtual world, it brings up some intriguing possibilities. The bottom line is that there is no turning back. Even MTV has taken the Lauren Conrad show and created the virtual The Hills where viewers can interact in the world of the show. I can see that there will be more of this cross-promotion in the future.

I actually bit the bullet and raised the topic of using Virtual Reality in the classroom, specifically in terms of teaching history. Since most kids may not be able to afford to go to Colonial Williamsburg or even a Renaissance Faire, virtual reality would give them a chance to experience something of what it might have been like living in the past.

It would involve the program being created by a team of historians as well as programmers, but imagine what it would be like kids to experience life in New Amsterdam or at Valley Forge. After say 20 minutes of exploring the virtual world, children would then be encouraged by their teachers to talk about what they learned, about not just the practical stuff but also the social world, the heirarchy of a trading post or a colonial outpost. I think it could be way cool.

What do others think? As anyone indulged in Second Life or playing the SIMS? Do people think that there is too much time spend on line in these kinds of communities?

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