Not terribly long ago, I had a minor disagreement with one of my friends in Second Life. What was the disagreement about? He claimed, “No one ever really leaves Second Life, they just close one account and come back as an alt.” I, on the other hand, agreed that does happen but believe that there are also people who actually leave, never to return in any form. To be clear here, we were talking about people about people who fit in the category of regular Residents, people for whom SL became a conscious choice for a period of time. Now, I’ll admit that may be a bit of a Pollyanna at times, but I’m not that naive; I know people hide and start new accounts all the time. Yet I argued that people do leave, that they might feel burnt out on SL or maybe their first life circumstances change or possibly a whole host of other reasons, but that they log out with the intention never to return. He contended that this happens less than you would think. We never really resolved it, but simply moved on to another topic, silently agreeing to disagree.
Flash forward a couple of weeks and an interesting thing happened, in the space of less than of a week, I had conversations with four different friends who had all but disappeared from Second Life and had decided to peek in to see what was going on. Four! One had been gone sixteen months, another a year, another seven months and the last for just three. And while looking through my old groups to decide if there were any I should cull, I saw that another old and dear friend who had been away since August 2008 silently logged in just a few weeks prior. With the third person peeking back, I found myself thinking, “hmm, this is odd.” When I chatted with the fourth and fifth instance of seeing that someone else had popped in, I thought it was downright surprising.
It has been wonderful to reconnect with the four that I caught up with (and I’m peeved that I didn’t at least get an IM from the one who peeked in, but I understand and that’s another story altogether); I had been close with all in one way or another and it felt like old home week. Some have decided that they want to come back to SL regularly, while others were just interested in peeking in and going away again. Now, I don’t think any of these people have been alting, but they were all interested to see what was going on in SL these days.
This has gotten my brain working, of course. Why would people who decided to leave SL peek back in? While these were just random occurrences that all seemed to happen in short order, it does make me wonder what is going on. I don’t believe it signals anything significant about Second Life or my Friends List. They had some different reasons for peeking back, but mostly it was about curiosity. What it got me thinking about, however, is the human need to return. Second Life may be virtual, but it has a feeling of place and a collection of people with whom we connect. So, much like our need to visit former workplaces or old homes or class reunions, it makes sense to me that people might get curious and want to see what has happened in their absence. Or perhaps they felt some other need that drew them to SL in the first place, as if they somehow felt a pull to travel back to the same place. So let’s hear it dear reader, alts notwithstanding, do you think people ever truly leave SL? Or that SL ever truly leaves them?