Train In The Distance

June 7, 2010

I’ve always had a weakness for two things: suggestion and potential.  They’re related, of course; bound by a latent promise of something better.  To me, suggestion is the journey ahead, filled with endless routes and possible destinations.  While potential is the engine you take down these tracks, hoping that it is sound enough and has enough fuel to get you there.   My favorite sorts of suggestions, of course, are ideas; I’m seduced by ideas.  Whisper something in my ear, and I’m guaranteed to think about it.  And as far as potential?  Let’s just say that I’ve bought the American cultural ethos that we can make ourselves into whomever we want hook, line and sinker.

Which brings me to this post.  For almost three years, with the exception of a few breaks, a large part of my Second Life has been all about suggestion and potential.  I’ve been fascinated by ideas like avatar identity, communities in virtual worlds, and the ways we could use virtual worlds as a important tools.  These ideas still resonate powerfully with me, but it also feels as if something has happened in the past few months.  In short, the suggestion and possibilities that had captured my imagination feels stale.  It may well be me, that it feels like the same familiar ground has been walked upon over and over.   (This isn’t entirely true, Grace McDunnough has recently fostered some wonderful dialogue on the concept of culture in Second Life.  These important conversations, however, seem by nature to be more about defining what *is* versus what *could be.*)

Intuitively, I can’t help but feel as if Second Life is entering some sort of transitional state.  Transitioning to what seems to be the question of the month.  My crystal ball is a little hazy on this point, I can’t seem to get a good sense of all the possible directions yet.  But my question is this, what do you see the new ideas of virtual worlds becoming?  Will they be more nuanced versions of existing ones?  Or new ones altogether?  So what is it, dear reader, what suggestions and potential of Second Life have grabbed you lately?


Do you know me?

May 31, 2010

I’m trying something new.  Most of the time when I’ve blogged, I’ve labored over my posts, wanting them to be just so.   This post, however, I’m giving myself only half an hour to write it; just getting my thoughts down and posting it for the world to see.  I’m giving this a try because my schedule isn’t giving me much time and I want to see if I can post something without making it an arduous process.

This morning I read a wonderful post by my friend Chestnut Rau that included some of her perspective on trust in SL.  As I read it, one of her key points was that trusting people enough to regularly let them in was something that didn’t come naturally to her.   I couldn’t help but read that and think about my own journeys of trust and intimacy in the virtual world.

Initially I likened the intimacy that comes with pseudonymity in SL to meeting a stranger on a plane.  You sit next to someone, exchange pleasantries, and sometimes you find a surprising conversation where people are divulging all sorts of details about themselves that you would have never imagined.  Then you get off the plane and never see each other again.

My first experiences in Second Life were similar to this; I met wonderful people and shared surprising nuggets of myself.  But then some funny things happened; I found that I got quite good at being an intimacy junkie, looking for a fix that comes with sharing something deep with other people.  I coupled this, however, with a unique ability to keep many people at an arm’s length that comes with having a virtual identity.  I found pseudononymous intimacy to be powerful but it was tempered by my own anxieties about too closely linking the atomic and digital worlds.  Yet as time wore on, like any junkie, I found the fix got harder and harder to satisfy.  I found myself getting less satisfaction from virtual intimacy and decided to start trusting and let down the veil of pseudonymity.

The gist of all this?  I’m not exactly like the people on the old American Express ads, but I have gotten to know quite a few people.  Yet like our first lives, we recognize that a much smaller circle of people are worthy of trust.  I’m glad I decided to trust people and move toward a deeper and more genuine intimacy.  The experience has undoubtedly made both my first and second lives richer.

But what is it for you, dear reader, have you found people you could trust to share intimately all of yourself in Second Life?



May 14, 2010

The other day I was chatting with my virtual cousin, Harper Beresford; besides gossiping about family (you would not believe what Uncle Mortimer has been doing!), she shared that she was going to be working on SL7B (and, in case you don’t know, it’s Second Life’s 7th birthday celebration.)  I was happy for her, of course, but then she told me the title of this year’s celebration is Unexpected Collaborations.   Now, if I’m being entirely honest, my first response was to stifle a giggle, but the more I thought about the idea of unexpected collaborations and Second Life, the more I liked it.

Serendipity has long been one of my favorite words.  If you aren’t familiar with it, serendipity means making fortunate discoveries by accident.  As I reflect on my second life, it has been filled with it.  For starters, I can’t begin to tell you how many of my dearest friends in Second Life I met entirely by chance.  But more than just chance encounters, much of my second life has been about exploring in all senses of the word and being open to seeing where serendipity and chance might lead.   This has lead me down some blind alleys and a few painful errors, but more often than not has resulted in something positive that I could not have predicted.  Since SL is both a social and creative space, I hardly think I’m alone in my experience and in my approach to our virtual world.

Following a string of events that have raised the question of how much Linden Lab understands how Residents relate to Second Life, I was happy to see the official SL7B theme as a positive sign.   So, for the first time, I find myself thinking of trying to see if I could do something for this birthday celebration on unexpected collaborations.  Since I’m not much of a prim masher, I’m trying to figure out what that might look like.  So, how about it, dear readers, do you have any ideas that would celebrate unexpected collaborations?   And would any of you like to collaborate?


What Keeps You in Second Life?

February 22, 2010

Fire by Gita Rau

The thing about SL is that most of us are here by choice.  We spend chunks of one of our most scarce personal resources by exploring Second Life: our time.  But why do those of us who are regular users keep coming back?  What draws us to the virtual world like a moth to a flame?

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that I like to interview people in Second Life.  But rather than interview just one resident, I thought I would try something slightly different this time.  Instead, I asked a number of people the same question.  Here’s what I did, I looked through my Friends List to see who had passed their third rez day.  There are I’ll be the first to admit that the three year rez date was somewhat arbitrary.  I could have easily picked another milestone as a cutoff, but to me, three years in SL suggests a level of commitment beyond a casual and passing interest.I then sent them a notecard with a request to respond to a simple question in close to fifty words.  What keeps you in Second Life?

Are you curious what people said?  Want to find out what keeps people in Second Life?  Read after the jump to find out… Read the rest of this entry »


Me, My Alts, And I! (Or: Why I Alt)

February 16, 2010

Lanna and some of her alts

Last week on Plurk, Daila Holder posted “Blog Post Topics I’d Like to Read.”   Some of them were really pretty funny, Confessions of a Male Fashion Blogger’s Girlfriend and I Saw You Naked and Now I Only Want to IM.  On the whole, it seemed that the list would make for very interesting blog posts (I’d post a link to the plurk, but her timeline is set to private.)  But there was one that got me thinking, Why I Alt.   So I thought, it is an interesting topic, why not give it a go?

Alting is one of those interesting Second Life anomalies; most people do it, but few admit to it.  If I had to guess, I would say that easily 85% of regular SL users that have been in-world for more than six months have at least one alt.   Maybe people don’t talk about it because Linden Lab wants you to pay for additional avatars.  Maybe they are quiet about it because people often use alts to do things they wouldn’t want to admit to publicly.  Or maybe people don’t talk about it because they use it as a clean slate.  Whatever the reason, people seldom discuss their alts.

But what about you, Lanna?  Are you going to talk about why you alt?  Yes!  And if you’re that curious about it, look after the jump to find out!

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Two Times One Minus One

February 12, 2010

No, this post isn’t an homage to that musical supergroup Three Times One Minus One, but about how we keep our first and second lives together.  People come and go from Second Life all the time; it is simply the way things go in a pseudonymous virtual world.  (Which I blogged about before here.)   To be sure, the reasons people leave are many.  Things get too busy in their first life.  They get bored of their second life.  The list of reasons goes on and on and on.  Yet despite what people cite as a specific reason, I have noticed one theme among a group of departures upon which I can make a generalization.  There are exceptions, of course, and it doesn’t cover all people leaving SL but it does address a large group of departures.  Here’s the general trend that I’ve noticed:

“The lifespan of an avatar is inversely proportionate to the distance one keeps from their first life.”

Or, more simply put, the more people have to work to keep their first and second lives separate, the shorter their second life.   No, I’m not talking about people who don’t divulge their first life name, because that is probably 90% of SL Residents.  I’m talking more about the avatars who avoid acknowledging that they even have a first life.  If you’ve been around SL, I’m sure you’ve met the type; these are people that avoid sharing they had awful day at work for fear that someone might ask them what they do.  This is more about being so cautious that the person refuses to share contextual information as friendships develop.  Half the people in SL have something to the effect of “SL is SL and RL is RL” in their profiles, but I would venture to guess that the majority of them share some of their RL with people they’ve grown to trust.

But this doesn’t just apply to keeping your first life secret in your second, but also applies to people hiding their second life from their first. I tend to think that this is actually a larger group.  This is the people keeping their entire experience in Second Life secret from their spouse or partner.  Working hard to keep things hidden requires effort and psychic energy that eventually takes its toll.  Or, as one friend who left put it, “I just couldn’t keep lying all the time.”

Let’s be clear, I’m not judging here; at various points in my Second Life experiences, I’ve worked hard to keep them both separate.  While Second Life allows us to explore boundaries, create and do things that we might not be able to do in the atomic world, we really only have one life to live.  More accurately, I think it is often a process of realization that to maintain it all, one must find ways to be comfortable integrating all of these experiences together or risk burning out.

I would love to hear your two cents on this.  Do you feel you had to find a way to integrate all these aspects of your life?  Or, for those of you who work to keep them apart, has it felt challenging to do so as time passes?


The One With Web 2.0

February 5, 2010

I have a love/hate relationship with web-based social networking.  This may sound funny coming from a regular Second Life user, but it’s true.  The thing for me with social networking on the web is that I’m just young enough to see the potential and utility of it but also just old enough to eye it with a bit of skepticism (and I’ll leave it to you to guess my age, tyvm!).   Of course, SL provided just the right amount of social interaction for me for quite some time.   Then a friend talked me into getting a Facebook account to play the now-defunct Scrabulous.  Then, of course, I got a Twitter account.  Finally, Plurk rolled around and I got hooked.  Where I’ve been active has often been an outgrowth of my second life and used as an opportunity to connect with friends I’ve made in-world.  I found that being involved with these sites stretched my horizons and let me meet people I wouldn’t have otherwise; in short, I met some of my closest online friends through web-based social networking.   And for a variety of reasons, I’ve mostly been taking a break from being active in my social media spaces.

Despite being mostly silent on my social networks these days, I do peek in on my accounts from time to time.  But there were two interesting things I noticed in the past week that got me thinking about web-based social networking again.  One was that even though it has been around for a while, all of the sudden everyone on Plurk was talking about the importance of claiming your name over on Avatars United.  So, like a lemming, I decided to go and do the same thing.  Then, someone else pasted a link to a blog about banning Fake Facebook Profiles, or, what appears should be named “Let’s ban Second Life avatars from Facebook.”  But just what did you find interesting about these sites, Lanna?  In one word:  friends.

One of the things that I have found fascinating are the different approaches people take to adding friends on these sites; some take the word literally, while others appear to view it as a synonym for contact.  At some point I will post about friending in Second Life, because I take a very different approach there.  But for now, let’s talk about friending on web-based social networks.  So I’ve been asking myself one simple question: Just whom do you call friend, friend?  Read on after the jump to find out…

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