Sunday, June 5, 2011

Social Media Incarnate

Imagine for a moment...FaceBook, Twitter, chat rooms, and forums, all come alive before your eyes. Imagine for a moment, trading out the flat one-dimensional plane of cyber-interaction for a three-dimensional environment, rich with a tapestry of textures, body language, cultures, and disparate voices. Imagine for a moment, interacting with people from all over the planet; dancing, chatting, taking a class, and catching up on your professional continuing education requirements for the year.

It's not all in your imagination! Virtual worlds, like Second Life, offer opportunities to engage in all the activities I described, and even more. Considering all there is on offer in Second Life can boggle the mind. Continuously, I'm amazed at the ways virtual worlds are used in efforts that enhance the quality of life for many people.

A few quick examples that come to mind are the EMT programs that use SL to train their employees in protocol for emergencies, the educational institutions that have SL replicas of their real life buildings (along with collections that may be accessed), and architects who have offices in SL for the purpose of building models that may be experienced by clients prior to real life builds. This list doesn't even begin to scratch the surface.

For those interested in artistic expression, SL has you covered. Live music concerts, a theater company, and expansive galleries showcasing RL (real life) and SL art are at the ready. You can even build your own home or other content by using the building tools provided by the program. Content builders in SL often sell their work and develop businesses. A few have even used their SL business to springboard RL businesses and now work in SL alone. That's certainly not the norm, but it does happen.

Before I begin sounding like a commercial (oops, have I already?), let me put the brakes on a bit. Second Life offers amazing opportunities, true enough. However, there are cautions. The environment functions like a self-contained world in many ways and all the cautions one would implement in RL should be implemented in SL, to a large degree. Being safe is paramount and one should take pains to protect personal information. There is good and evil in SL, just like in RL.

Another concern is that of isolation. It's interesting to me that, while we live in an age of amazing communication tools, we seem to be becoming more and more isolated. Our focus is often on our latest text message instead of the people sharing the room space with us. Because SL is a captivating, immersive environment, there are those who find it easy to trade the uncertainties of RL for the relative safety of SL. Slowly and insidiously, SL begins to function as some sort of anemic replacement for RL and the individual runs the risk of becoming insular and without the necessary RL person-to-person interactions important to sustain positive mental health. This phenomenon is to be guarded against.

My experience in SL has been amazing. I've met a diverse group of intelligent, creative, and thoughtful people who have shared their lives with me as I've shared mine with them. We've become close in RL, in many instances, as well as in SL, and I've had the good fortune to meet many of them in RL (all appropriate precautions taken). Perhaps someday, I'll share some of my adventures. :-)

But the point is, SL offers a mechanism through which we can traverse the globe from the comfort of our own homes and interact with a variety of individuals representing myriad facets of the human experience. What an amazing opportunity! Recently, I spent an evening in an SL club and enjoyed spirited conversation with people from England, The Netherlands, Germany, the US, and France...all at once! We were all talking, listening to the same music at the same time, commenting on world events, dancing, and sharing some laughs. It's a regular experience in SL.

My goal is not to talk you into getting an account, though you may choose to do that. My goal is to share a little of my experience and perhaps cause you to consider the possibilities. I believe that we only open the door for change and growth when we stretch and open ourselves to new experiences. Perhaps SL will be your next adventure!

A friend's island home in Second Life

Taking on new shape in Second Life

One of my favorite homes in Second Life

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