We are often told how new technology will fundamentally change the way human’s interact; it will make us less social, destroy communities, be the end of civilization as we know it. What I believe is that technology merely provides us with new ways to experience the Human Condition. My husband and I are involved in the online virtual community known as Second Life. We spent our first few weeks experiencing many of the wackier aspects of the Second Life worlds, known as SIMS, including flying. But very quickly our second lives became just that, lives. My husband is part of a community set in a simulation of Ancient Rome. He has good friends there. He goes to parties, celebrates virtual weddings, mediates disputes and often just hangs out with his Roman pals. While he is represented by a digital animated character, and is interacting with other such characters, in fact, each character also has a real person behind it; really he’s interacting with other people. People from different countries and different cultures, but people, and these people are his friends.
I am Bianca Zanetti in my Second Life. I am a fashion designer with seven stores. I spend a lot of my time creating clothes and managing my business including answering customer questions. It turns out that virtual retail is just like real world retail; it’s all about constantly refreshing the inventory, customer service, location and good marketing. The fact that I’m dealing with virtual clothes in a virtual store is really the only thing that distinguishes my “Fashion By B” business from a real one.
In Second Life people fall in love, get married and then divorced. They form friendships and subsequently fall out. Some of these relationships spill over into real life, some are never anything more than virtual but that doesn’t detract from the real emotions they can inspire. In Second Life some people make things and others are content to just be consumers; some people are adventurers and others find a spot they can call home and spend most of their time there. Some people buy homes, or castles or boats, other people can’t afford such luxuries, or prefer a more carefree existence.
Second life has its own criminal element as well, usually known as “griefers”. These are people who basically cause trouble on various levels from the merely annoying to often theft. And there is law enforcement in Second Life, often self-styled Cape Crusaders, super heroes who have dedicated themselves to patrolling the worlds for signs of trouble.
What Second Life has shown me is that, in the end, human nature asserts itself. The human need for companionship, communication, exploration, commerce and more are all as represented in Second Life as they are in the real world. Technology may change the methods that people use to interact but it will never really change the fundamental nature of that interaction, nor the age old need for it. And this is what I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.