Here is a followup on a New York Times article by David Pogue on the Second Life phenomenon. I downloaded and tried the game, and soon fled in bored confusion (and fear). Because we can't hack it in real life, we are going to retreat to a virtual world?
Second Life, as about 2 million people have already discovered, is a virtual world on the Internet. You're represented by a computer-generated character (an avatar) that can walk around, fly, teleport, or exchange typed comments with other people's characters. You can make yourself young and beautiful, equip yourself with fancy clothes, build a dream house by the water, or make the sun set on command. The average member spends four hours a day in Second Life.
One thing that makes Second Life different from other online 3-D games is its economy. People make stuff and sell it to each other: clothes, rockets, cars, new hairstyles. Second Life itself is free, but members nonetheless pay real money-$220 million a year-to buy these imaginary accessories.
From Pogue's interview with Phillip Rosedale, the CEO of Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life:
DP: Is there any worry about the whole isolation thing? First iPod earbuds, and now people substituting virtual interactions for real ones?
PR: Well I'll tell ya, the history of technology has, in the past 50 years, been to increasingly isolate us. We've gone from watching movies in a movie theater, to watching them as a family at home, to watching them alone on our iPod.
But actually I think there's a next wave of technology, of which Second Life is certainly a great example, where we are bringing people back together again into the same place to have these experiences.
The thing about Second Life that is so fascinating and different is not just that it's 3-D. There are always people to share that experience with, or to ask for help. Or to laugh at something with. And that experience is an innately human one that technology has deprived us of. I think many people use Second Llife to have more friends, and more human contact, than they do in the real world.
DP: What's the hard part for the next phase?
PR: Well, we need to grow Second Life as fast as people want it to grow. And right now, that seems to be awfully fast. If you look at the number of people online at one time, that number has doubled in the last 90 days. Right now, the challenge is just scaling up the services, and the computers, and even the policies, and customer support.
Looking farther out, we have to really open it up so that a lot of people can work on it with us. [Linden Lab recently "open-sourced" the code of the Second Life program, in hopes that volunteers worldwide will comb through it for improvements.]
When you look at Second Life today, you may say, "I don't like the graphics." Or, you know, "It's clunky. It runs too slow." But you have to bear in mind that in just a few years, this is gonna look like walking into a movie screen. And that's just gonna be such an amazing thing.