A Great Enough Life

Lauren Lewis, skeptical Metaverse Explorer, attempts to makes sense of virtual reality, and determines its relevance.

“Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while reality is fabulous.” Thoreau (90).

After creating an account on the Second Life website, I logged on to the virtual world and eagerly began customizing my avatar named Mongolia Ember. I learned to walk, fly, drive a car, and talk to other avatars...I even made a friend from France. Finally, a somewhat scared, but mostly curious, Mongolia Ember touched the sign to exit Orientation Island and enter the world of Second Life.

Never being much of an electronic gamer, I entered Second Life with strictly educational intentions. I will admit, however, that I was very excited to mold and create my avatar into any shape, size and look. I was also eager to visit the landmarks that were discussed in class. Now that Mongolia Ember, has been a citizen of Second Life for one week, I have found myself bored and confused with this virtual world, and hard-pressed to see the value that I can derive from my experience there.

My first day consisted of walking around shopping malls and visiting random sites to get a feel for the virtual world. After becoming acquainted with the nuances of functioning in SL, I expected to begin having fun. I really wanted to dance, and earn some Lindens, so I teleported to places like Hippie Pay and Dance Island. I requested several times to join the Hippie Pay and Dance Island groups, but to no avail. After my rejection, I stepped back, pressing my down arrow key several times, and surveyed the dance floor. Then, like a M.C. Escher drawing, what had once appeared to my eyes slowly began to transform. I now saw a mass of digital zombies attempting to mimic the boogie woogie dance moves from Saturday Night Fever, and something didn’t seem right.

My avatar Mongolia Ember, in orange shirt center, attempts to dance with the digital zombies.

There was no presence, and no feeling in the room. All the fancy digital effects and colors could not mask the fact that these avatars were not people; they might attempt to represent people, but are merely shams and delusions.

However, it must be said that watching a computer figure dance around is not the main reason for going to dance clubs in SL. There are viable social purposes for the dance clubs. They allow people to network with other individuals who, without the internet and programs like SL, would never have been able to meet before. This is also beneficial because it facilitates global communication across different people and cultures.

Many tout that Second Life is beneficial because it allows people to escape their bleak lives on Earth, accomplish feats that would not be possible in the physical world, and become the people that they really want to be through their experiences in this virtual world.

I believe that there is a reason that these people cannot accomplish these things in the real world.

As cold and harsh as it may sound at first, your school-teachers and parents were wrong; you cannot do anything that you put your mind to. People have varying talents, abilities, disabilities, potentials, and capacities. I am a good dancer, but I will never be a champion body builder. We all must accept the sometimes disheartening fact that we all have limitations. It is but a novel delusion to believe that SL will allow a reclusive person to suddenly become social, or give a paraplegic the ability to run a marathon.

Second Life is a system of zeros and ones, cords, wires, motherboards, and electrical currents. It lacks the human element that makes life happy, exciting, passionate, depressing, and frightening; it is not reality. I crave these elements of the human experience, and I do not believe that they can be duplicated on or through a computer screen.

However, the question that is begging to be answered is what is real?

To thousands of SL’ers, logging on to SL and using virtual reality is real. This is true in the sense that they can touch the keyboard, see the computer screen, and control their avatar. The activities that a person’s avatar does are real, because a computer program is creating images that the human eye can see, and the human brain can understand. The apparatus is a tangible, man-made product. All of these qualities make it real.

Timothy Treadwell, made famous by the documentary “Grizzly Man” directed by Werner Herzog, had a different perception of reality. His world was one in which man was at one with the animal kingdom, specifically the Alaskan grizzlies. He created a world, or rather made nature his world, in which he lived peacefully with wild animals. Treadwell convinced himself that the Alaskan grizzlies where his friends. To him this was real. He could see it, touch it, smell it, but it was not reality.

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The fact that Treadwell was living amongst wild animals was very real, and so was the fact that he loved animals and cared for them deeply. However, what does not make his world a reality is that it was not self-sustaining. In other words, Timothy could not live with the bears over the long-term. This was bluntly demonstrated with his tragic death. No matter how badly he wanted to become friends with these animals, and show them that he loved them, the true reality was that it is against the laws of nature. There are natural laws that cannot be defied, and trying to create a separate reality in order to attempt to do so is not going to negate them. Similarly, SL is not a self-sustaining reality. A person can log on to SL for a few hours, maybe even days, but eventually the person behind the avatar is going to need to get up from the computer screen and go to the bathroom, or the kitchen, or to the doctor. I am not talking about the anomalous freak that attaches a commode to his computer chair, has food delivered for every meal, and sleeps a the computer so that he never has to leave the computer screen, that is hopefully very few people.

The reality of it, the true pinch-your-arm reality of it all, is that typing words into a dialog box is not going to make a person more social, nor will running in a virtual marathon give a paraplegic the ability to use his legs. That is where I make a make a clear distinction on the value of experiences in Second Life.

“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.” Thoreau (85)

Second Life cannot be experiential, reverse the laws of physics, or cure illnesses.

Second Life can be therapeutic, beneficial, fun, and enhance our personal and professional lives.

Second life is an escape for many. However, like any escape, you must eventually return to your real life and deal with the issues that you were trying to escape. SL will not and cannot change reality-no matter how hard you believe in it or try.

Alternate worlds and reality programs like Second Life are wonderful outlets for recreation, networking, communication, and have a great potential to enhance our real lives. However, Second Life is not and will never be a substitute for any element of the invaluable human experience. SL’ers should use the program to enhance their human experience, but we must, as Thoreau believed, make the conscious effort to elevate our lives if we want to live a live that is not just good enough, but fabulous.

So then, what is real?

Real is anything that you can touch, see, smell, hear, taste, or otherwise physically experience. In this sense, the experiences in SL are real. Real is not necessarily reality, however. Reality is also what the senses experience, but it is also self-sustaining. According to that definition, reality requires a dependence on other people. As Chris McCandless’ experience in the Alaskan wilderness demonstrated, we need certain things in order to survive in our world which is ruled by the unforgiving laws of nature and physics. These things that we need to survive in modern society are produced by other people. It is very rare to find a self-sustaining person who is totally secluded from society and everything that society produces i.e. gasoline, clean water, and professional tools. So whether or not a person is secluded from the rest of the world, human interaction is necessary in order to survive.

Reality is the human experience, and just like the human experience it is different for each person. Perceptions of the world that we live in is different for each person depending on the different choices that they make and the circumstances that bind them. Whether or not we choose to experience a reality that is technology-free, or enhanced with SL, is a personal choice; either way, we should choose to make our reality fabulous.

I can now attribute my boredom and confusion to the fact that I have absolutely no desire to replace any element of my real life with a computer program, and am baffled by the people who try to do so. On that note, I do believe that I can enhance my experience in and out the classroom using SL.

So with a little more effort, and with the advice of more experienced SL'ers, I am going to try and find some authentic SL dance club hot-spots to see what the dance life in Second Life is really all about.

Do a little dance, make a little virtual reality chat, get down tonight.*

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*Disclaimer: bad jokes are going to be a necessary component of my writings.

Works Cited
Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. Beacon Press. Boston: 2004.
Photo of Timothy Treadwell from http://www.dailyinterlake.com/
Saturday Night Fever photo retrieved from http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,363772,00.html


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