When I took Anthropology theory fall of my sophomore year we ended up having long discussions about the validity of Second Life as life at all. We all could agree to the abstract that “meat space” had its own parts that were indeed simulacra and that these “artificial” or even “virtual” creations – weather predictions, polling, statistics, etc – underlined the ability of our own “real” worlds to be really real.
However, unlike the ethnography Coming to Age in Second Life, our class was more concerned with the amount of time spent instead of the “reality” of Second Life. We had watched the trailer for the movie about Second Life and emerged from viewing with at least half of the class having disgusted looks on their faces.
“How can they spend that much time?”
“How do you make money?”
“Do they actually like it?”
A large part of our class could understand engaging with people virtually (as we do it all the time with Texting, IMing and Facebooking) but couldn’t come to terms with a “full blown life” on a server. I argued that the ability of the consumer to define themselves as whatever they want was a positive and something worthwhile for people on Second Life. Today, after our reading, I believe that my own focus was a byproduct of a frame of mind in which Second Life operated only by the virtue of it interacting with the meatspace.
The spectrum of real and virtual is a spectrum that produces meaningful complications of Second Life. Second Life is not merely an outlet for the “real” nor is it itself wholly “real”. It falls along this spectrum (just as everyday life does) and is more fruitful because of it. One does not separate technology or culture or the digital from their life as easily as signing off. Instead the Second Life and theories around it show just how convoluted our own lives can be, in contrast to just how simple we would like them to be.