In this two-part series on Second Life, reference librarian Ellyssa Kroski explains the social and educational benefits of SL. Below, Laura Sillerman questions the effect on relationships and experiences.

by Laura Sillerman | bio

My friend Alice is the director of a school of library science. Buoyant to the point of having to work harder than the rest of us at being taken seriously, Alice is probably responsible for lots of therapists’ vacation homes, since her friends all admit to spending sessions on how content she seems despite having the same issues as everyone else.

One reason for Alice’s upbeat nature is she is absolutely not threatened by the “new.” She celebrated her 50th birthday a while ago, but the young people at her university are an endless source of delight to her, and she finds their interests endlessly interesting.

She embraces the world called Web 2.0, the second generation of the internet where communities are formed and lives intertwine in new and productive ways. Thanks to her, I learned about Second Life.

Second Life, according to that oracle of oracles, Wikipedia, is “an Internet-based virtual world” launched in 2003. A downloadable program gives people, called “Residents,” the ability to interact with each other through avatars, in a metaverse.

“Residents can explore, meet other Residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, create and trade items (virtual property) and services from one another.”

And, yes, residents can have virtual sex.

In Second Life, you get to decide who you are in the eyes of all the other second lifers. You get to behave according to a personality you may never have had in your real life. You get to meet people in bolder ways, I presume, since there are no consequences in your real life.

What would this do to some of us, I wondered? What would it mean for some of my very isolated single friends? Could they meet someone who found them interesting without feeling threatened?

What would it mean for that couple whose marriage has been shaky for years — would they stray into infidelity? Would it be infidelity?

And what about the young people? Are they, as Alice says a psychologist insists, going to be healthier because they are trying out “experiences” without risking real life consequences? Or is real life going to pale because of the consequences?

Apparently more than 8 million people have registered for second lives. Some of them never use their lives, and some people register for more than one, so the number is skewed. But still, that’s a lot of people spending time getting to know a lot of other people who aren’t real.

Should we be screaming, “Get a life!” Or should some of us be getting Second Lives? I don’t know what to think. What about you?

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