There was a time not many years ago when I would have considered myself a hard-core Second Life resident. And by “hard core” I mean that I would be in-world on a daily basis, often for two- to three-hours per day during the week and more than that at the weekends. More importantly, I didn’t regard that amount of time as being in any way excessive or negative.
Now, insofar as I spent some of that time writing for a number of Second Life-orientated magazines and web sites, there was certainly a point to it all, and I felt happily inoculated against the “get-a-life” brigade. But I reached a point where I felt that the time spent in the virtual world was significantly affecting what I was not doing in the real one.
Last year, 2011, marked the least amount of time I’ve spent in Second Life for four years but it’s not because of any disenchantment or disagreement with Linden Lab procedures and policies, but simply a readjustment of balance. Unlike others who leave SL on a sour note, usually whining about how things have gone to pot, how Linden Lab no longer cares, and how they’ve somehow seen the light, I’m actually quite happy with how things are.
I began 2011 with an article for… well, not the Herald, about Hippiestock, an in-world celebration of the spirit of the Sixties hosted by long-time resident, Hippie Bowman, which managed to generate a month’s worth of comments, discussions, flames, and accusations. Not bad for 1000 words. Significantly though, I didn’t actually attend the event and the piece was intended as a discourse on human contrariness as reflected in Second Life. What’s important to realize is that these types of event can easily slip past the SL press yet provide an opportunity to people to interact and celebrate on an intimate and human level.
Also during 2011, I was able to write a couple of articles about musical events, a part of SL culture that continues to thrive as the established performers continue to entertain, and new folks get to grips with the technology needed to create a live show in sometimes crowded sims. I was even moved to buy downloadable CD’s by the wonderful Joaquin Gustav, who’s Joaquin Plays Valentine and Bon Vivant albums have been playing on my iPod for months. By all accounts, reports of the death of the music industry in Second Life have been greatly exaggerated.
Other than a handful of copy items, my only regular visits to SL have been as a member of the MBC News team, specifically for the now defunct MBC News show, which was the longest running news show of its kind. This required about a couple of hours of in-world time per week with maybe the same amount of time for tracking down stories and writing a few paragraphs for each. This changed following a radical shift from creating a 10-15 minutes recorded program to a 1-hour live format with a more free-form, disputative format. Since November, Metaverse Live has been streaming from the studios covering topics as diverse as fashion, law, music, theater, and economics.
It’s now December 26th – Boxing Day for the Brits among us – and over a week since I’ve been in-world, and over three months since writing an article. But what strikes me is that I don’t feel as if this has changed my general attitude to SL. It’s just that rather than spend all my free time with my friends and colleagues in the metaverse, I’ve been taking time to ride my motorcycle, spend time with family, write about non-SL topics, and even take more trips to the bar!
A big reason for this is because at the end of 2010, I read a book called The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr, which makes a cogent argument that our focusing on the Net is making it harder for us to deal with topics in depth, making us, instead, treat things in a shallow fashion. I realized that over the past 10 years or so, the number of books I read each year had been falling off – and that disturbed me. On reflection, I also recognized that I was finding it hard to finish books; that I would skip and skim exactly like I would a series of web pages.
So I set myself a target: In 2011, I would read one book per week, come hell or high water. There was no necessity to read any specific genre, so if I wanted to read something like English Corpus Linguistics one week and a Nora Roberts’ the following week, that was just fine. The good news is that I am currently close to finishing book 65, which, unsurprisingly, has taken a significant amount of time away from Second Life. Happily, I don’t feel like I have lost anything in this time-swapping exercise.
What, therefore, have I learned in 2011, in relation to my virtual existence? I think it’s that balancing real and virtual lives can be done in such a way that you can retain your interest in both. Spending less time in Second Life doesn’t necessarily respect a fading interest but perhaps a sharpening of your attitude towards what you find important. I enjoy my new role as a commentator, and I don’t worry that my written output has fallen. I have no intention of leaving SL and I don’t feel like “the End is Nigh” for Linden Lab. I’m looking forward to 2012 and plan to continue contributing as a presenter and writer because, after all, that’s what I enjoy doing, and there’s no rule saying I have to spend 30 hours per week in-world to do it.
And as far as technology goes, we still need real life if we want to smell the roses.