Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cyber-Twins: Like You, Only Better

If you were offered the opportunity to start all over and begin a new life – including a new job, new location, perhaps even a new look – would you take it? I think I would. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy my life right now. I like grad school, love DC, and pretty much have come to terms with the fact that I won’t grow any taller. But every once in a while (usually around finals or when the red line runs on single tracks), I can’t help but wonder how cool it’d be to just pick up and leave – perhaps become an architect in Dubai. Apparently, the desire to start from scratch and recreate ourselves is actually quite common. Consider the recent story about John Darwin, who committed “pseudocide” in order to lead a new life in Panama.

The good news, however, is that you don’t need to go to such lengths to start over. You can create a whole new you right from the comfort of your home through computer programs like Second Life. I had heard and read about the program before; but as someone who spends only a requisite amount of time in front of the computer (Email? Check. Read the news? Check. Write a paper? Check.), I’d never been compelled to actually enter Second Life. However, this week’s readings (and our pending lab) got me interested. The level of complexity to this so-called game is really quite fascinating. You can create an avatar to look and dress any way you like, buy and sell property, start a business, or make and spend money. You can even be Michael Jackson and re-create the famous Thriller video. The possibilities, it seems, are endless. However, what’s even more interesting about the program is what it says about human nature.

In real life, you often hear people griping about social inequalities, income disparities, and the like. But apparently, we carry the same baggage into our virtual worlds:

“When people are given the opportunity to create a fantasy world, they can and do defy the laws of gravity (you can fly in Second Life), but not of economics or human nature. Players in this digital, global game don’t have to work, but many do. They don’t need to change clothes, fix their hair, or buy and furnish a home, but many do."

It’s incredible to think that given the option to look like anyone, or anything for that matter, most choose to conform and look “normal.” So essentially, it seems we don’t want to create some magical fantasy land where everyone frolics with wild virtual abandon. Instead, we choose to create the second life we wish we’d had in real life, and in this life, everyone is beautiful, fit, and rich. However, it’s nice to know that the Dwight Schrutes out there are so thrilled with their real life that they choose to live the same one in Second Life (without giving a thought to the irony of selling paper in a virtual world). Though it does raise the question – given our increasing dependence on technology and a declining preference for human interaction, could we see the day when most opt to check out of real life and live exclusively through their virtual alter egos?

Image from: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_6mly2CH6NSc/R7rQHkIRyjI/AAAAAAAAABU/QLg2EE4MXDQ/s1600-h/cyber+twin.gif


Will A. said...

Virtual lives do indeed give certain people the ability and medium to live a life that they dream about but due to their current circumstances in life are unable to do so. I believe that this "virtual life" allows users to explore to some extent what that life could be...and maybe make life changing decisions. The John Darwin article was interesting in that after exploring life in Panama for awhile, he decided to leave and come back. Maybe he realized that his fantasy was not necessary all he had envisioned and that he missed some of the elements of his other life? Maybe he should have stuck to the "virtual life". At least he would not be facing criminal charges for "pseudocide"...

Bryan said...

I tend to hope that the virtual world does not provide an avenue for people to 'not' explore certain dreams of what life could be like. I am still young enough to be idealistic and think that everyone can pursue the goals they have for themselves without a second life.

Javaid said...

I must say that when I read your blog post, I kept thinking about my first experience in Second Life earlier this week when I was trying to go through the tutorial. The funny thing is that when I entered Second Life and saw a bunch of people hanging around near a tiki bar, I acted the same way that I do in real life (aloof and too shy to start a conversation with strangers)!
I guess it is inevitable for some of us to not bring the baggage of our real lives into this virtual world. For example, something I noticed when I took a wrong turn and ended up under water was that I wanted to get the hell out of there as soon as I could because I felt very uncomfortable under water...probably because I am not a good swimmer in real life and I have a fear of drowning!