Is it just me or is the world going mad one person at a time (reminding me of the old movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”)?
I’m not talking about the insanity of a gubernatorial candidate in Florida buying the election (with $100 million in trash-talk and ads featuring his 90-year-old mother touting that “Ricky is a good boy”) after his company defrauded medicare of millions. Nor am I referring to the endless chatter from the far right or left “righteous souls” who preach they know best for all of us sheep from their gold-tinged pulpits on cable TV… (Can you tell that I’ve had enough of the pontificating and lies associated with the upcoming election?)
No, I’m talking about a much more mundane societal symptom… Second Life and other fantasy worlds. There are more and more people who have problems in their real life (1st life) who live most of the time in cyberspace. Retailers and software vendors love this as people cocoon in their “caves” and escape to fantasy lives in cyberspace (no, I’m not talking about porn.)
Second Life, and even Facebook give people a pseudo-life where they can create a persona and pretend to be someone else. I’ve had experience with both sites and I’m sure there’s good value in active playtime for adults, but it’s like everything else – if you take it overboard “without protection” you can end up deep in another world. In my estimation, there’s enough chaos in real life without creating more in a second or third virtual life. What do you think? Read on…
A few months ago, I participated in a real life “game” (research experiment) conducted by the Project Management Institute (PMI) who wanted to learn how well “virtual teams” (team members living geographically apart who had never met) can work together. From the beginning the research was set up for failure: it was all volunteer, there were too many teams, communication was forced, and the directions changed weekly. Whatever… but the pivotal reason I mention it was because we had to meet at an office in “Second Life”. If you’ve never heard of Second Life, it’s a fantasy/simulation world where adults pretend to be someone else (an avatar) and can “fly” between lands and do things that they can’t do in their first life. I couldn’t believe it! Here I was, a Project Management Professional volunteering to be part of a serious research project, having to make 200 body part selections for my “Avatar” (don’t even get me started on the naming conventions that go with that!) – choices included such things as flat ears/pointy ears/big ears, perky/huge/small boobs, curly/straight/bouncy/who knows what else hair, etc. etc. etc. Amazing! AND, I was going to have to meet with other avatars (with equally cryptic names) in the Second Life office created by the German organizers.
I confess that I’m a bona-fide failure (and I don’t care) in Second Life – my avatar fell out of the orientation room and on to a helipad, and I was lost until I found the coordinates of the meeting. (I did witness several clandestine type meetings of couples and threesomes on the helipad that I didn’t want to know about – even in first life!)
That being said, the German team running the experiment insisted that Second Life is a serious meeting protocol, and I know of several IT professionals using it for “business” in the US. I’ll admit that I just don’t get the allure! After this one meeting where half of my team couldn’t connect in Second Life and met on another website – with one guy running back and forth translating between the two – I’ve never gone back to second life and I don’t miss it. However, millions of adults essentially live exciting lives on Second Life – so much so that the number one profession in Second Life is divorce lawyers for players whose first life marriage is in shambles due to their Second Life addiction. (This is real!)
I know of one hugely overweight man in real life whose Second Life avatar is a seductive female nymph who sells so many designer sunglasses in his Second Life store that he pays his first life mortgage on the proceeds! It’s quite amazing that even major corporations like Target and Sears have joined in the fray and own real estate and meeting space in Second Life (paid for with real dollars and maintained by real people).
You may wonder why I’d list Facebook as a fantasy site… I do so because I discovered that some people believe that the “Friends” they make and acquire on Facebook are all personal assets – even when they may never meet the majority of their 5000 “Friends”. It has become a predator-type situation whereby some people “Friend” you just to gain access to the pretty people you have on your friend list. They then approach your friends using you as a mutual friend. When someone brags about having maxed out with 5000 personal Facebook friends (acquired by mining other people’s friend lists), don’t you wonder what their real life is like? I know a guy who makes it his business to become friends with everyone’s “exes” – ex-husbands, ex-girlfriends, ex-employees, you name it – he has to put himself into the mix to feed some narcissistic tendency. In fact, a friend asked me not to tell him that she is getting divorced because of he’ll friend her ex immediately.
I had someone recently ask to be my “Friend” on Facebook based on mutual friends and I prematurely and ignorantly accepted him as a “Friend”. Subsequently he contacted me using the Chat facility and purported that we met at a local networking event (which I later found out was an embellishment to gain my trust). He then started to mine my friend list and contacted some of my foreign-residing real friends from college and invite them to be his friend (using me as the foray). I DO understand business contacts and potential business uses of friends, but it’s a bit creepy when someone uses their connections to “meet” people in a virtual world and expect to become fast friends. When I asked the guy what he hopes to gain by “Friending” people I’ve gone to school with, his response was to say that “this is how I make a lot of my friends. And you don’t know what my passport looks like – I might go to visit them.” All I can say is that it’s a bit creepy.
I’ve since defriended this guy and won’t accept future invitation from anyone I haven’t met or who a friend introduces. In real life, we want to protect our friends and colleagues from harm – yet in cyberspace, those defenses go down. On Facebook and in other cybersites, this presents an open opportunity for those with less than noble motives to move in and potentially behave in ways that they simply could not do (and get away with) in real life.
I can understand with all the craziness in our real world (politics, religion, war) that people want to escape to a fantasy world – but really, what would the world be like in 20 years if the virtual life overtakes real life?
Just a bit of food for thought, enjoy your week!