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The Paradox of Second Life
Globalism - Ecumenism
Monday, September 13, 2010
Ed DeShields

Second Life, is not a game.  It’s a serious internet virtual world where you can become anything, or anyone you want to be.  And, in a twist, your virtual money becomes real money in your real bank account.

The average member of Second Life spends over twenty hours a week in their Second Life virtual world, inside a virtual being created by them known as an Avatar.  Second Life's front page now claims 3.1 million residents living their fantasy dual existence.

You, as an Avatar, can be more handsome, taller or richer.  If you can imagine it, you are it.  You can be a helicopter pilot flying undercover missions for the CIA, or run a boutique clothing shop in Paris.  Other Avatars will soon approach you for a virtual job for virtual salaries selling virtual clothing to virtual tourists who pay you in a form of virtual money.  Virtual money can be exchanged via a formula into real dollars. 

In this virtual world, people lead lives remarkably similar in depth to their "real" lives, or at least to the potential depth they could achieve in real life under different circumstances.    There have been several studies conducted on the psychological effects of Second Life.  These studies say to me that you can get wrapped up into your own fantasy pretty deeply. 

I’m not in the business of making judgments on Second Life as a product of economic commerce or social interaction.  However, I have a personal experience with it;  at least I know a man I’ll call Bob (not his real name)who has been drawn into this virtual world to the extent he is now so confused about his real personal life that he is systematically destroying it.

Bob is married with two children in a rather “Leave it to Beaver” lifestyle in an upper-end neighborhood.  You know the type; Mercedes, SUV, second home on the lake life.   Bob had everything going for him until he found Second Life. 

Bob spends hours exploring his virtual second world.  To make matters worse, the real economy dealt Bob a bad hand lately like many former investment managers.  And, just as you might guess where this story is headed, Bob found a girlfriend and desired to move back to New York where his talents would be better appreciated.   His virtual affair became real as a female Aviator showed up online.  

His wife is devastated.  Bob’s excuse for his bad behavior is that his real life isn’t living up to his virtual world.  Bob has confused his Second Life with his actual life.  

My head is hurting just thinking about this.   Bob says he doesn’t know why he is behaving this way, and that others are at fault that he isn’t as successful as he should be, given his special private school education.   I could go on with the parallel with his two lives but I’ll spare you the horrible details. 

The interesting thing is that apparently many Second Life members are reporting positive cash flow and profits on their virtual economic dealings.  The allure of cashing in your virtual currency into real money is obviously seductive – yet so deceptive.

And so there is the paradox of Second Life and the three million residents living in their fantasy world while unable to deal with today’s complex real world.   What’s this world coming to?

About Ed DeShields

Last week: Nest Eggs. Fried or Scrambled

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