Friday, November 9, 2007

Reaction: Virtually Real

(This post is part of an assignment for the class I am taking, Global Impact of New Communication Technologies at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This week, I will be posting reactions to my classmates' entries from last week -here is my example-)

By Marcie Barnes

Today's post is a reaction to classmate Cindy Anderson's entry titled "Virtually Real", from her blog "The Write Reason". Cindy focuses mainly on a website called Second Life (SL) which I had not heard of until she mentioned it in class. This is a 3D virtual reality website where people can join and create avatars (and pseudonyms if they like). A more detailed description is here. I chose to talk about this today because it has connections to all of the topics I've reacted to this week: online privacy, technology in the classroom, social networking, and defamatory postings.

Virtual reality and online privacy:
at the outset, it would seem that a virtual world would be a great way to have privacy. However, there are a growing number of corporate "sponsors" buying real estate in this world, and I wonder how information they have access to about the members (I.P. address, email address, etc.) In addition, there is something unhealthy about being too private. I think when you are able to put your name (and likeness) out there and stand for what you truly believe in, you are truly free. I am sure a lot of people are living there as themselves (to the extent that they can) for fun, but from what I've read, there's a lot of sneaky stuff going on there, too. And don't forget, your best friends are in your real world.

Virtual reality and technology in the classroom:
Well, I honestly hope this sort of virtual reality "game" would never be allowed in the classroom. As the Wikipedia article mentions, Second Life was created by and largely used by 3D artists, so I understand and appreciate the talent and creativity that has gone into this. So, I think kids who have an interest in art/graphics should most definitely get involved in this type of project. However, I fear that what Cindy says may be true - virtual reality may become the new Facebook or MySpace. This concerns me. At least on the current popular social networking sites, kids are using real pictures of themselves and I think for the most part trying to create a page that represents themselves and their interests. I just think virtual reality can be very very dangerous if not used in moderation, in all of its forms, and this about as pure a form as you can get.

Virtual realty and social networking: Another concern about using a virtual world as a social network would be the addictive quality of such a place. And even more frightening: add in the fact that real estate can be bought and sold (among other things) with real money. This is how the advertisers are making their presence known - by buying private islands and such. At least on MySpace it is free for anyone to use, there is a level playing field in that regard. I worry that people (teens included, they have their own Second Life) will run up credit cards after getting too deep into a world like this. And the fact that child pornography has somehow seeped into this world is doubly troubling.

Virtual reality and defamatory posting:
I read that some virtual police have been set up on Second Life in order to keep watch over the "gambling" activities. I wonder how long it will be before the police force grows to monitor other things. In any society, you're going to have crime. The Wikipedia article explains that "Chatting is used for public localized conversations between two or more avatars, and can be "heard" within 20 m. Avatars can also 'shout' ('audible' within 96 m). IM is used for private conversations, either between two avatars, or between the members of a group." So, if someone "shouts" something nasty about you in a virtual world, that could be considered defamatory slander. I wonder if the Second Life website records these "chats" and "shouts"? Or would it be up to the witnesses to say they "heard" it...and would they care, in a virtual world?
Very interesting stuff.

I am thinking about signing up to learn more, but my inner graphic artist is telling me I'd be one to get addicted. Stay away, Marcie!


north carolina mortgage loans said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
cindy anderson said...

You bring up a lot of good arguements pertaining to Second Life. I agree that this sort of virtual world could become quite addictive. After researching for our class assignment, I've purposefully kept myself away from it for that reason.

I do think SL is perfect for learning and my hope as I mentioned in my essay is that more and more universities set up shop and use SL as a tool for advancing an intellectual global community.

Anonymous said...


I saw this film on YouTube and thought you guys may want to ponder this...

Marcie Barnes said...

Thanks, anonymous poster! That was a very compelling video. I wanted to argue with the "I cannot die" in a virtual world part, but I think the ending made sense...