Some librarians are excited by the prospect of Second Life. I don’t have any strong opinions about it. I’ve been on a few times, played around with my avatar trying to make it look like me except handsome, and watched other neophytes run into obstacles because they couldn’t navigate very well. I can never find any islands with many people on them, but perhaps it’s because I don’t go in for virtual shopping or virtual sex.
Princeton now has a Second Life island. I had to visit it from home, though. Because I don’t have administrative rights on my work machine and we inhabit a culture of distrust when it comes to our computers, I couldn’t download the software. (Cultures of trust and distrust could definitely be another post.) Then when I got someone from systems to download it, my computer crashed, possibly because my graphics card wasn’t powerful enough. Thus, I visited the Princeton island from home. Very pretty, but not much there. And I felt strange being the only person on campus. It was like one of those end of the world movies. I kept waiting for some horrible space monster to leap out of Nassau Hall.
The Daily Princetonian, our school newspaper, published an editorial about the Princeton Second Life island today entitled Second Life and the Soul. From the very first sentence, you can get an idea of what the writer thinks of Second Life. “You are alive. You are reading this newspaper.”
I’ve noted before that I don’t think these kids today are ahead of me technologically, even though I’m getting old enough to be their father, except with less money. I’m not sure I believe the hype about how the “millennials” are all that much different from other generations. The writer for the Prince might agree with me on this, being skeptical about the value of a Princeton on Second Life.
The editorial concludes:
“In fairness, we do not yet know the purpose of this program. Perhaps alumni will be interested in seeing Princeton online and will have fond memories of Chancellor Green. Perhaps perspective students will lie about their age to catch a glimpse of what could be. Maybe if the software is flashier more strangers will download our lectures. To some, these applications may seem trivial, but more importantly they are harmless. Should Second Life begin to intersect or usurp student life, however, this campus will be radically worse off for it.”
This seems to me exactly the kind of skeptical attitude one should take toward social software. Try it, perhaps use it, try to adapt it to good uses if possible, be ready to admit if it doesn’t work very well, and be aware of the dangers.
And all this from one of the millennials.
(You might also be interested in a more hostile reception of Second Life by a Princeton Student.)
UPDATE: I asked my students in class this morning how many had ever visited second life, and none had. One woman said, “We have real lives.”