Second Life: Reality not escapism

Updated on August 2, 2006

Some interesting commentary about PR and Second Life from Steve Rubel in a brief Beet.tv interview I’ve just watched.

On one point he makes, though, I just don’t agree.

Steve says Second Life is all about escapism:

[…] any metaverse that we’re talking about here–it’s all about… people are going into these universes to escape their lives and have a virtual life and live that.

(Thanks to Tony Walsh at Clickable Culture for transcribing Steve’s interview.)

Undoubtedly many people do use places like Second Life for that reason. But it’s not all about escapism.

I think Second Life presents an alternative reality – a parallel place, if you will, where you can construct a viable approximation of a real environment that certainly has little to do with escapism.

The increasing entrance of established businesses into Second Life is hardly about escapism. It’s about real business opportunity even though many haven’t entirely figured out why there’re they or exactly what they’re going to do.

And that’s the opportunity for PR pros – figure it out alongside the experimenters and early adopters in a joint learning path that will produce business opportunities for mutual benefit.

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Shel Holtz

    I absolutely agree, particularly as relates to my own experience. It’s not escapism at all. My wife and I get together in SL when I’m on the road as a way to “see” each other, and my other experiences have been meeting people I know in my First Life, mostly other podcasters. There’s nothing escapist about it for me. The beauty of SL is the ability to make of it what you want.

  2. neville

    Great examples, Shel. Absolutely – make of SL what you want.

    I do think there are tremendous opportunities for communicators to use SL as a live professional development place, ie, in discovering and learning about this virtual community and what it offers from a business perspective.

    It’s similar to the early days of blogging in this sense. Early days as in 2 years ago, when most communicators dismissed this social medium without really understanding its potential.

    Hopefully our colleagues will not make that same mistake twice.

  3. Jeremy Pepper

    There’s a difference between working in SL, and working with SL. It’s a huge difference, and it shows whether or not you respect the community and the people you know and work with in SL.

    I know enough people in there, and try to get on time to time (it’s a huge program monster on my computer). I talk to people, have friends in there, meet-up, like in RL. And, if I talk about PR with SL, it’s in a way that respects the community and works with them, not horse-shoeing SL into a presentation because it’s the latest buzzword, or another wagon someone is trying to hitch his horse to.

    And, yes, I’m Ezekial Goodllife in there. I can share my name, and I’m wearing my American Apparel hoodie, and have to post my special tour with Aimee Weber in SL, where she was showing me what she’s done as of late, and we were talking about how things work and don’t work in SL.

    Yep, not a shoehorn. But, trying to be part of the community. Some people get that – us three – and other’s don’t, but are going to put themselves out there as experts. Again.

  4. Bryan Person, Bryper.com

    Agreed, gentlemen. Second Life certainly can be used for escapism, but that’s definitely not the reason that I’m in there.

    For that matter, blogging and podcasting can be used for escapism as well. Blog or podcast with an alter-ego if you like. But is that the reason any of us are espousing their use in our own work? I don’t think so.

    I’m looking at Second Life as just one more tool that businesses can use to engage their customers in a conversation, and it has the potential to be a very powerful business tool at that.

    –“Zeke Barber” (My Second Life handle)

  5. Chris Knowles

    I am intrigued by but not yet fully to “get” SL.

    I understand the attraction to business. With the population it has, SL has economic gravitational pull – like any of the social networks. And the cost of marketing to SL’s millions of citizens is substantially less than then marketing to a physical population of a comparable size.

    What I am yet to grasp though, is the attraction of meta-universes to the individuals themselves – they can’t all be there to make a buck – some of the comments above are good pointers.

    Shel, I am intrigued by your use of SL. What is it about SL that gives you and your wife a better experience than say chatting on the phone, or video-calling with Skype?

  6. neville

    Join the club, Chris. Everyone is trying to figure it out. Me included. I can see some enormous business potential (eg, what companies like American Apparel have been doing) but there is still much to learn.

    I’ve just been reading the first edition of SL Business, the new magazine about Second Life that’s just launched. Definitely a publication to read for further insight into SL.

    Jeremy, I agree with you re that difference: balancing what you want to get out of SL with what you need to put in to SL for the overall benefit of everyone. Like every community.

    But inevitably there will be those who focus on the out and not the in. Like every community, actually.

  7. Linda Zimmer

    Neville, you are right-on about real business being done in Second Life. It’s fascinating and humbling to see the experimentation and visionary work going on there. Of course there is a lot of escapism and just plain fun in Second Life – like the MLB Home Run Derby or U2 concerts. But that’s real life too.

    Jeremy, you are so right-on about respecting the culture – thank you for making that point. You can’t just visit SL and become an expert. You have to “live” there a while – you’ve got to move in. SL is as much a culture as any country or neighborhood or coporation. And to do business there you simply have to be there, and learn, and respect the people and the environment – and learn.

    I hope everyone interested in this topic will join the SL Business Communicators group (in SL). The first meeting will be in mid-August.

    Oh, and I’m Znetlady Isbell.

  8. neville

    That’s a really good way to look at SL, Linda, in trying to understand the place:

    You can’t just visit SL and become an expert. You have to “live” there a while – you’ve got to move in. SL is as much a culture as any country or neighborhood or coporation.

    Precisely – think about it just as you would if you visit a new city or country and you plan to make repeat visits.

    Thanks for the tip re the group!

    BTW, every time I visit your site (and I have tried before!), I get DNS errors. This is where I’m going to: http://weblog.znetlady.com/

    Is that correct?

    Ignore this, Linda, now I can connect. Isn’t the internet wonderful :)

  9. Elizabeth Albrycht

    Neville, you put your finger on exactly the issue I am thinking about from the standpoint of digital identity. There seems to be this widespread assumption that virtual life (whether it be very constructed, such as in SL or in the everyday day to day interactions we pursue online or via some kind of digital device) is somehow less valuable, less authentic than “real life.” (I really dislike the term real life also – it implies that everything else is fake in a sense. Maybe physical life is better.) I think this holds true for business and for personal communications.

    If we start from the point of view that digital life/self/identity – whatever we want to call it – is equally valuable and authentic as real/physical life, if different, I think some very interesting things can happen. Let’s face it, the future of humanity is intricately tied up in technology. We are, many of us, already cyborgs. It is potentially dangerous to our sense of self-worth to be denegrating so much of our activity as somehow “less than” other parts, depending on where it takes place.

    As you know I am spending a lot of time thinking about this. I MUST get on SL too. A goal for September!

  10. Matt Broughton

    In response to Chris Knowles:

    I know I can’t answer for Shel, but when my fiancee and I were living 2 hours apart, we enjoyed meeting places like SL and other similar venues for the interactivity.

    Chatting online and seeing each other on video can only go so far towards interacting with each other, and places like SL bridge that gap. I can see what she is doing just like she was sitting beside me, but I can also make a response that would be meaningful in just about any situation. Places that offered interactive games, such as EA’s pogo, did take a step towards that interactivity, but it just didn’t feel the same, in part due to lack of environment and ‘live’ representations of ourselves.

    I think that its mostly about the environment, flexibility, and bonds between people that make SL what it is. I know that I would rather meet someone in a VR type environment than chat on the phone any day…it just makes me ‘feel’ better about the conversation, as well as my connection with the target of my conversation.

  11. neville

    Shel has posted a great email interview he did with Hunter Glass, the editor of SL Business magazine:

    http://tinyurl.com/nhge7

    BTW, TinyURL is a great tool for those terribly long URLs that go halfway across the screen.

    Elizabeth, please do get into Second Life. Real immersion would give you a terrific perspective for your research. Plus we could hang out there which would be fun!

  12. Eric Rice/Spin Martin

    So, there’s a secret here. The escapism trumps the reality by a landslide. It’s part of the fabric. I’m disagreeing 110%.

    I live in all the levels, and reality can’t touch it, except for a fleeting moment.

  13. neville

    Maybe that’s what Steve meant, Eric, when he talked about Second Life being all about escapism.

    No, just watched the video interview again. I don’t believe that’s what he meant.

    Part of the fabric. Ok, I saw the ZDNet video and I can get a sense of what you mean.

    Clearly you have total immersion in Second Life. Care to elaborate on how reality can’t touch it?

  14. Second Life - moving gently to the mainstream? at Lee’s Second Life

    […] Second Life is definitely becoming a ‘hot topic’ around here in the BusComms part of the blogosphere/podosphere, as Neville commented in the latest FIR. Neville’s recent post about Second Life – Reality or Escapism? – has generated a plethora of comments, both positive and negative about SL. So too has my recent post about it; for my blog it is the second largest commented-on blog apart from my PR calendar post. […]

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