Saturday, January 19, 2008

Your World... Your Imagination

Linden Labs' own description of Second Life is: 'Your World. Your Imagination.' Well, I suppose it is, to some extent, but only insofar as you actually are able to create or find the expression of your own dreams and imagination in the creations of others.

More than 'Your World. Your Imagination', Second Life really is a sort of open-ended, ongoing cross between an international performance piece and a 'Happening', to use the old Hippy term. Apart from that, though, there is a truly ugly aspect to Second Life in the form of land investment and a kind of factory-processed vision of 'paradise' proliferating across the grid in endless stretches of identical beach lots with their cabanas and requisite palm trees.

With that, one finds huge stretches of oceanfront property that has been acquired by some one or some group solely for the purpose of investment. No building, no form of creative expression, no visible sign of tenancy often, apart from a single unattractive sign rather like 'Killroy was Here' to show that so-and-so owns the land. Neither for sale nor for enjoyment, the land is not being used in any sense of the word. It is a purchase solely 'for investment purposes', one of the most hideous concepts humanity ever created.

When it is 'Your World. Your Imagination' and all you can think of doing is buying beautiful pristine oceanfront land in order to prevent some one else from using or enjoying it, that is the saddest comment on human aspirations that I could imagine.
It is a very natural extension of the capitalist mentality, I suppose. Free enterprise cares nothing for the best use of natural or artificial resources. Collect warehouses filled with coffee or sugar and let them rot or send them up in flames if it will raise prices somewhere and you can cash in on the shortage...

Somehow, one had hoped that virtual reality would represent a more idealistic side of human nature, but in fact, William Gibson had a clearer view in his futuristic novels. It is amazing to me, reading a book like 'Necromancer' now, how prophetic his visions were. Nor did he foresee a more evolved humanity in spiritual terms. Whether grown in a vat or developed naturally in a woman's womb, mankind possesses the same innate flaws and selfishness. Even artificial constructs in the form of AIs are subject to the same tunnel vision that allows total disregard of the philosophy of the best for the most, reducing ambition to 'the best for me whatever the cost to others'.

In all fairness, the world of Second Life contains many marvelous artists and creators who construct fabulous places of great beauty and wonder and who keep them open for the enjoyment of every one. Having been ill recently and unable to enjoy virtual reality any more than actual reality, I returned to Second Life a little idealistic perhaps. I flew along the shoreline, hoping to revel in an endless expanse of sea and sky... but found mainly evidence of land speculation devoid of any artistic or creative meaning or intent. As I continued to explore land mass after land mass, I was dismayed by the vast number of lots that had been purchased but never used, never enjoyed by their owners.

The problem here is that Second Life is not one individual's world. It is shared by every resident. There isn't an unlimited amount of shoreline in Second Life any more than there is in our world and in fact, that is precisely what prompts these land speculators to purchase beachfront lots. In doing so, however, they weaken the very fabric of the world aesthetically and socially.

To me, the speculators who rent small, identical lots of beachfront property, each with a cabana and palm tree, are distressing in a different way. Is Paradise devoid of individuality? Is it that easily bought and sold? Those lots make me shudder. The condominium mentality that places all mod-cons at your disposal as long as you conform to the regulations, never planting a tree or flower that would smack of individualism to me represents a sort of hell. In a way, I would rather own a small lot in the slums of SL, if I have the power to erect whatever structure my fevered brain might conceive or plant whatever I like on that spot... I have to admit that I long to have a small section of true oceanfront land, but that may be out of reach of my economic power even in the virtual reality of Second Life.

'Your World. Your Imagination'... Ah yes, but it seems that even in a world where there are limitless possibilities in creative terms, the majority is happier to rent a tiny lot with a pre-fabricated hut and palm trees than to go to the trouble of actually creating anything unique. To each his/her own, of course, and there is nothing wrong with that, as long as the entire world does not become one enormous realty business with no room for the small individualistic landowner.

What does upset me tremendously is the amount of obvious land speculation that occurs in a virtual reality. The idea of sitting on land that could give happiness to others simply with a view to turning a profit is sad. The Lindens act as gods of Second Life in so many ways. Surely they could intervene to prevent unjust monopolisation of land or ownership of land beyond a specific time period if the owner fails to use it at all. There could be regulations prohibiting advertisements above a certain height or size. Sad to say, though, profit motivates Second Life as much as creativity. Perhaps there can be no true Paradise under human control, whether real or virtual.

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