Monday, October 22, 2012

I think that I will never see, a sim as lovely as a tree

Botgirl's first known photo
Botgirl 1.0 in early 2008
I think I no longer understand Second Life.
Chestnut Rau in a tweet from yesterday

I met Chestut Rau in 2008 at a party in Extropia. At the time, Extropia was home to a community of utopian Immersionists striving to live virtual lives that were as full and authentic as those in the atomic world. Second Life was experienced not only as a platform for entertainment and exploration, but as a self-sufficient environment providing the digital equivalent of atomic world culture, community, loving relationships and achievement. Here's how Chestnut described her first year:

I listened to amazing music, danced all night, experienced art installations that brought tears to my eyes. I blogged, photographed, and built things -- all activities I could not have imagined a year ago. I developed friendships that feed my soul, met people who’s creativity has left me breathless and encountered other people who’s ability to stir up drama and conflict everywhere they go has left me speechless. I explored parts of the RL me I never knew existed and touched on other parts of me I have been unable to delve into for a variety of reasons. Its hackneyed for sure but I lived. I laughed. I loved.

Today, only a handful of people from that social circle are still active in Second Life. Many of them disappeared from the grid. Others have drastically cut back their level and frequency of participation. The utopian Immersionist movement has disappeared.
I've been looking for a new horizon
But all I see is Extropia burning
The dream of the Transhuman Grail has vanished
Merlin is a Meeroo
Camelot is Disneyland
I am adrift
From my blog post of June 9, 2011
So how did Chestnut and the rest of us fall from unbridled enthusiasm to virtual ennui in the span of a few years? I can't speak for everyone, but I think it boils down to the limits of immersionism and simulation.

The limits of immersionism.

Most of the active Second Lifers I knew in 2008 adhered to a fairly radical immersionist philosophy. They not only kept their wallet name identities hidden from other virtual worlders, but also kept their avatar identities secret from atomic world friends, families and colleagues. Active immersionists routinely spent 20, 30 or even 40+ hours per week in Second Life. It took that much time to make the virtual world come alive, nurture relationships, and establish community through ongoing participation in musical, artistic, charitable and social events. These bigger-than-life virtual identities were almost totally divorced from their human counterparts' relationships and activities.

Ultimately, such double lives proved to be more than most of us could handle. Atomic world jobs and relationships suffered due to lack of time, attention and sleep. Virtual world relationships and commitment were eventually undermined by conflicts with atomic world obligations. The bright flame of that greatest generation of digital people was fueled by candles burning at both ends. It was only a matter of time before they burned out.

The limits of simulation.

Chestnut's description of her first year in Second Life is a great depiction of honeymoon consciousness. Everything is fresh and new. You see life in new ways, discovering inspiring insights into your own human potential. There is often drama, as latent psychological issues emerge in the intensity of reawakened emotional capacity.

But no matter how intense an attraction, all honeymoons eventually end. The initial flame of rapturous attraction fades. Negative aspects that were hidden in the glare of infatuation come to light. And people start to figure out whether there is enough substance to justify the hard work required to build a deep long term relationship. Digital simulation at this time and for the foreseeable future can offer only a pale shadow of the deep complexity and interdependence of the physical world.
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
from Trees by Joyce Kilmer
The pioneers of Extropia pushed the limits of what is possible in virtual life. We expanded the envelope of human potential and experienced ourselves in new ways. Many of us tapped into creative potential that had never been actualized through our physical world experience. But we ultimately bumped up hard against the limits of the virtual world. And the pain of our disillusionment was caused by the depth of our investment in an idealistic illusion.

I love virtual worlds for what they offer that is NPIRL (not possible in real life). But virtual worlds at this time can't provide an adequate substitute for most of what the physical world has to offer. Like the old commercial said, "Long distance is the next best thing to being there, " but there is an enormous chasm between what is best and its virtual stand-in.

So I think that the solution is to appreciate the virtual world both for what it is, and for what it is not; to integrate our virtual and physical lives so that they are synergistic rather than antagonistic; and to accept that our passion for any pursuit will ebb and flow over time. And that's okay.


Chestnut Rau said...

Thank you for this post. All I could come up with is a tweet!

My time is limited and it is quite true, my SL honeymoon is over. Luckily much interesting conversation happens over social media and many of my SL relationships have moved to RL.

Bay Sweetwater said...

Every time I see one of these Second-Life-doesn't-work-for-me-like-it-used-to posts, I just want to cry. Believe me, the atomic life doesn't work for me like it used to either. Things change. It's true the virtual can never be a substitute for the atomic. It was never meant to be. Nor can the atomic be a substitute for the virtual. What I will always value about Second Life is how it awakens a poetic, dreamy side of me I don't have a clue how to touch in my atomic world.

Botgirl Questi said...

Chestnut: Thanks for that tweet and the subsequent conversation thread. I love those little thought provokers!

Botgirl Questi said...

Bay: I hear you. And I realize that for some people, the honeymoon never ended. I agree with you about there being NPIRL aspects to the virtual world that are of unique value. I appreciate them too.

Chestnut Rau said...

Bay it makes me really quite sad to feel the way I do. I never wanted to fall out of love with Second Life.

Whiskey Monday said...

A few thoughts that I had, watching your discussion on Twitter:

- I think that the “outside” SL community has actually hurt SL. More and more people are connecting via Twitter, FB, and blogs. Even though they’re using their avatar identities to do it, they’re doing it outside of Second Life. The community has grown, but that’s diluted the inworld experience. Flickr is now the SL gallery of choice, instead of viewing art inworld. And many avatars who meet in social media outside SL never speak inworld. It’s an odd phenomena.

- I sometimes feel the need to defend my love of Second Life during these conversations. As if I’m somehow lesser or being left behind by those who are looking to their first lives for the kind of stimulation they used to find inworld. There’s always the qualifying, “I’m not dissing anyone who still loves SL” tacked on, but it still feels like I’m somehow broken or less evolved for still finding the joy in virtual worlds.

I still love my second life. I have found support, friendship, a creative outlet and a way to explore a world without leaving mine.

I don't fault anyone for losing that spark. It makes me sad to see it, though, in people who have had such a profound effect on my own SL experience. Watching my favorite bloggers and artists just peter out is hard.

But people change. Second Life has changed. I get that. For now, though, I'll keep doing what feels right for me, and support everyone else doing the same.

But I sure do miss Ches's SL blog.

R. said...

As I ponder the deepening rut my SL identify is in, I find myself humming Green Day's "Redundant" over and over.

I killed off SecondLie because it was the same old jokes, over and over. But then, he was 99% twitter, not SL... wasn't he?

Slowly crawling through the bureaucracy and legalese and red tape of my injury, I wonder if I'll emerge wanting to stick my thumb in my mouth and escape this all-to-real reality again and dive into the pixel space... or just dive into something else for escape, like books or more intense writing.

My user hours may be high, but they're really just idle time... rocking back... and forth... back... and forth...


Chestnut Rau said...

I miss my blog too. I miss my Second Life like mad. I just don't really know how to get it back.

Unknown said...

wow I hope I did not offend anyone with my comments on that thread yesterday. I definitely did not mean to do that. I don't think anyone is less or somehow less evolved for loving SL and virtual worlds. Actually, it might sound odd but I was feeling less than and less evolved because I no longer feel the same joy for SL the way I used to. So I figured that's a clear sign that it was time for me to move on.

Anyway, good post and my apologies if my responses in those tweets came across that way.

Whiskey Monday said...

Nooooo, Carrie, your post didn't cause those feelings. It's my own thing.

I figure it's much like what my fellow teachers felt when I told them I was leaving school to homeschool my daughters. "What, we're not good enough for you anymore?"

I don't think you, Chestnut or anyone else who is spending less time in SL or giving it up completely are snubbing the rest of us who are still happy there. Not at all. It's an internal dialogue that I have, purely caused by my own loverly neurosis ;)

Whiskey Monday said...

There was a time when Marxie bun was happy to spend time exploring SL, blogging about SL, DJing and just generally immersing in the bun. She's been in SL less and less lately, and doesn't write about SL at all anymore. And it stings my heart a bit, because I feel sad and threatened and a little bit left behind. It's not anyone's fault, certainly not Marx's, nor mine. It's simply the evolution of a person. The cycles of life. Intellectually I know this, but emotionally it makes me sad to see those people who really made SL brighter for me moving their light away.

Make sense?

Unknown said...

It totally makes sense Whiskey.

My own neurosis is that I am hyper-sensitive which causes me to get paranoid sometimes ;)

Botgirl Questi said...

Whiskey: I don't think we ever met in a 3D virtual world, so I'm very grateful for the avatar-identified community outside of Second Life.on blogs and social networks. :)

Unknown said...

It totally makes sense Whiskey.

My own neuroses is that I am hyper-sensitive which causes me to get paranoid sometimes. ;)

Botgirl Questi said...

Crap: I really respect your decision to bail out on SecondLie when it stopped being creatively satisfying. I gave up line-in-the-sand pseudonymity for similar reasons. The character that once set my creativity and imagination free eventually became a cage.

Botgirl Questi said...

Chestnut: I miss the good old days too.

hazel said...

/me sighs: »Me too…«

May O. Mingzi said...

Thanks for a very thought-provoking post. I've been in SL a little more than a year and am now a sim co-owner and SL store owner, so obviously I'm still going strong. I think that people's situations and needs change. And sometimes they change back.

Botgirl Questi said...

May: For sure! Things change and then back again. Hopefully more upwards spiral than endless circle.

sororNishi said...

Thanks for a great post, as usual. There is also, I think (and have blogged),an element of therapy in SL.
Therapy, like going on holiday, makes you stand back from your situation and re-evaluate stuff.
It maybe, in addition to the limits you rightly identify, that the lessons learned in SL need to be tested in another reality...
...but I miss it too, like I miss my youth ... on occasion.

DrFran said...

This amazing post is breaking through the denial that told me Second LIfe was the wave of the future, and that we will all have virtual lives, etc.
I think we have reached a tipping point, because the people whose blogs I read daily, the folks I see at most major events (except maybe Daniel Voyager), all seem to think that it's denouement time.
I love Second Life, but maybe my atomic friends are right thinking I was crazy to spend so much time there.

Botgirl Questi said...

DrFran, It's hard to deny that Second Life wasn't the wave of the near-term future many of us thought it would be. But I think ongoing dvances in technology might still break down the visually based barrier between virtual and physical life in the way that texting, social networks, etc. have blurred the boundary in communication and social interaction.

I value the time I spent in Second Life and don't believe it was wasted. Quite the contrary. As Soror commented, I found it therapeutic, especially related to creative expression. I also still believe very strongly that pseudonymous virtual identity can be very beneficial and can provide a safe haven for online activity.

The main way I think Immersionists got it wrong was in seeing the virtual world as a self-contained replacement for the physical world. Many of us thought that Second Life was the equivalent of a small country and that people would eventually be able to live out the majority of their lives within it.

Another big problem was that many of the active people I knew in Second Life at the time hid their avatar identities from spouses and significant others. This issue alone was the primary cause of some people's sudden departure from the grid.

Botgirl Questi said...

Oops. Hit "Publish Your Comment" too soon.

Anyway, this post wasn't intended as a recantation of my first enthusiastic years of avatar life, or criticism of anyone who is currently focusing their energies there. I was mostly trying to reflect on why so many of my 2008 social circle in Second Life have moved on. And I think that the problem was mostly in not being able to bridge their virtual and physical world when the split approach became either untenable or unsatisfying.

sororNishi said...

My personal situation was not one of a disjoint between RL and SL, more of the feeling you described in your post "wow! to whatever" [or something like that] ... where the amazing possibilities opened up by the new technology failed to continue the upgrade progression I was expecting. I wanted more.