Email, IM's, chatrooms, blogs, discussion boards. Today much of our communication takes place online. From MySpace to Yahoogroups to Blogspot many of us have relationships with people we may never meet in person. The researchers call this Computer-Mediated Communication. This blog will explore in laymens terms the findings of this research.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Don't Like your Life - Get a Second One

I must admit that in many ways I have lived a very sheltered cyber -- life. I haven't stolen cars, shot aliens out of the sky, Battle monsters with computer-controlled martial arts kicks. My idea of a computer game is more like chess or Scrabble. I haven't gotten into the role-playing type of computer games. So, I was rather unprepared for an experience I have had recently in a virtual world called "Second Life."

Second life is a virtual world in which you can interact with other people, build your own place, get a job, take or teach classes, and basically live a -- well -- second life. When you enter the second life universe, you choose an avatar. This is your doppelgänger in this virtual world. However, it was disconcerting was how quickly I was sucked into the experience. I found myself becoming part of this world. Even as I struggled with the keyboard controls to move my avatar round, I felt all the awkwardness of the new girl At school I wanted to make friends, but I was shy. So I stood in the corner and examined the art on the walls, read the virtual newspapers, and checked out the gardens.

Much research has been done into the concept of online communities which are built around discussion boards, and USENET, or e-mail groups. These text-based communities can build strong ties between individuals. They have a social structure, hierarchies, villains and heroes. Nevertheless, you lack the feeling of being there.

These virtual worlds, like Second Life and its predecessor The Sims, take these online communities to a different level. Earlier tonight, I was chatting with a woman in wings about clothing made out of "prims.” And even though I was physically sitting in a recliner chair with a laptop on my lap, while I talked to her, I felt the need to sit in a virtual chair because she was sitting in one.

These new interactive social virtual worlds would seem to be fertile ground for site for cyber-anthropological studies. The conversations seemed to be qualitatively different than what I have experienced in chat rooms over the past 15 years. They bear a stronger resemblance to the small talk you hear parties, and the more purposeful chat room conversations.

Of course, research methodology in studying such virtual worlds would have to involve qualitative measures more than quantitative ones. The participant-Observer approach which seemed to be the most practical. The researcher would be like the anthropologist who lives with a primitive tribe of people for an extended period of time taking part in their activities but still maintaining a certain amount of detachment in recording and observing the culture.

Other research opportunities of a more quantitative nature, could explore the characteristics of such cyber-citizens and whether or not such involvement in virtual worlds affects their face-to-face relationships.

I will probably visit second life once again or twice. Who knows? I might even get a piece of land and build a little vacation house. It isn't a bad place to visit. Oh, and did I mention that in the second life world I can fly!


Post a Comment

<< Home