1. Being Part of a Revolutionary Medium
If you don't know from talking to me personally, I have been part of the net and the WWW since its very beginnings. I feel like I am in at the birth of the most significant revolution in communications since television. I had one of the first widely-read pages/sites/"blogs" on the WWW in 1995. Second Life is an extention of the 3D web that was conceived in the VRML worlds of 1996-1999 and I was there. I went where that edge went in 1999 - to the gamer worlds, who picked up the 3D torch and made inroads and breakthroughs that formed the base of the multiuser worlds we have today. I came back through those worlds to Second Life as a medium of artistic work, but the continuum of my experience has been steady since 1981. This is the first time in my lifetime that I can be in on the very beginnings of a fundamental shift in human communication. I am committed to this revolution.
2. Unfettered Creativity
I have nothing in Second Life that I do not bring with me. I may be old, or young; I may be female or male; I may be tall, short, black, Chinese, an academic or a comic-book reader. I can even be "disabled" in the Offline world. I can create my self-persona free from every physical and external influence. That persona is as much an extension of my real being as the personas I wear at work, playing with a child or at an academic conference.
If I want to make things, I can make them. If I want to sell them, or give them away, I can do that also. I can dance if I wish to, or meditate peacefully. If I do not know how to do something, like scripting, I can learn; many people will help me.
Unlike in the Offline world, I can experiment with materials without using them up, destroying them, losing them, paying over and over for them or ruining them with one careless brush- or hammer-stroke. I can keep progressive copies of my assemblies at their various stages, and go back and take off on a tangent from original approaches. If I cannot afford my own land, there are public sandboxes to explore my creativity. Often the need to texture a piece I am working on will send me off to create a texture for it, or learn how to create something else for it, expanding my awareness and abilities in various other mediums like graphics or sound.
3. Possibilities/The Future
This really is a sub-topic from #1 above. This is a medium still in baby-stages. The range of possibilities for communication and for art are enormous. The contribution of this medium (the net) and 3d visualization will have profound and far-reaching effects on our future as human beings. This is extremely exciting!
For instance... many of us know the animation called "dream dance," which sends your avatar spinning and flying in a graceful and exuberant series of motions. I dunno about you... but I have often danced that way in my dreams... and in Second Life, I can share that with others.
Likewise, a Tasuko Ghost performance is as compelling and transporting as any big-budget modern rock show and often more transcending. Spending time with a Glyph Graves, a Bryn Oh or a four Yip piece is as fulfilling and soul-deepening as any revered novel or artwork... although you cannot sit INSIDE a novel or film or painting as you can in Second Life.
It took several years for the art of photography to influence the painters, and yet it has had a wide and thorough influence on modern art. Likewise, the advent of the electronic studio had to pass through the stages of "mere recording" to blossom and flower into its' own art, that of modern electronic composition. This is the stage SL/the grid/the multiverse is in now. Imagine being there at the birth of the telephone or radio and having the ability to influence its future state.
I have harped on this before, but it needs pointing out: communication is THE killer app of the net/the grid/Second Life. Just as telephones knit modern life together, Second Life offers the opportunity to speak with people halfway around the world; to interface and deal with universities, artists, scripters, computer techs, fashion designers, Reikian healers, Buddhists and the stunning variety of people who regularly log in to Second Life. You never know who is behind that avatar.
My prime example is talking to someone on the telephone. This illustrates the complete foolishness of the debate of "real" vs "virtual." We have "virtual" experiences every day through novels, television programs and films that nonetheless impact us, influencing our thinking and emotions and thereby our future actions. The meditative correlates to this are the wind and love; you cannot see, touch, smell, taste or hear them, but you can observe their effects; therefore, they are real forces.
We have all been affected by "virtual" experiences; great paintings, architecture, films, books. Such things give us touchstones to the human experience, uniting us with others who have shared these experiences and responded to them in kind.
The basis of all human progress, social life and co-operative endeavor is communication. It is one of the hallmarks that distinguish us; the desire to share the experiences of life as a human being on this planet with others of our kind, be them lovers, husbands, wives, children or friends.
We have continuously expanded and amplified our range of communicative abilities, from the first pictoral scratchings on the caves of Lascaux to the telecommunications satellites in geosynchronous orbit around our planet. We like to be together. We like to talk. We signal to each other with our clothing, our movements, our music and our art.
Second Life, and the emerging grid, add another dimension to our ability to communicate mind-to-mind. Just as photography expanded the written letter and film expanded the still image, the technologies which allow us to transmit even more personal semantic information in our exchanges with another person without their direct presence allow us to explore human communication in greater depth, perhaps leading to the ultimate goal of any symbolic system: to truly communicate with another person.
Oh yeah, there's also... flying; one of the oldest dreams of humankind. When I first entered virtual worlds, and in every world I have entered, I spend a great deal of my first weeks there flying.
Where else can I dance and party and converse with people around the world, in many different societies and many different levels of them without spending huge amounts of money flying to the hippest discos and raves around the world?
Where else can I be a hippo, complete with sounds, gestures and AO? Wear a furry kitty tail and ears. Jump on a trampoline and soar 60m into the air without worrying? Wear the highest fashions without mortgaging my house? Build a house? Travel through time, or a painting; have flowers and trees talk to me and hug me; follow Alice as she chases the White Rabbit down a hole into a mysterious wonderland? Paint with light?
Psychologists will tell you that play is one of the most important tools of humankind. To think of play as an indulgence fit only for children is to be misinformed about the nature of the play experience. Play appears to allow our brains to exercise their very flexibility, to maintain and even perhaps renew the neural connections that embody our human potential to adapt, to meet any possible set of environmental conditions.
Play is an experience that is set Elsewhere; a mental and spiritual state distinctly separate from our quotidian life - our survival strategies, our long-term goals. We free up our neural circuitry from its accustomed pathways, unleashing the latent power of the human imagination.
"What is the point to SL?" is a question often expressed by people who are outside the experience. In this question is a whole lot of judgement and a modern and twisted view of time and value and experience. Most modern "play" is anything but - it is voraciously goal-driven, accomplishment-driven, timesliced and diced, allotted and calculated... more like work than actual play.
In Second Life, we can play. The medium offers us the creativity and tools to share personal dreams, visions and stories with others or to see our visions and dreams take shape before our own eyes. It allows us to struggle to bring forth the dim or bright shapes of our imagination by our own hands and see them revealed, expanded, clarified, explored. We can play with prims, or play with our avatar's image, or play with our manifestation.
In that playing, no matter how casual, a person's inner being is gradually revealed to themselves and to others. I have observed this countless times over many, many years. The deliberate crafting of a persona, as opposed to the haphazard way we create or absorb such personas in Offline life, can lead to surprising personal revelation and inner knowledge (ask Gracie Kendal). The opportunities for the average person to make wonderous things without formal schooling or expensive instruments or tools often liberates a tremendous amount of self-confidence, happiness and fulfillment.
For all of the reasons stated above, and many more illuminated in the countless blogs, articles, journals and machinima (itself a completely new medium) about the arts, sciences, education and social possibilities of the Second Life experience, I am fully committed to the net, Second Life and whatever comes after.
In 1995, I had this same feeling about the explosion of the net into the World Wide Web. At that time I also encountered the same disbelief, resistance and condemnation typical of the uninformed or badly-informed average person regarding "this computer thing that is wasting your time, a simple distraction and won't amount to anything but a novel experience."
We all know how wrong they were. We all know what the advent of the web and the growth of the net has meant to modern business, communication, the arts and sciences and the awesome ability to have an entire reference desk, more complete than any local copy ever could be (I mean, I can tiptoe through the halls of the Library of Congress!) within reach of the average person.
Yes, there are problems. Yes, many focus on those problems often; my belief is that those people's sheer love and emotional intensity regarding their involvement in these worlds causes them to critique, to try to elucidate their feelings and experiences in these worlds in order to understand them and improve them.
There were problems with the early telegraphs, railroad journeys or transatlantic crossings too. There were problems and dangers in pioneering any new land or continent. There were carpetbaggers, corrupt officials, unreliable technology and natural hazards. There were battles for control of the new land.
None of these things stopped human beings from reaching for the next horizon, and they shouldn't stop anyone from exploring Second Life, the net or the new grids.