I'm just trying to get this life right.
It's interesting to read about all these people from all walks of life that participated in the earliest versions of virtual communities. They have different backgrounds and want different things from their virtual communities. I have a lot of respect for those pioneering people that for one thing started using computers before they became user friendly, and then started to connect with other people from all over the planet. It was a way to reach out and communicate with groups from all over.
Having said that, I have to say that I've always thought that my friends who opted to play crude games and endlessly chat online were a little odd. The use of computers did not interest me at all. I thought that my friends were crazy for goofing around on their machines, especially when it was a nice day out or there were other things to do. Sadly, I also thought that computers would never be useful or any kind of big deal. OOPs I was wrong.
From reading Turkle's writing about the different people that "MUD", I came away from it surprised that people would construct such elaborate "realities". Though the primitive technology of the time didn't allow for graphics, people would simply construct their dungeons with text and leave the rest to their imagination. Turkle describes it as "...a text-based, virtual reality" (Turkle 181).
Looking at it that way, it still sounds boring. But when you add other people to the mix, it seems less boring. From my own experience with online communities, I have found that communicating with other people that share my interests can be comforting. I usually just write into online forums. There is one for Jeep owners. On that forum I can communicate with other Jeep owners from around the world. I jokingly call it a Jeep support group. We help each other with mechanical problems and talk about off- roading. Some of the members are a bit backwards but I cope. There is also another forum for photographers that I enjoy going to. It's great to have access to so many photographers. We compare photos and give advice. In the real world it would be impossible to have access to so many people. I guess I get a sense of comradery from it. I belong somewhere! ha ha
So I guess when you add the human element into the mix, the whole concept can become more interesting. It's nice to communicate with others that share your interests. But there is a limit. I read about Robert in chapter 7 of Turkle's book. It sounded as if he used the mud to escape the realities of his dysfunctional family life. For a seven month period, he claimed that he "...MUDded over 80 hours a week" (Turkle 201) It's one thing to do something to escape or have fun, but something is wrong when it gets to 80 hours a week of usage.
I knew a guy that was a bit too obsessed with online gaming and chatting. He lived in his friend's parent's basement for a number of years. His teeth eventually rotted out from neglect. All he ever did was play and/or talk online. His skin was really white from his lack of exposure to the sun. Amazingly, he eventually met a woman (online) from Indonesia and married her.
I think that creating an alternate identity has its appeals, but I wouldn't want to do it constantly. It sounds like a good way to shed you inhibitions, but does it really help you in the real world? I'd rather go to Mardi Gras and shed my inhibitions there. (Not too much though ha ha) Or travel to another country. When I went to Europe, I definitely felt a kind of freedom and excitement that I haven't experienced here.
I do think it's good when the alternate identity serves a purpose. Gordon for example, used his multiple identities to help develop qualities that he wanted to attain (Turkle 190). I think that using these things as tool for self improvement is admirable. It seems like this new practice has limitless possibilities to help people.
Second Life looks like the next generation of virtual reality. It reminds me of the whole helmet, goggles and gloves interface that was hyped up in the nineties. The idea of owning your own virtual island sound kind of interesting. And using it for business purposes sounds really wild. When I read that, it reminded me of times when coworkers got a little lippy with me via email. I believe that the lack of face to face contact emboldened then to mouth off. (They back right down when you inquire about their attitude.) Maybe if businesses used Second Life for some interaction, the Avatar, or image of a person will remind the mouthy ones that there is another person on the end of that line.