Friday, December 1, 2006

MANIFESTO: I'm not out to ruin anybody's fun.

Yes, I really do hate second life, but that's not really my problem. I'm not out to ruin anybody's fun, but when people talk about SL as "the future of the internet": why yes, I do have a problem with that. This is what the internet of the future is supposed to look like? Are you saying that I'm going to have to drag an avatar around through an elaborate virtual reality interface to surf, to chat, to shop, to do research? I mean, frankly Scarlett, fuck that.

I've spent a few hours strolling the streets of Nowheresville, and to me, Second Life is basically a chat client with the biggest and most bloated GUI ever. With 32 mbs of RAM, a Linux command line, and a simple program like BitchX, I can connect to an IRC server and find a chatroom dedicated to a subject that I am passionate about. Why mess with avatars and artificial streets?

I can't think of any social, educational or organizational function that good old IRC couldn't do more simply and directly-- and therefore better-- than Second Life, though maybe in tandem with other internet technologies, e.g. a webcam or two. Why would I want to drag an avatar to a virtual classroom? I went to a LUG meeting once in second life... it was boring and distracting. When everybody sits down for a gathering, it's kind of static, like the picture of the dogs playing poker. The scrolling text actually moves more.

There's a political element to all of this. Unnecessary super-elaborate graphics are going to require more expensive computers and faster connections to do things that otherwise wouldn't require more than a 20 dollar garage sale computer, a free Linux system, and a simple dial-up connection. The benefits of the internet should be available to everyone, and this kind of graphical excess precludes that.

But, like I said before, I'm not out to spoil anybody's fun, and I don't oppose Second Life per se. It's amazing and wonderful technology, with many wonderful possibilies for entertainment and art. I just don't want to see the internet being made over like this. I just want to do what I can to make sure that Second Life stays where it belongs... in Second Life. I reserve the right to change y mind about Second Life, to decide that I like hanging out there, but to always hate the hype, and the threat of graphical gigantism that it represents.


glyn moody said...

These are all good points. But I think it's important to distinguish between what you can use and what others can.

Certainly, it would be possible to use the Lynx browser if you really wanted sleek, lean software. But I doubt whether many people could. Indeed, I will never forget seeing my parents - well into their 70s - getting the hang of a Web browser in about a minute: this, despite the fact that practically all other software was a complete mystery and required hours of hand-holding.

That, I think, is what Second Life is about: making it easier for people who find current methods difficult. The thing is, we are social animals; anything that is modelled on our social behaviour is far easier to assimilate and adopt. I don't think IRC really manages that. Indeed, even though I've been using computers for over a quarter of a century, I never use it because I find its interface pretty, well, barbarous. But conferences in Second Life don't have this feeling: they feel natural for all their crude graphics and movement.

Arguably Second Life's biggest failing is the fact that you need to type: I don't think it will really take off until we can just talk and hear others there.

As for the super-elaborate graphics, and super-expensive computers, I think you might want to redirect your ire towards that nice Mr Ballmer: Vista looks pretty hungry in this regard, and seems to offer practically nothing over Windows 3.1. Second Life may be computationally and graphically intensive, but it is also unbelievably beyond anything that VRML, say, was offering ten years ago, so the requirements seem justified.

Les said...

Does this mean you're actually in Second Life? Noooo, come towards the light! Play Warcraft!

blackbelt_jones said...

Thanks for the comments.

Glyn, if you don't mind, I think I'll put my response in the main part of the blog, since it'll be the only original content I'll be coming up with this week. Myabe in a day or two. I'll try to let you know when I post.