It wasn’t long before we sat in front of our computers and chatted with global netizens, and wondered what a fabulous gift technology is. I still remember how thrilled I was when I got a reply for my first email. It was a different kind of experience realizing the fact that someone sitting somewhere in the world sends a letter to me in just a matter of seconds! The little chat window which we loved most onetime, evolved through a revolutionary phase, from simple plain text chat programs to a range of voice/video enabled kinds we now have at our disposal.
Then we saw a myriad of social networking sites which took the youth by storm..Facebook,Orkut,Beebo to name just a few. What is amazing is that these social interaction platforms have become popular without many advertisements, but through simple word- of- mouth.
The potential of these tools are tremendous – it provides enormous advertising capabilities which they are set to leverage to a large extent. We should consider the personal advertisement capabilities too when talking about such tools. Suddenly they have become a media to shout to the world what you are doing!
While we continue to interact with our fellow netizens using these latest technologies, a new breed of net dwellers is catching on like wild fire! They are the Virtual World residents. The term ‘Global Citizen’ is literally turning to reality in these Virtual Worlds.
The one caught my attention is Second Life from Linden Labs, which takes online social interaction to new dimensions. Second Life was launched in 2003 and then on its growth has been phenomenal. The underlying idea is the same – interact with people- but how they have transformed such a simple idea to a big business opportunity is something interesting to look at.
It provides a ‘Virtual World’ where we can reside, meet people, go shopping, go clubbing and so many other things you do in real life. Out of curiosity, I created an account to see what it offers, and found the design / technology similar to some of the role play/mission accomplishment games. What makes it different from these ordinary 3D games is that there is no mission-no killings and no shootings- it’s just a place to live in!
You can do as you please, of course without offending the fellow residents. To sweeten the pot, one can even generate a stable income from the Second Life with a bit of creativity and a little money. It offers Land, which we need to buy/rent to start our business establishments and once we are familiar with the technology we can create and offer our unique services/products to people who are interested.
For example, a fashion designer can design and create clothes for the avatars (the online version of yourself), and price them. If someone is interested in your creation, they can buy it from you, just like in real world. All transactions are carried out in their internal currency, Linden $, which maintains an exchange rate with real world dollar currency. Oops! It’s not a game anymore.
Though such technologies are intended to make our lives easier and better, it remains to be seen how it affects human relationships. Second Life also has a human relationship aspect, as it allows one avatar to have a relationship with another avatar, if he/she is ‘well equipped’. Yes – you can have sex too, what is known in the virtual world as ‘Ageplay’! This is possible by buying one of those countless animations/other tools up for sale in the virtual world, making the creators of these products wealthier.
Though we like to embrace everything new and revolutionary, aren’t we missing something? Aren’t we undergoing a transformation in our social behavior? We will be shocked to see how these latest online social trends meant for mere fun have crept into our real lives, a perfect example being the divorce case recently filed in Britain after the online avatar of wife found her husband’s avatar with another Second Life resident in a compromising position - of course virtually. ‘Should we really encourage such simulation worlds if we are a bit serious about them’ is one question that needs our immediate attention.
When asked one of my acquaintances, who is in his fifties, about his views on the success of face book and other social interacting sites, he reacted saying
Computers are shallow equipments destined or designed only to help humans in a mechanical way, it seldom takes you into the inner realms of human mind. However, every human being is destined to learn the truth in the hard way. And one day wisdom will dawn upon us; by that time we will discover that we have become old!
But I have to admit that I haven’t become that old yet though!’