Monday, March 9, 2009

Substantive Stories about Second Life: Turning Point for Mainstream Media?

Noobs, Boobs, Lindens
Location: Ahern/Morris Welcome Area

There was a Linden Lab employee at the welcome area the other day. Doing his best in a Federation uniform, he was batting about quips with the sharp-tongued loungers who congregate there, even as he helped the occasional newcomer. It seemed odd to see a Linden in this place; I understand that at one time, company employees regularly mingled with residents.

Perhaps Linden Lab is getting ready for something new.

In the past two weeks, PBS, NPR and the New York Times have all run substantive pieces about business, art, and education in Second Life. The NY Times story of artist Jeff Lipsky’s rise to fame as SL artist Filthy Fluno shows clearly how virtual worlds have an astounding ability to alter how we live and work.

For those of us who endured a lot of misinformed worry-mongering and doomsaying about the virtual world, these stories come as pure vindication. Whatever happens to our particular world of choice, the media are starting to “get it” and do a better job of treating a story as a story. We are getting beyond the sort of knee-jerk, and ironic, responses of some students, who worry that we’ll all soon “live inside a computer” even as they frantically text each other, check their Facebook profiles, and tweet about the banal events of their day.

For a long time, stories about SL have resembled a na├»ve foreign correspondent’s story from, say, Kirgizstan. The audience would not get “ohhh…look at that unusual hat!” or “Those wild and crazy Kirgiz. They still have shamans there!”

For too long, that was the approach to SL, and I see the trend away from “gee whiz” or “what a bunch of goons” to “there is a real story here, something important to those of us without avatars.”

Slowly and surely, stories like Filthy Fluno’s success in the real-life art market are being told. And the Lindens are at the welcome areas again. When I messaged the fellow, wishing him luck with the unruly crowd, he said “I come here to have fun and a few laughs.”

If the media pay more serious attention to SL again, Linden Lab may have reason to laugh…all the way to the bank.

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