Second Lives and online utopias

Roz Kaveny looks at Second Lives by Tim Guest, in the Times Literary Supplement:

SecondlifeThere is a place where I have a different name, am slightly taller and a lot slimmer and have a mane of scarlet hair. I am not gregarious there, and hardly ever speak to anyone except in the most perfunctory of ways – I go there when bored, to walk in the greenwoods someone has designed, or occasionally to wander around an art exhibition if I stumble across one, or to fly endlessly above blue-grey seas, or to walk the half-made hills and valleys beneath those seas. It is a place of peace for me, accessible for twenty minutes or three hours, by pressing “enter” a few times on my keyboard. Yet it never persuades me that it is real, because its pine forests have no smell and the ambient sound of crickets and birdsong is clearly canned, even if I opt for the sound- track provided rather than accompanying it with Vivaldi.

Other people use Second Life, one of the more interesting virtual worlds frequented in the West, for far more active endeavours, pursuing careers as architects or whores, wearing the skins of zombies and furry animals and great winged beasts. Some use it for terrorism or crime – Tim Guest, in his excellent journalistic study of virtual realities, Second Lives, spends time with a cyberDon who arranges for his enemies to be deleted from the system, and with “bombers” whose endlessly self-duplicating pieces of data close down whole sections of the world at a time. One aspect of being human is to find ways of taking a technology and making it a means of being a nuisance to other people.

More here.