Second life: a utopian project gone bad

On: October 14, 2007
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About Tjerk Timan
During the last couple of years, I have been involved in Industrial Design at the Technical University of Eindhoven, both on the theoretical as well as the physical/practical side, always working on the boarder between the digital and physical. After an internship at Mediamatic, I wanted to get more involved in the digital side of new media. Currently, I am investigating the complex realm of new media [at] the master course New Media, UvA. With a thesis focus now on ‘objects that blog’ within the context of an internet of things, the challenge is to investigate the agency and influence of things. Especially when these things, being digital or physical, are capable of sharing, posting, editing, deleting content. And on who’s account? Within that same line of thought, the digital is often taking itself for granted maybe too much, where often the step towards WHO and HOW data is manipulated is left out of the loop. Taking these things back into the (design) loop is one of my missions, with the statement in mind that the way content is created and consumed has at least as much importance as the technology driving it. Furthermore, I am currently active within the Digital Methods Initiative at the University of Amsterdam. Also, I do some occasional freelance work, where disciplines differ from web-design to workshops to product design.


second life logo
Of course, we all know Second life, any many writings already exist. Mostly on how incredible and promising this open-source-collaborative online community-building actually is.
To see in what ways these terms hold any value nowadays, I logged into Second Life after a long, long time. Shocking experience…

Instead of the usual whatever-take on these ‘do you agree’ buttons, I actually started to read it, because obviously, Second Life is not your free-roam-around 3d chat-room anymore. Somebody introduced some rules.
As Christoph Spehr notes, in current societies, especially within capitalism, there are always certain parties that create the rules of the kitchen and, since it is in their power, they will uphold this rules by any means (since it is the reliance on these rules that keeps them in the drivers seat).

In the kitchen of Second Life, I came across the following rules:
more rules…

In the three guiding steps by Christoph Spehr, the first one already conflicts with the kitchen rules:

There are three aspects that have to be taken into account if you want to build a free cooperation. The first is that all rules in this cooperation can be questioned by everybody, there are no holy rules that people cannot question or reject or bargain and negotiate about .

So, in this digital utopia of society-creating, I cannot have a discourse about the rules? I found this quite a disappointment; while having this great opportunity to learn about human-society processes, the way to cooperative knowledge is shut. Why?
no entry
Because even utopias have back doors and secret agendas. In this case the picture shows a no-entry zone.

It’s very important that the concept of free cooperation does not dictate special ways of structuring societies or any other levels of the social


You also have to develop forms of getting independent and forms of articulation, critical articulation, of reclaiming public space.

Where is the reclaiming of public space in Second Life? Why are (capitalist) rules of kitchen not under attack? I guess this is due to the fact that this public space has no value but economic. Its not about social capital, its about nihilistic (ab)use of this digital space, turning it into the same everyday as analogue life (except for the tele-porting, that is).

Although this all seems rather disappointing and the LindenLab policy seems rather patronizing, of course some of these standards were needed to create possibilities for social interaction and (hopefully) some collaborative work, an yes, the chatting is fun (for half an hour) and the interface does allow you to respond to social actions very adequately. I would have liked it better though if the sets of rules and limitations was created through and/ or by the citizens of second life, not by an institutional ‘outside’.
To finish with one more (very nice) quote by Spehr:

Everything that people do together is a kind of cooperation because they share work and they use the work and the experience and the bodily existence of others – also historical and direct and indirect ways. And though there are two extremes, free cooperations and forced cooperations, most of what we know in most societies is forced cooperation.

Comments are closed.