It’s SL’s tenth birthday today. And here’s the final part of my ‘Absent’ series.
In AFK I wrote about a character who was – by her own admission – addicted to Second Life. She spent as much time inworld as she possibly could; she even slept logged in so that the dingding of any IMs coming to her during the night would wake her up.
I can’t say that I’ve ever been that addicted to SL, but for sure there was a long period – of several years – when any day without at least some metaverse time felt hopelessly incomplete. I’d even go so far as to say that I regarded SL time during these years as the period during which I could be most true to myself as I felt myself to be in my non-working hours. SL was where I existed, socially. To a certain extent, I had good reasons for that.
It was more than a little ironic that I should have felt that way about the metaverse, since one of my curiosities about it in the first place was the whole issue of online world addiction. The key reason that I entered when I did was as task avoidance from working on a book I was writing at the time, but that’s not to say I didn’t also have questions I wanted answering. One of those concerned addiction. I’d heard a few months earlier about a young man in Japan who had actually died from sitting in one place for too long whilst he was gaming in an online world. I just didn’t see how that was possible.
Although I personally never fell victim to such a level of addiction as that, I came close enough that I could see clearly how it was possible. I remember a day fairly early on in my residency when the whole grid went down for several hours. This used to happen every now and again back then, but rarely for more than a few minutes. Linden posted a message on the SL website encouraging us to view this downtime as an opportunity to get reacquainted with our first lives again. “Go and walk your dog,” they joked. I wanted to scream.
Interestingly, time spent on the internet has been proposed as a possible factor in the current downward trend in UK crime. The proposal is that young people who might previously have spent time getting up to anti-social shenanigans in the evening are now spending their free time online at home. There’s no evidence for this as yet, far less any idea as to what on the internet might be most responsible, but the reduction in crime – and through a period of economic depression most commonly associated with an increase in crime – is marked and experts are scratching their heads in genuine bewilderment. There has to be something they hadn’t thought of before and the table is open to all ideas.
Few people would complain about crime reducing, but what if the cost of that is internet addiction? As online, graphical environments such as that offered by SL become more and more immersive, will more and more people surrender their entire lives to the virtual world of their choice?
I’m no longer addicted to SL, but neither am I someone who has to leave it completely in order to be free of it. I go inworld sometimes as little as half an hour in a week. Occasionally, I get the desire to do a particular thing and can spend much longer, or visit every day for a while. But, somehow – and I’m not entirely sure how or why – the need to be in whenever I can is now just a distant memory. I’m perfectly content for SL to be just a thing I sometimes enjoy.
The metaverse still fascinates me; I follow news about it avidly and there are often things I read about which I decide I have to witness or try for myself. I still consider myself very much a resident. But SL has lost its hold on me. For the most part, I’m glad about that.
For the most part.