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And as our actual world keeps delivering weekly horrors—another mass shooting, another hurricane, another tweet from the president threatening nuclear war—the appeal of that alternate world keeps deepening, along with our doubts about what it means to find ourselves drawn to it.F an anthropologist named Tom Boellstorff inhabited Second Life as an embedded ethnographer, naming his avatar Tom Bukowski and building himself a home and office called Ethnographia.It raises questions about where unfettered fantasy leads, as well as about how we navigate the boundary between the virtual and the real.As virtual-reality technology grows more advanced, it promises to deliver a more fully realized version of what many believed Second Life would offer: total immersion in another world.Her days are full of the selflessness and endless mundanity of raising children with special needs: giving her twins baths after they have soiled themselves (they still wear diapers, and most likely always will), baking applesauce bread with one to calm him down after a tantrum, asking the other to stop playing “the Barney theme song slowed down to sound like some demonic dirge.” One day, she takes all four kids to a nature center for an idyllic afternoon that gets interrupted by the reality of changing an adolescent’s diaper in a musty bathroom.But each morning, before all that—before getting the kids ready for school and putting in eight hours at the call center, before getting dinner on the table or keeping peace during the meal, before giving baths and collapsing into bed—Bridgette spends an hour and a half on the online platform Second Life, where she lives in a sleek paradise of her own devising. I’m slow moving, trying to get out of bed this morning.
“So the actual world is Wendy’s dream, until she wakes up again in Second Life?His immersive approach was anchored by the premise that the world of Second Life is just as “real” as any other, and that he was justified in studying Second Life on “its own terms” rather than feeling obligated to understand people’s virtual identities primarily in terms of their offline lives.His book Coming of Age in Second Life, titled in homage to Margaret Mead’s classic, documents the texture of the platform’s digital culture.Many observers expected monthly user numbers to keep rising after they hit 1 million in 2007, but instead they peaked—and have, in the years since, stalled at about 800,000.An estimated 20 to 30 percent are first-time users who never return.
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Just a few years after declaring Second Life the future of the internet, the tech world moved on.