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Does Your Life Suck?

In the MySpace-meets-Matrix online world of Second Life, everyone is sexy, real money flows, and pixels are the only limitation

This is Second Life (SL), a three-dimensional virtual environment created by Linden Lab, a seven-year-old San Francisco–based company. In this pixelated alternate world — a mainland surrounded by islands that spans more than 42,000 acres in real-world scale, bigger than metropolitan Boston — account holders aren’t users, they’re “residents.” In this world, you can fly. You can “teleport.” You can’t drown. You do not age. You can have an awkward version of cyber-sex. You can tailor your “avatar,” an endlessly customizable 3-D representation of your Second Life self, in any imaginable shape. You can be an emerald dragon, a horned devil baby, a furry fox, or a lumbering gingerbread man. But most avatars you’ll encounter are idealized human shapes. And in this world, real people spend real money (yes, actual US dollars) on make-believe skate boards, T-shirts, and islands like Zephyr Heights, which cost $1250 US Dollars to purchase from Linden Lab with a USD $195 monthly maintenance fee — possessions that can’t be ridden, worn, or visited outside a computer screen.

Beyond this world, in real life — a/k/a what Second Lifers refer to as “meatspace,” where your body is made of flesh, not bytes — Tapioca says she’s Diane Falco, an 18-year-old living in New Jersey. She spends most days as her Vans-wearing, faux-hawk-preening, alter-ego avatar, hanging out and building things in her home base of Zephyr Heights. Falco, who’s out of high school, sells boards for $300 Linden Dollars a piece. She says they earn her between $50,000 and $70,000 weekly in the fluctuating fictional currency, which as of last Tuesday was trading at approximately $308 Lindens (L) to every US dollar. On average, that grosses Falco a real-world income of between USD $162 and USD $227 every seven days, the equivalent of a part-time job. And since she still lives at home with her parents, Second Life functions as Falco’s office.

SL is already creating its own marquee names. Take Aimee Weber (her avatar name), an SL fashion designer who left her real-world job to work in Second Life full-time. Thus far, her two highest-profile projects have been the Regina Spektor listening station and the American Apparel store. “I think Second Life will be like the Web eventually,” says Weber. “Almost everything cool will need to have a 3-D presence online. Just like now if you say that a company doesn’t have a Web page, you’re kind of like, ‘What happened? Why no page?’ I think that’ll happen with 3-D.”

“SL is going to be a part of your online experience, no different than the concept of a browser,” predicts Linden’s Fleck. Presently, “all the sudden your browser pops up and allows you to see whatever it is that you searched for, or clicked on in somebody’s document or e-mail. Similarly, I believe that’s what SL is going to be: another browser that pops up and allows you to experience whatever it is you’re looking for [in 3-D] online.” He adds, “When that seamlessness happens, we’ll be well on our way to having something that’s part of everyday life.”

If Second Life truly takes hold, millions will spend hours doing business, meeting people, and just living inside the virtual world. As future upgrades are made, there will likely be short-term advances: voice-over technology, fewer system crashes, photo-realistic environments. But in the longer term, humans might someday be able to upload their memories, their personalities, their entire lives, into their avatars. And they might be able to program them to live and breathe and interact for all eternity inside Second Life. Humanity’s great quest for immortality might finally be solved.
I find this absolutely fascinating. While I've spent most of my time on this blog advocating potential applications for consumer augmented reality, I've pretty much left alone the possibilities for virtual reality. Maybe it's because there's such a stigma for that term, with visions of people with huge clunky visors on their heads looking at Tron-style graphics. But it is clear to me that VR is coming, it is going to be compelling, and it is going to be an economic force.

Now where do augmented reality and virtual reality intersect? Let me sleep on that. Maybe you guys have some ideas about that to get me kick started.

I'm gonna try this out for a little bit and see what I think...

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