Death Of A Skeptic Part 2

Continuing on from Part 1, Bix Ashbourne describes his early days as a Second Life resident:

I start wandering. Rude people, silent people, gregarious people, bothersome people, strange people, oddly dressed people…is this Los Angeles? So much for a different life. Armed with the in-world names of some real-life friends, I discover the search function, and ultimately, them. Kat, an in-world designer and RL computer genius and discussion board friend, comes to my rescue, showing me places to go, standing patiently while I avoid the type of nervous breakdown that only comes with information overload. Shows me some freebies, gives me some landmarks, then offers to tweak my avatar for me to de-burr me of the Noob flash. I let her in on my password, and a little while later, voila`! I am now ready to swing in SL, rolled denim pant cuffs notwithstanding.

I go back to one of the landmarks that Kat had given me, a public gathering place called The Shelter. A wonderful place for noobs, although, in retrospect, I might have chosen a more subtle experience, with less flash, motion, and conversation. I am befriended by a very sexy woman named Willa. The experience with her simply reinforces all the good things I’ve discovered, thus far, about SL, and she is alluring, the conversation flows very well, the mutual attraction kicks into high gear. After a while, the heat is on, and we TP to a new location.

It is at this point that I discover I’m gonna have to get a penis.

This had, until this moment, escaped me; my one real-life penis exists in a state of recluse that makes Howard Hughes look like tabloid fodder, getting a cartoon penis is not even on the radar, as I’m still trying to acclimate to the movement controls, let alone appearance sliders and what not. Regardless of this minor detail, Willa and I have a very good time, and I am not only reminded of the power of words, but have also been exposed to their power in a new context. I also come to the realization–pun thoroughly intended and application expected–that this particular activity, in the context of SL, is a veritable “interactive porn”. With the addition of voice chat, which I am thoroughly aware exists yet I do not, at this time, participate in, I can easily see how the level of satisfaction get raised several notches.

There’s a line, here…a line one can sit right on the knife-edge of…and it’s the line between organic and electronic. You begin to question the human experience in organic terms, wondering how it is one can get some satisfaction from a non-tangible, fabricated, yet near-wholly interactive experience. Here we are, lonely, stretching out across the world in our beds, our chairs, our desks, getting pleasure from someone we’ve never met but is, nonetheless, NOT a total stranger. Speed dating, with graphics. When you realize that scientists are working on developing organic circuitry and components, ostensibly with intent to make production less toxic to the environment but also opening up the door to someplace for mankind to go when the human body has become outdated, the mind becomes filled with the stuff you only read about in science fiction stories as a kid.

Love in the ether, lust as binary.

A stream of numbers now has the burden of carrying our stream of consciousness, our desires, our joy, our anger. Human, organic passion has now ramped up its dependence on copper wires, surface-mount components, blinking lights, mega-corporation call centers, and the piloting skills of UFO pilots to avoid our clunky, gum-and-duct-tape satellites. (I wonder what the alien equivalent of duct tape is. I wonder if they depend on it as much as we do. Surely, they’ve advanced enough they don’t need to carry wallets.) I can feel the detachment from RL beginning. I don’t know if I’m sad to say it feels good.

Willa informs me that she’s seeing a modest handful of avatars, and can’t find herself to commit to only one, the news of which simultaneously fails to surprise me and stings a little. So much for keeping RL and SL separate, I suppose. I do the software equivalent of a shrug, and accept what’s been thrown at me. We have one more encounter; over the course of time, she decides that she does want to be with one, and one only. Naturally, I am not it. We stay in touch, on occasion. We know a lot about each other’s real lives, have shared some deep conversations and relied on each other for a shoulder; we DO have good conversation. There’s still a small, soft spot in my digital heart for the woman, somewhere.

It’s at this point that I realize that which I already knew, but have now deemed it too late in life to do anything about; I can’t be fake about anything. I bring myself into everything I do, SL not excepted. As I wander back into the grid, I begin to realize, over the course of time, that SL is a virtual “do-over”… you get a chance to try out interactions that failed in the past, work on them, tinker with them; you can beta-test new approaches, with the worst-case scenario being having to find a landmark to TP to, and fast.

Fortunately, the face slaps in SL don’t leave marks. Let’s hope no-one scripts those.

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