Linden Lab blabs about the blog.

ABC Communication Tower

<sarcasm>Linden Lab display their aptitude with resources and their grasp of technologies once again with their plans to close down the current main blog and forums and replace the software behind them.</sarcasm&gt. It seems unfortunate that this company, which we rely on to produce the product we desire, keeps behaving like it had its head chopped off. Do they figure that having gotten this far, and getting this big, without any solid plan, that they can just continue on in the same vein as always and achieve the same or greater results?

The greatest surprise to me in all this is that Linden Lab has discontinued the use of the official blog at least a month, if not more, before the new product has been released; worse, they are committing to a system that has not even been fully worked out yet: “I don’t know yet what the new forum structure will be. We’re happy to hear your thoughts about ideas for different boards though.” – Robin Linden. In the meantime, we are expected to find information based on leads from the message of the day from the log-in screen; this information is to be dispersed in some manner amongst other blogs, side-bars and other unexpected places. It all sounds most unsatisfactory.

The benefits of the new system to residents seem pretty thin on the ground – this is not necessarily a problem. However, if the changes are being made to benefit Linden Lab, it would be a pleasant change to know what those benefits are, rather than being told that they are doing this for the good of the residents – transparency, transparency, transparency!  I’m sure Linden Lab are finding it useful to tuck away all those resident comments on the forums, especially the nasty ones, where the search engines cannot reach, and where folks who are not already residents cannot access them.

It also seems hard to believe that the software Linden Lab is currently using is completely outmoded and inadequate for the task. WordPress and VBulletin? Both configurable and flexible.  How much more integrated do they need to be? How much more nicely will the two new pieces of software play together?

Then there’s the second-most intriguing idea: externally sourced moderators. Some residents are disappointed that resident moderators are not being selected, feeling that they would have a better grasp of “what goes” than outsiders with potentially no experience with Second Life, or, perhaps worse, new folk with a little training in the new rules and regulations pertaining directly to the forums and no knowledge or experience outside that. I think that we are better taking our chances with moderators who are not also residents – less chance for over-emotional involvement.  Also, it always seems that the very folk who want to take on these positions for the love of it are the ones who should not be encouraged to do so – people who want to be politicians should never be allowed to be politicians, either.

Moderation of forums is required. People are people – they make mistakes and  they disagree, sometimes violently. Penalties are required – where is your motivation for keeping within the rules if no penalties apply? However, when it comes to moderation and governance of forums, it’s necessary a) to know where the boundaries are and b) to have penalties that are appropriate and suitable. Linden Lab are not known for making firm boundaries, however, and the only penalties available are (figurative) exile or death. There is no evidence to suggest that these things will change substantively come October.

Maybe Linden Lab is trying to put on a more professional look for all those “mainstreamers” streaming in as the early adopters are pushed out. Maybe this new integrative approach heralds a new phase for both the blog and associated forums and for the whole of Second Life.

Maybe not. What do you think?

Students vs Second Life: Round 2

Thank you ... Captain Obvious

Upon reading the comments and articles generated by “Students vs Second Life“, I had several prominent thoughts:

  1. There’s nothing so rarely discussed as “the obvious”. Often things that are considered to be obvious are then not subjected to further thought or discussion, the problem often being that the thing is rarely obvious to everyone. I’m sure the original article was obvious for some, but not for others. Regardless, solutions need to be found for those using Second Life as an educational tool;
  2. A generation is a statistical grouping: it cannot predict the behavior or capabilities of the individual. A generation can only describe trends amongst people or things; also, it can only be used to describe how something acts as a group. This may mean that all the folks on the Teen grid are not wholly representative of their generation – considering how few of them there are, this does not seem an unreasonable assumption;
  3. Second Life is a fantastic product for an underdeveloped market segment: Generation X. For Second Life (and future products of its ilk) to have the greatest life-span possible, will require acceptance that younger people need to be drawn in. Otherwise, it’s more likely that the Millennials will stay within their comfort zone of other virtual worlds;
  4. Millennials who remain inside Second Life may be the anomalies, when compared to the generational stereotype. They are either unusually self-directed, or have found a way of turning the Second Life tool to their own devices – perhaps as an alternative way to interact with people;
  5. Second Life, as opposed to other virtual worlds, has a greater scope for forms of interaction, because you can create in a more sophisticated way. Second Life is clunky and difficult – but it’s hard to create a sleek, wonderful interface and backbone that still does everything Second Life can do now, given the resources available;
  6. Individuals of the Millennial generation are not the only ones necessarily lacking in the skill of freeform play – other generations contain individuals lacking the skill also. However, it is just that – a skill, which can be learned. So why should we bother to learn it? It broadens our creative horizons, and teaches us to think, particularly about things which seem obvious;
  7. The human race is still essentially tribal, which also means that we are exclusionary. Our differences can exclude us from any given tribe. Fancy being the only person of your age on your street spending time in Second Life rather than Habbo Hotel?

Here is a brief wrap-up of what other folks had to say, having read the article:

Kate Amdahl suggests that we create “learning” areas – areas which have pre-generated content, games and interactive mechanisms, to get folks used to the interface and get them spending time in Second Life. From these places, they can make forays out into the rest of the world, and gradually incorporate the overall idea of Second Life into their play-style.

Sabine Reljic seems to indicate that we would be well rewarded by pushing students into Second Life and out of their comfort zones. I wonder what that would look like. Right now, it would seem that pushing students into Second Life and leaving them to their own devices results in them wandering around lost or standing around chatting. This view is supported by the VirtuEd post. Additionally, pushing teens and young adults tends to result in them pushing back – caution is indicated.

Roland Legrand over at Metanomics has written a great post about what the Millennials know about multi-tasking and collaboration that they can teach the rest of us: “we also have an obligation to help them” learn about freeform play.

Over at New World Notes, this post gathered all sorts of interesting comments, and this second post ponders the question of why Habbo Hotel is so popular amongst young Millennials, as opposed to Second Life or Teen Second Life. Of the comments, the most interesting was one which wonders whether Generation X has more of a need to escape into fantasy than the Millennial generation. Did Gen X’ers grow up in a more hostile environment, from which they looked for relief?

At Massively, Tateru Nino states: “Where it might be that they would find additional traction if they could cluster with their cultural peers — members of their own generation — digital avatars consistently thwart the sorts of flocking behaviors. Millennials can’t identify their peers among the avatars of their parents and grandparents’ generations — and for the peer-oriented Millennials, that’s frequently a deal-breaker.” Also, “The very nature of Second Life turns away Millennials in droves. As entertainment, it is as undirected as a public park.”

A study by the University of Leipzig supports the finding that there are few Millennials in Second Life. They state that this is  because Second Life is too realistic, and that virtual worlds should be centered around escapism.

All in all, there seems to be a fascinating spectrum and crossover of viewpoints on the topic, many supported by direct, accreted experience and statistical data. Are your own experiences with students in line with one of these, or do you have a unique perspective to share?

Students vs Second Life

Average Gen Xer? Maybe not?

When I started thinking about education in Second Life, and the reactions of students of university/college age to it, I rather naturally turned to think of my own experiences, and of ideas and prejudices I held as a student of approximately the same age. It took me a little time, and the reading of an article by Joe Essid and Lee Carleton, to realize that that particular approach was never going to work. Today’s students are, for the most part, not of my generation (Generation X), which typically includes folks born between 1964 and 1982. Instead, they tend to be those folks born between 1982 and 2002 or thereabouts – the Millennial Generation.

Why make this distinction? Each generation has a tendency to differ greatly from the generation directly preceding it (which is precisely why these otherwise seemingly arbitrary groupings are made). Ideas, political notions, morals and ethics all have a tendency to change, as the younger generation both learns from and rebels against the previous one. As Generation X rebelled against the strictures placed upon the Baby Boomers, so the Millennial Generation rebels in its quiet, refined manner against the excesses of Generation X.

In Second Life, the gap between Generation X and the Millennial Generation comes sharply into focus, in the two ways that I will discuss further:

1. Second Life is primarily filled with Generation X’ers, unintentionally creating a socially unwelcoming environment for Millennials;

2. Generation X’ers know how to play in the freeform manner that Second Life requires, whereas Millennials typically do not display that skill.

First, the social and political atmosphere of Second Life. Statistically, more people from Generation X participate in Second Life than from any other generation. The ramifications of this are two-fold. It’s harder for Millennials to make contact with other Millennials in this scene, since they constitute a minority of the population. Millennials no doubt feel somewhat uncomfortable interacting socially with folk outside their own generation, whether it be because they sense the cultural disconnect between themselves and older folk or for some other reason. Second Life is chock full Generation X’ers, and they have filled it with their own fashion sense, outlooks, learning styles, and politics – what an intimidating world to enter for the Millennials. Generations X’ers are the Millennials’ parents, and also those strangers their parents warned them about. Add to that the fact that the Millennials are much more likely to have many friends with whom they communicate face to face and then organize those friends and their own lives using technological gadgets and the Internet, rather than meeting people over the Internet. Second Life is simply an unfriendly place for you to go, even if you are not a typical, timid Millennial.

Second, Second Life is an environment in which you need to be able to set goals and tasks for yourself in order to get anything out of it – it is a non-directed playground in which to let the imagination run free. The Millennial Generation has not learned to play this way. They are not used to “making their own fun.” Throughout their schooling they have been given regimented tasks, with pre-determined goals; time outside school is often dominated by a flurry of parentally- determined activities. They are more likely to play games that are directed than to come up with their own games – a Millennial is more likely to play Guitar Hero than to spend time noodling about with a guitar.

The Millennial Generation has an overwhelming sense of ‘busyness’ that pervades their lives, so that not only is learning in a directed fashion a habitual thing for them, it’s also a way of doing things more quickly. Targeted exercises speed up the process of transmitting and garnering information. Additionally, students are looking to do close to the minimum of coursework required to pass, in order to spend more time socially with friends, a priority in this generation.

The educator who uses Second Life as a learning tool will be teaching an additional subject – how to play in a freeform way. The concept and practice of freeform or open-ended play was easier for Generation X, in a way – we were rebelling against another world entirely. Difference and imagination was embraced. It was like a little Renaissance. Even though our schooling focused somewhat on directed study, by university age we had hopefully been weaned off it – by the system. The Millennial Generation, however, needs now to be taught to play this way. They need to be drawn out of their risk-averse shells gently – they need to be led, not pushed. They are not bold.

Second Life is a place where the adventurous prosper and creativity is king – and being able to play in an open-ended way is a necessary skill. Educators need to accommodate their students by creating a somewhat directed environment for them to learn in, and then wean them off it and release them into the open.

For further information on this topic, check out “A Playful Pedagogy for Second Life“, Dr Joe Essid and Lee Carleton, 2008, to be published later this year.

Future freedom loss creeps up unawares?

Above and beyond Second Life‘s many attractions, many residents prize the ability to make and enjoy user-created content. It is the main thing that separates Second Life from the profusion of other virtual worlds making their appearance, both recently and further in the past. Nonetheless, Linden Lab is pushing for a more “mainstream” approach. Does this spell out the demise of user-created content? During this push, does Linden Lab plan on cravenly sidling up to each step necessary to achieve this end?

It seems clear that Linden Lab is ready to start making changes, both in their business model and in their approach to the governance of Second Life. In “mainstreaming” the running of the Lab, one hopes that the plan is to move from a start-up model to a corporate model. Right now, the Lab seems to function as a conglomeration of start-ups, each of which has a large amount of trouble communicating with the other start-ups in the system. Improved communication between the parts should improve the overall capacity of the business to run efficiently and competently. In “mainstreaming” Second Life, the newly effective and better-resourced Linden Lab might have less trouble governing, even as they bring in tighter measures to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for all-comers. Unless, of course, they continue in the current vein of slowly taking away our favorite toys and making it look like they’re hoping to keep the patronage of the current crop of residents until the money from future residents – “mainstream” residents – comes flooding in. Hey, Linden Lab? We’re adults – do you seriously think that we’re not going to notice if you pull the table-cloth out from under us, even if the flowers are still standing? Also, as mature-minded folk, we can accept that sometimes you need things for your own benefit – just don’t try to pass them off as things that are for our benefit.

It looks like the coming changes are destined not to be necessarily popular with current residents. Perhaps as the residents we should be concerned about this, about the welfare of our virtual tribes, virtual locations, and virtual hobbies. Linden Lab, perhaps, should not be concerned about our reactions at all. They have a business to run, and profits to be made. If this a major priority for them, they should by all means be looking to the future, to future residents and their desires. If this is the case, it would be nice to see two things happen:

1. A removal of the potentially hypocritical slogan “Your world. Your Imagination.” (or even “Your world, Your Way,” a trademark Linden Lab recently applied for);

2. For Linden Lab to “supercharge” the changes in Second Life and get it all over and done with as fast as possible. They should risk losing all the residents they have now, if that is their end goal anyway. Much better that to be strung along and hugely disappointed in the end.

Despite being supported by observation of the news and current events within Linden Lab, this is to some extent just speculation. Things are certainly changing within Linden Lab, but without more straight from the horse’s mouth, it is very difficult to see where the next few months might take us. I’d personally like to say to Linden Lab, “Don’t take away the thing that makes Second Life special. Let us keep our freedoms, and let us deal with all the consequences that come with them. We live in the real world. Virtual worlds can be a reflection of that reality, as well as having their own unique aspects of reality – don’t make it a sheltered thing, a lesser thing than it has been.”

Linden Lab has claimed repeatedly that they and the residents are partners in this world building – shouldn’t partners tell each other what is going on?

Linden Lab zones out.

Mainland sim

Jack Linden has made a heads-up post about new policies to be implemented concerning zoning and advertising on the Mainland sims in Second Life. There is no word yet on when these policies will be enforced, just a brief message intended to reduce panic and confusion when further announcements are made in the future. Unfortunately, the post itself brings with it much confusion, as there is very little in the way of detail concerning what the policies will actually entail, or how enforcement is to be brought about.

In the Zone – or out of it?

Jack’s post implies that zoning will be applied only to new Mainland sims. Considering that the goal of zoning is to improve conditions for Residents using this land, what does this imply for existing Mainland sims, which will presumably remain unzoned?  It would seem that if there is no retrofitting of zoning, existing sims will become marginalized – poor cousins to the more attractive zoned regions. However, picture the uproar that would be caused by retrofitting covenants into previously unzoned sims – imagine the governance required to go through with such a scheme.

Advertising – stronger measures required?

We only have vague hints as to what measures might be taken regarding advertising at this point. The new ad farming policies, having little to do with actual advertising and more to do with littering and extortion, are the only general policies previously instituted with regards to advertising, and give little idea as to what might be coming. Jack states that “we need to professionalize all aspects of advertising inworld”. In fact, Linden Lab has had almost no contact with advertisers beyond that created by Abuse Reports. There is no relationship to foster or improve. I wonder though, why “it has to” change, and why now?  Must advertising policy change now, when it is already too late? Or must it change now, as a herald to something we are as yet unaware of?

Resources, resources! You must obtain more resources!

All these necessary and wonderful changes – not only must there be policy put in place, but governance too. Where will the resources come from to enforce these policies? To date, Linden Lab has been either unwilling or unable to provide adequate resources to police existing policies – a poor performance considering their “hands-off” approach. The Abuse Reporting system has an average of 30 seconds allocated to each case – obviously the people in this team are horribly overworked. Despite the gambling ban being put into place almost a year ago, gambling dens continue to pop up here and there – this system is also failing. I can only hope that Linden Lab has some plan for greatly increasing their manpower, and that they are not under the mistaken impression that their current teams can take on the new load, or that another mere eight or nine people will significantly beef up their governance load.

Getting help in virtual worlds.

Caledon NCI.

Dear askers of questions,

We’d love to help you out! For the most part, we enjoy answering your questions, and we don’t ask for much for ourselves, just the typical rewards you get from helping out and teaching other people: fun, learning, and a sense of responsibility and satisfaction. However, we do also require that you show a certain amount of consideration towards us, both as teachers/helpers and as fellow human beings: respect and patience are at the top of the list here.

That’s right: amazing as this may seem to you, and whether or not you view this virtual world as a game or not, the people answering your questions are just that – real people. That means that they have feelings that can be hurt, or even boosted in a pleasant way. That means that they are fallible, and not only sometimes don’t have the answers, but *gasp* may even get answers wrong on occasion. Though this is obviously somewhat disappointing, if you want this person, or any of the people they know, to help you out on another occasion, do not bag them in public, or heinously reprimand them in private. This is a great time to show that you are understanding of other people’s inabilities. Feed back the answer once you have it, in recognition of the fact that the person did take the time to talk to you and make the attempt.

Time is precious. Once time is spent, you can’t get it back, and time spent doing one thing cannot be spent on something else. Thus, the time we spend answering your question is time that we can’t spend elsewhere. This is not to say that we begrudge you the time, rather that it is important to us that you show in some way that you appreciate what we have given to you – “thank you” is a great start, but not monopolising our time in the future and giving tips should also be considered.

One more thing: patience. We need you to have patience for several things: the time it takes us to answer questions, the time it takes you to understand the answer, and the time it takes to find someone with the answer. None of these things has a fixed time-limit, and sometimes make take a considerable amount of time to complete, depending primarily on the complexity of the question.

Regards, hoping to answer many more questions in the future,

Answerers of questions in your local virtual world.

Dear answerers of questions,

Help! Help! We’re panicking here! We need help and we need it yesterday!

By the time we get to asking you folks how to do something, we’re already at our wit’s end, and are not sure where to turn next. We’ve already run out of patience and determination, we’re frustrated and want an answer now.

Often we don’t know what the question ought to be, and we’re a bit confused about how to phrase our questions – did I mention that we were frustrated and panicking? Face it, you’re not seeing us at our best right now. On top of that, we don’t have enough background information to understand quite what is going on, or we’d be able to understand both question and answer more readily, and probably be able to answer the question ourselves.

Honestly, we don’t even like to ask questions. It’s embarrassing, tantamount to admitting that we have no idea what we’re talking about, opening ourselves up to possible ridicule. One of the reasons we want that answer so fast is that we want to duck our heads back down and stop feeling vulnerable as fast as possible.

Cheers, though we hope not to have to ask anything again,

Question-askers of the virtual worlds.

Second Life immaturity – bell curve bungling.

Second Life is going through a troubling phase. It has entered young adulthood, but is still acting like a teenager – occasionally like a teething two-year-old in a tantrum. Unfortunately, Linden Lab has a very different view about where the Second Life product stands with regards to its consumers: they believe that they are providing a frontier product to the disorganized nomads of the virtual worlds. I believe this is far from the case, and that in fact the frontiersfolk have long since passed into obscurity and myth, and that this rustic product is now being peddled to a bunch of sophisticated townsfolk.

Second Life‘s frontiersfolk, the early adopters of the adoption bell curve of Kapor’s speech, have been leaving Second Life to become the early adopters of other technologies since mid-2005. The townsfolk or pragmatists have long since taken over; and though there are still hopefully many more of them to come, the townsfolk now represent a majority. It’s possible that Kapor managed to alienate both the frontiersfolk and the townfolk when he said, in essence, from the town square, “See here, all you woodsy hicks, y’all have to move over and make way for the townsfolk who’ll be moving in.”

So here we all are, a bunch of townies, doing our best with hides and stone knives to build a comfortable living for ourselves. It’s not easy, but despite the tools we’ve been given, we’re making our way nicely, thank you. We’ve workarounds galore to overcome limitations in the product (insufficient personal profile and group tools, etc), although there are still many problems that we must simply endure – an ongoing lack of stability, a poor permissions system for functional collaboration, a set of tools that are feature-rich for individuals and feature-poor for groups, and many, many others that simply make life less easy (feet sinking through terrain, poor Search functionality, the list goes on).

Microsoft, for all their other failings, did a good job of matching their product maturity to the adoption curve. Linden Lab is failing to do this. Windows versions up to 3.0 were for the innovators and early adopters. Increased stability and an increased feature-set were designed to encourage the pragmatists to buy and use their 3.1 version, and so on down the line. Linden Lab is still throwing version 1.0 grade features at customers who are expecting 3.1 quality. They are ramping up to pave the way for their 3.1-quality product targeted to attract new customers, however many of these people are already using it or have already tried and failed.

The townies are crying out for quality and beauty in their town. We like our solid buildings and manicured gardens, and a sign saying “Welcome To Our Town”. How does this translate? Aside from addressing the problems from above, two things come to mind: more social networking tools and superior orientation. If Second Life is to be truly hailed as a social networking haven, it needs the tools to support that boast, instead of people finding that they can work around the restrictions of the system. For Second Life to be welcoming, the whole orientation system needs to be addressed. Right now, no orientation at all would be better than what is currently available.

If Kapor, Kingdon and the rest of the team up at Linden Lab still think that we’re just passing out of the early adoption phase, we need to be prepared for a continuing disconnect between the Linden Lab view of the product and the consumer’s view – that is, how the product is actually being used.

What looks like addiction, but is not – Virtual Addiction, Part 3

I spend hours with my computer. It is my favorite tool. I spend time in and out of virtual worlds; I spend time on and off the Internet, surfing with my browser. I communicate, I work, I play. From the sheer amount of time spent with my machine during the day, according to some measures, it would be correct to say that I am addicted to the behaviour of using my computer. I do not, however, consider this to be an addiction.

Several people within my experience also spend a great deal of time with their computers. Interestingly, the particular people I am thinking of were also at one time thought to be drug addicts. Each of these people suffers from either a physical pain disorder, or from a chemical mental disorder. The drugs they take assist their functioning, above and beyond the side effects they cause. I do not consider any of these people to be addicts, either, with regards to drug use or computer use.

Smoking - one of the legal addictions.

Why is this not addiction?

The most important signs of addiction, and indeed the ones that cry out for treatment, are loss of control regarding the addiction and destructive behaviors of and surrounding the addiction. Neither I nor my friends exhibit these signs in our computer usage nor drug usage; therefore, this behavior is not an addiction, by definition.

Why does it look like addiction?

One of the primary signs attributed to addictions of computer usage is time spent engaging in the behavior. This sign may help with the diagnosis of an addiction, but alone cannot be used to make the diagnosis.

Consider how many hours a day the average person spends at work. Perhaps eight hours all up, divided into an hour for lunch, a couple of hours for meetings and other communications, and the rest for the actual work they do. Then consider that person gets home (two hours for travel), eats (two hours for eating at home), and watches TV or reads (four hours). This accounts for sixteen hours of the day, roughly.

Imagine, then, if all of this could be accomplished from their computer at home. Suddenly, rather than seeing a person spending sixteen hours a day in mindless clicking, there is someone working, communicating, gathering news and information and finding entertainment using the same tool.

Another sign often taken alone and out of context is a lack of face-to-face communication on behalf of a person who uses computers.

There are many different scenarios in which face-to-face communication is not applicable, but for example, consider a person with a physical disability in which face-to-face communication is difficult to achieve. For someone with limited mobility or large amounts of pain, getting out of the house may range from impractical to impossible. Consider sufferers of social anxieties, or autistic folk, who are barely able to communicate face-to-face, but whom are liberated by the digital space.

Is quality of life being gained or lost?

Where there is a gain in quality of life which exceeds the downsides to the behavior, there is unlikely to be an addictive problem. With drugs for pain relief, it has been found that it’s very rare for folks who require the drug for pain relief to exhibit loss of control or destructive behaviors concerning the drug, even though they have a physical dependence on it. There may be withdrawal symptoms and side effects, but overall the quality of life increase for these folks. Being able to take care of themselves, their homes, their families, and having enjoyment in life far outweighs the problems in most cases.

Technology is enabling.

Can you imagine telling someone with no legs to forsake their wheelchair? How about someone with a pain disorder? Are you going to tell people with crippling mental disorders that they are not allowed to take drugs to normalize and enable them? Are you going to tell deaf people they can’t use Teletype in place of the telephone?

Each of these technological advances were radical in their time; some of them were seen as being destructive, to society or to the individual. It’s hard to imagine any of these people being denied their enabling technologies in today’s first world society (one hopes). I hope to live in a future where my enabling computer habits are accepted.

What harm is being done, to whom, if I take care of myself, my family, my house, my dog, my finances and my business, while still spending many hours a day at my desk at home?

On Being a Virtual World Whore – Virtual Addiction, Part 2

There’s been a great deal of debate of whether “Internet Addiction” and its close cousin, “Virtual World Addiction”, should be classified as disorders separate from other behavioral addictions. Psychiatrist Ivan Goldberg reputedly borrowed the criteria for substance use and impulse-control disorders from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), and jokingly created the criteria for Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) way back in 1995. Since then the debate has raged wildly – can these two addictions be meaningfully separated out and classified, or is there little real reason for doing so?

Smoking - one of the legal addictions.

Internet and Virtual World Addiction: what are the specifics?

Internet addiction, and virtual world addiction (by association), seems to revolve around five basic sub-types: gambling, sexual preoccupation, messaging and/or chatting, online gaming and information gathering.

None of these are new concepts. As previously discussed, the Internet and the virtual world are mediums. The problem is with the individual’s pathological need to carry out the activity, not with the medium that provides the means for that activity.  Each of the five sub-types mentioned can be performed using other mediums and indeed have been for some time.

Nonetheless, there is a definite appeal to engaging in these activities online. The internet and virtual worlds provide high levels of convenience. It is much easier and quicker to gamble from home, using electronic funds, than to be physically present or to accomplish the task over the phone. If you are looking to be secretive about your behavior, it’s easiest to hide your actions online – no need to hide physical evidence like books or magazines.

Still, this does not constitute sufficient reason to separate out these addictions from other behavioural issues.

What are the withdrawal symptoms of Internet and Virtual World Addiction?

Symptoms include: loneliness, boredom, anger, irritability, frustration, emotional “vacancy” or numbness, disconnectedness, loss, moodiness, depression and restlessness. Interestingly, these symptoms sound suspiciously like those suffered by people cut off from the rest of society. Internet users asked to give up their internet usage reported that they felt “left out of the loop” – an understandable reaction given how many people interact with each other online rather than face-to-face or over the phone.

Of course, these symptoms are not restricted to folks cut off from society – these apply to other behavioural addictions. Internet and Virtual World addictions do not have symptom lists that specifically separate them from other behavioral addictions.

What are the consequences of being addicted to the Internet and Virtual Worlds?

Having an addiction implies that one relationship or activity has become all-important, other relationship or activities are ignored or given a minimum amount of attention. As with any other addiction, this often includes a reduction in time spent at work (or complete absence), resulting in loss of employment, financial loss and hardship and less time spent maintaining or creating relationships. This leads to existing relationships breaking down, new relationships not created through other mediums, a more secretive approach to relationships (where the true nature of the addiction is hidden from other parties) and reducing relationship quality, Other obligations and chores are neglected, sometimes to the extent that a health risk exists.

For humans as social and physical animals, the most significant of these consequences after health health concrens, is the loss of close relationships with other people, particularly family relationships. Humans require some amount of physical contact to remain healthy – the portion of a relationship that can be experienced online is no less real when experienced over a distance instead of face-to-face. Nonetheless, online relationships will never be able to fully replace relationships where physical contact is possible.

Who gets addicted to the Internet, or to Virtual Worlds?

Intriguingly, those people who suffer from this addiction may have suffered from symptoms very similar to the symptoms for this affliction prior to becoming addicted: depression, guilt, and anxiety. There are often other symptoms (dysphoric mood, feelings of helplessness, interpersonal distress, low self-esteem) and other issues (abandonment, shame, fear) that presage this type of addiction. It’s surprising how common it is for people with these underlying conditions to become addicts; up to 86% of study subjects also exhibit other diagnosable mental health disorders.

Two of the factors that are not necessarily indicators for who will become addicted are age and social capacity, even though stereotypically socially awkward or inept youths are seen as the main sufferers. Daniel Loton of the Victoria University in Australia has shown that what he terms “problem play” (as relates to gaming in virtual worlds) is not restricted to those people who have little capacity for socialization. Low self-esteem is however a good predictor of whether someone will become an addict, according to the study.

Treatment of addiction in behavioural cases?

A diagnosis is most useful where it can be used to treat an affliction. Most behavioral addictions respond well to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Indeed, internet and virtual world addiction cases reportedly respond well to CBT. Thus, there would seem to be little reason to separate out internet and virtual world addiction solely on the basis of needing a treatment specific to the new diagnosis.

In conclusion, there seems to be no need for the distinct and separate classifications of internet and virtual world addiction. These terms merely clump together several different behavioural addictions with the same delivery method. It’s like saying that snorters and injectors of an addictive drug should get a different diagnosis. Even if there are cases where the presentation, withdrawal symptoms or consequences are different, the therapy used to treat the different cases remains the same. Unnecessarily differentiating labels seems to do no more than confuse more than they contribute.

In the third and final article of this series, we will look at behaviour that seems like addictive behavior, but isn’t all that it seems to be on the surface.

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