On 10th June 2023, Simon Parkin at The Guardian published a fascinating article titled “Who Needs the Metaverse? Meet the People Still Living on Second Life” (@guardiantech). Mark Zuckerberg’s grand vision of an online existence has been laughed off as a corporate folly, yet those still existing happily on a virtual world launched 20 years ago might be incongruously wondering what all the fuss is about.
Recreating the 15th Century “Forbidden City” – IBM’s Digital Assembly of 5,000
Back on 14 November 2006, IBM made an ambitious statement about Second Life as a platform for creativity and innovation when 5,000 employees assembled in a virtual recreation of the Forbidden City. The event was marked with a speech by IBM’s then-CEO, Sam Palmisano. He promised that the impressive virtual world of Second Life was ready to become an engine for economic growth and the basis of a “metaverse”.
The Decline of Second Life – But What Remains?
In the nearly two decades since then, Second Life has waxed and waned in popularity. As the most mainstream of virtual worlds, it lost out against many of the kids’ clubs and multi-user social games that followed in its wake.
Yet for those still relying on the platform, Second Life remains a significant part of their experience and digital identity. It’s a place where they can escape reality and live out their dreams, make friends, find business partners, and even find love.
Second Life has become an economy of its own, and, as mentioned in the article, new residents can “buy the virtual real estate on the island of New Toulouse, for anything from a residential lot to a ski lodge”.
The Advantages of Digital Expression In a “Safe Space”
The article points out that while Second Life is not as popular as it once was, its popularity among some users points to the need for digital identity outside of the physical world. It has spawned entire economies, and it has become a safe place for marginalized people to express themselves without fear of judgment or retribution. It may not be the Metaverse yet, but Second Life is still a place where people can explore, create, and be whoever they want.
Will the Metaverse Become Realized?
We can’t predict what the future holds for the Metaverse, but the reaction to the idea of an online universe persists today. Whether or not this grand vision of a global virtual world will be realized or not remains to be seen.
In the meantime, Second Life creates a digital world where users can remain connected, make friends, explore, and find a sense of belonging and purpose. Despite not reaching the level of scale that was predicted when it first launched, it continues to offer an escape from the physical world for those invested in the platform.
Mark Zuckerberg’s grand vision for a Metaverse may have been laughed off as a corporate folly, but that doesn’t take away from the immense value created by its predecessor Second Life. Second Life is a 3-D virtual world where users can create their own avatars, buy virtual real estate and make money by selling virtual goods or services. It has been around since 2003 and has created entire economies, and it has become a safe place for marginalized people to express themselves without fear of judgment or retribution. The future of the Metaverse may be uncertain, but Second Life remains an online platform that provides a little bit of everything for its dedicated community of users.
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