Obviously, I may have surprised some observers who expected me, after my self-imposed vacation from blogging this summer, to come busting out of the gate with a flurry of new blogposts. Frankly, I have surprised myself as well.
Oh, Auntie Ryan still has opinions, child. And you all know from past experience that I am certainly not shy about sharing said opinions here. But, this time around, I am biding my time before I set pen to paper (or, in this case, finger to keyboard).
For example, I have lots of feelings about Facebook (none very positive), but rather than just post another rant, I feel like doing a bit more reading, reflection, and investigation, and craft a better-worded argument than I usually do. Perhaps it’s a by-product of teaching university students about the proper way to approach the published scholarly literature while searching for the answer to a research question, something that has been on my mind a lot over the past few weeks.
Every so often, I check my WordPress blog statistics, and for some reason a blogpost I wrote over two years ago about VR pioneer Jaron Lanier and his book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now is getting increasing amounts of traffic lately. It would appear that some people, at least, are taking a sober second look at the impact of social media on society, and that particular blogpost is coming up in Google searches.
I think such reflection is a good and necessary thing, particularly in this age of divisiveness, conspiracy theories, and highly partisan politics. Throw in a deadly pandemic and a global climate crisis (with out-of-control wildfires in Australia and California just being the most recent evidence of the emergency), and it’s enough to overwhelm and depress anyone. In many ways, 2020 has been a dumpster-fire year.
So it seems like a good time for me to percolate, ruminate…and perhaps spend a bit more time reading and reflecting, rather than just jump right into the fracas like I usually have done. Kent Bye once told me that he appreciates my in-the-moment, “hot take” reporting, but there’s also a lot to be said for a more considered, more informed, more reflective approach to social VR, virtual worlds, and the ever-evolving (and percolating!) metaverse.
For all of its hype and drama—the launch and shut-down of devices, products, and platforms—the metaverse is not going anywhere in a hurry, and neither am I.
Some people may also be surprised that I am still writing about Second Life, which many observers see as quaint and outdated. As I have written before, I consider SL to be the perfect model of a mature, fully-evolved metaverse, one where we can already see many of the features which will appear in newer platforms.
For example, it is no accident that Facebook Horizon has implemented easy-to-use in-world building tools, an echo of the rudimentary “prim building” that Second Life launched with over seventeen years ago. Many experienced metaverse content creators got their start building and selling simple, prim-built objects, expressing their creativity in new and wonderful ways, and making money off their efforts. And we can expect to see more and more platforms move towards the implementation of an in-world marketplace for the buying and selling of user-created content. In this and many other ways, Second Life set the model for other virtual worlds to follow and improve upon.
Regardless of the ultimate success or failure of Facebook Horizon, it will doubtless inspire a new crop of content creators, much like Second Life has done. Those content creators might not stay with Horizon (as many have since left SL, forming a vast diaspora), but their work often continues on other platforms. Each new platform offers a brand new canvas for artists to build and create new visions of virtual worlds. If one world should shut down, there will be a ripple effect, benefiting other worlds.
So, yes, I will still be writing about Second Life, my first love. My endless fascination with SL continues to this day. Over time, I do expect that one or more metaverse platforms will eventually overtake it in terms of sheer popularity and economic success. But for now, at over 17 years of age, it still remains the perfect laboratory for seeing what is possible.
Stay tuned, folks! The ride is just starting to get interesting!