Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Bright Swatch of Color in the Old Gray Lady

There have been a lot of puerile things written about Second Life. Last year it was a bunch of alarmist hand-waving from the mainstream corporate media who equated the disappearance of ill-conceived, money-burning corporate "branding islands" as the death of the community itself -- as if the only kind of community that could possibly exist is a corporate community, a notion so oxymoronic and problematic I don't even know where to begin with that. Let others do the debunking.

Another annoying but regularly recurring type of article is of the "I tried Second Life but I just don't get it!" variety, as if a failed attempt to use a piece of online software is something worth publishing and of interest to an avid reading public For example, here is ComputerWorld's riveting chronicle of success, just one of many such articles I could have cited:

"I moved rather easily from Orientation Island to Help Island, where I found no help and from which I could not escape. I ran into a fellow newbie there, and I asked her if she knew how I could get to a more interesting place, like a big city.

"She said she had read somewhere that newbies had to wait for "greeters" to take them off the island. She was waiting for a greeter, and I was welcome to wait with her. We waited, but nothing happened. I logged off and immediately ordered "A Beginner's Guide to Second Life" from, paying extra for one-day shipping.

If I wrote a review of let us say, a new airplane, which began with me taking flying lessons and ended with me sitting on the runway with a stalled engine, I don't think anyone interested in airplanes on any level, novice or expert, would find my article of much use.

But the most insidious and ridiculous type of writing about SL is the juvenile taunting and finger-pointing from the social media misfits, that pack of self-promoting mercantilist drones who have nothing better to do than bicker and snark while trying to promote their own pet network as the next Facebook or MySpace.

I don't care one twisted nipple what some twittering twat plurks about digg, let alone the grid. Social media has already eaten itself; it is a now busy defecating out what's left for further cropophilic cannibalism. Fittingly, SL's most petty, jealous little gadfly was itself recently swallowed up and shat out.

So there I was this morning, puttering around in SL, the travails of inept writing about Second Life the farthest thing from my mind, when I received an update from Laura Weyland about her comedy schedule, which happened to include a link to this morning's New York Times Sunday Magazine. The article, "Portrait of an Artist as an Avatar," is a refreshingly honest, clear-eyed, and mature article about the thriving arts community within SL.

The writer, Sara Corbett -- unlike too many of these so-called journalists -- actually entered the world as an avatar, allowed her subject to guide her, and then spent a considerable amount of time familiarizing herself with her subjects and their world.

What a concept! Having a topic to write about and a plan on how to accomplish it! She chooses a single subject and stays focused! And shockingly, none of the so-called social media or technology "experts" about Second Life were quoted. Hell, there wasn't even an obligatory quote from a Linden Lab P.R. spokes-creature., the usual hallmark of a captured technology press.

Blithely ignoring whether or whether not Madison Avenue is wasting money or not, she writes primarily about the artist Jeffrey Lipsky, known in-world as Filthy Fluno, but she also touches on AM Radio's breathtaking "The Far Away" as well as the collective critical eye known as Brooklyn is Watching -- an interesting concept I'd not never heard of before. She doesn't shy away from the adult nature of the world, but she avoids the usually lurid, tabloidy "point and laugh" tone that many mainstream writers inevitably adopt when they clumsily blunder across the metaverse in their crapatars.

Here is one passage I found both warm and wryly amusing:

"The person behind AM Radio ... carries around a traditional sketchbook where he does watercolors and pencil drawings, but that it is not half as rewarding as building a beautifully textured virtual scene and opening it to the avatar masses -- even when he sometimes finds them having sex next to his steam engine."

Great job, Sara Corbett a.k.a. Marshmella Muggins. You get it. Too bad too many don't.

So everyone, go read an enjoyable article in the mainstream press that talks positively and informs about an aspect of Second Life you may not even have been aware of, before it disappears behind the old Gray Lady's subscription wall.


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