Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Second Life, Part 2

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then, I contradict myself.
-- Walt Whitman.

So you should view all the fleeting worlds:
A star at dawn, a bubble in the stream;
a flash of lightning in a summer cloud;
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream. --The Diamond Sutra

Quite some time ago, I wrote a piece on SecondLife, the online virtual world, with promises of more to come. Well, folks, the wait is over! (Well, sort of.)

I've been rather skeptical of the whole concept of SecondLife (henceforth referred to as "SL"), and remain so, and yet it continues to attract me nonetheless. One decidedly positive thing I can say about SL is that it is a fascinating venue for creative expression and artistic community -- above and beyond the dollhouse tableaus.

And I'm pleased to announce that -- earlier this fall -- yours truly mounted his first ever SL gallery show! That's right, my SL alter ego, Zizonus Serapis, had his (err--my) paintings up at the Catcher in the Pie Cafe. The press release for the exhibit (plus some pictures) can be read (seen) on my art blog here !

(I had intended to write about the show here when it was still up, but ... what can I say -- too much to do, too little time!)

That being said, the entire SecondLife experience continues to raise the most intriguing philosophical questions. You know, everyday questions like:

What is reality? What is the role of art in an illusory world?

Clearly SL is an illusory world. But is so called "Real Life" (referred to in what follows as "RL") any less so? Buddhists call it Samsara. From this perspective, life is an illusion of sorts -- nothing is permanent, lasting, intrinsically real. In SL, this should be obvious. In RL? Less so.

Now, I think most, if not all people in SecondLife are perfectly aware that the SL virtual world is not real. But how many catch themselves inadvertently, unconsciously, taking SL events and interactions a little too seriously, or getting a little caught up in the fantasy?

Are we creating Samsara within Samsara? Are we constructing a new Plato's cave, or paving the road to a Matrix-like future?

(Imagine logging into SecondLife, and then not being able to leave. You become your avatar. It is your life. Imagine dealing with all the imperfections full-time: things not working right, lag, slow-rezzing objects and textures, faulty voice-chat software, awkward social situations, miscommunications and misunderstandings, system glitches destroying your inventory, spammers, thugs and posers running amok ... when you think about it, SL does a pretty good job of replicating the imperfections of Real Life!)

And then what about art? Why create it? As artists, are we just "causing flowers to bloom in the sky," --that is -- creating illusions? One might just as well ask: why create art in Real Life?

I won't attempt to answer these questions now, but I do think there is some useful purpose to all these sky-blossoms. And indeed, there may be some use in visiting SecondLife and causing more flowers to bloom there. For one, it may help some of those other virtual citizens on their own journeys through Samsara.

Thoughts, anyone?

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