Wednesday, December 13, 2006

More on Second Life: Interview with "Intellagirl"

I'm hooked. Not on Second Life. But on thinking about second life. Ever since my interview with Gavin Dudeney last week, I've been contemplating the whole idea of Second Life and other virtual worlds. I must say, I think a huge increase in usage of these worlds is coming--not just because they are another means of self-expression (the creation of avatars), or because they are another place to shop (!), but because the virtual world is a much more intuitive way to participate with technology than the standard computer interface.

Want to spend an hour in the future? Then listen to this interview with Sarah Robbins, who is known online as "Intellagirl," and who teaches an English class in Second Life at Ball State University. Her class meets twice a week--once in person, and once in Second Life. "Are they learning," she is often asked, "or just goofing off?" This is exactly the kind of question that Sarah is likely to give to her students as an assignment. And wait until you hear her describe the experience of asking her students to change the gender of their avatars for a day.

Of interest:
  • Sarah has observed that some of the friendships she has seen develop between her students appear to be very influenced by their interaction in Second Life.
  • She noted that "everyone becomes more gregarious" there. The class currently self-selects to those who may already be technology-comfortable, since you have to own a laptop or computer good enough to run Second Life (the school's lab computers are not), so she is not sure if that will still be the case when anyone can take the class.
  • The experience in Second Life is much more realistic than one might think, and it's memorable and believable to hear Sarah talk about feeling uncomfortable because of a clothing choice she made for her avatar at one point.
  • Sarah herself spends "only" two hours a day on average in Second Life (she says it has basically displaced television viewing for her); she often visits other educational campuses and art exhibits.
  • She characterizes the early adopters who populate Second Life now as "very intellectual."
  • She believes that virtual worlds will have a profound impact on how we communicate and view each other (I agree).
  • Sarah has, with a grant, purchased virtual land (and "island") called "Middletown," where she and her students meet, experiment, and "build" exhibits.
  • It was also very enlightening to hear Sarah talk about the impact of having Second Life be built primarily by the actual users, and how that differentiates it from other virtual worlds. She believes it is the key to its success.
Sarah's technology predictions are just as fascinating: virtual stores, automatic language translators, increased physical representations, and more. Imagine being able to build a model of your home, and to go to the virtual IKEA, pick from their furniture, and see exactly how it will look and fit in your home. That knocked my socks off. You can see more of Sarah's research on second life here. Her Wikipedia entry is here, and here are some links to media stories about her work:

Listen to the the Interview in MP3 format
Listen to the Interview in Vorbis OGG format

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