Here's some heavy Friday thinking for you via an academic in sociology named Robert Hooker (known as Rober1236 Jua in SL), whose years exploring Second Life have led him to conclude something bold: That the experience of Second Life undermines post-modern thought.
Summarizing Mr. Hooker's argument very very roughly, post-modernists believe that categories such as gender and sexual orientation are artificially imposed social constructs. So in theory, a virtual world like Second Life which allows people to play with and defy those categories should lead to wild identity experimentation. Instead, Robert notes, the overwhelming majority of SL users cling to their identities, and their avatars are typically just idealized versions of their pre-existing, pre-categorized selves. Or to summarize in even simpler terms: Most people don't actually want a real second life.
But I'll let Robert explain further in his own words:
"I came to Second Life in the first place because I work as an Internet professional, I try out all the latest trends," he tells me. "During my MA work I saw that SL could be a good place to make some observations about Identity formation in cyberspace. I started blogging about SL to form what I hoped would be the most extensive exploration of the 'space' of Second Life.
"My hunch is that from what I have seen in Second Life, and other ways people interact with cyberspace and the greater Internet community, that many post-modernist main theories, as present by Sherry Turkle's application of PoMo to computer culture, are incomplete.
"They are incomplete because they do not cover a human's need to form a unified, integrated identity. That is why I have found myself returning to Freud and the Psychoanalytic approach to see more and more how virtual reality is structured by unique personal 'needs' for wholeness and conflict resolution.
"So you could say I don't feel as much that SL disproves PoMo, as SL and the web shows that PoMo theory, by concentrating too much on language and culture, does not provide a rich enough theory to account for human conduct on the Internet."
Much more on Robert's blog, The Great SL Expedition. His basic observation sounds fairly right to me, but then I would say that, since vis a vis post-modernism, I'm a logical empiricist, scientific triumphalist mofo. But what's your take on Rober1236 Jua's argument?