Second Life, a virtual "world" resembling a video game, enables people to interact with one another via avatars - digitized, animated versions of themselves. The creepy, sexual, Second Life universe is inhabited by businesses, churches, embassies, pornographic movie theaters, and colleges. This week the Chronicle of Higher Education announced that Pennsylvania State University will now require its academic advisers to set up Second Life accounts and be available to meet with students in the virtual world. Here is PSU's webpage on the university's Second Life presence. According to a Penn State official, "We're using Second Life as a way for online students who never visit campus to feel more connected to the university and their experience, and have a way of interacting with their fellow students and other staff members as well." These online students can talk via a tight-clothed avatar to someone like Shawna Culp - known on Second Life as Shawna Charisma - on the two-dimensional Penn State "island" that cost the university several hundred dollars to purchase. I look at this and say, whatever happened to phone conversations? I suppose it's naturally in the trajectory mapped out by the online education rocket. But don't we begin to sound silly when human interaction is reduced to this?
- November 12, 2009