the other world

My Internet vocabulary and options grew by leaps and bounds last week.
It began when I scanned the contents of a business magazine.

“Look at this story,” I held the slick pages out to my daughter showing her a cartoon character seen only on the Internet. “It says that people pay $10 for a designer bag for this character to carry. $10! For an imaginary handbag for an imaginary figure!”
She shook her head knowingly, “It’s amazing isn’t it.”
The designer bag is one of the more expensive of the items sold in an Internet virtual world for the use of an avatar.
An avatar is the little picture a person chooses to represent themselves to others in a digital community such as two I checked out: Second Life and Twinity.

Shades of childhood “let’s pretend,” we don’t have to grow up! Years ago, one of my sons drew up his own make believe world on a poster board. He mapped out everything he wanted in his world and never began to touch the possibilities exploding in cyberspace.

Old fashion chat rooms with lines of dialogue have morphed into idealistic, three dimensional worlds where avatars walk, fly or teleport to visit with each other, go shopping for new clothes and gadgets, watch movies together and pay for it all – in the virtual world of Second Life – with linden dollars. The going exchange rate is 250 Linden Dollars (L$) to one US Dollar.
If it exists in real life, it exists in the virtual world: Conference rooms, newspapers, motels, vacation sites, clothing shops. A journalist in Second Life writes a gossip column about happenings among the avatars. Reuters, Wired and CNET have virtual bureaus to bring outside content in and in-world news out.
Real businesses set up virtual conference rooms which allow employees around the world to join together to discuss developing products.

Starwood Hotels built the first virtual hotel on a virtual island and tracked its progress with an ongoing blog, including soliciting input from visitors – and then closed the hotel from viewers prior to its grand opening.

Scientists use the format to explore new ideas. A YouTube video suggests a number of ways to expand education using the virtual worlds.

Oh, and by the way for those not in the know, YouTube is an Internet site offering thousands of videos lasting anywhere from a few seconds to an hour or more. Everything from the ridiculous to quite thought provoking lectures – and much of it is free for the viewing.

Signing up to enter a digital community begins with choosing a realistic looking cartoon – well, realistic for a few. I am after all a 56 year-old grandmother – and the only avatar options offered looked young, energetic and absolutely fantastic with exotic or extreme hairdos.

I might protest that none of the avatars reflected my true alter ego, but in virtual world I could fix that, too. YouTube offered several short videos explaining how to take the basic avatar and reconfigure it to your satisfaction.

So much to do in the virtual world, so little time to do it. No matter how enticing as it all sounds, I simply don’t have time for a second life. Not this week anyway – perhaps when I enter my second childhood and need something to occupy my time.