I read a heartwarming article in the Seattle Times on October 7th about Second Life improving the quality of real life for many. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2003931084_netavatar07.html
It talks about a wheel-chair bound woman who is able to find physical freedom to walk, run and dance in Second Life, an autistic fellow who is able to learn social cues by chatting in Second Life and a man with agoraphobia (fear of going outdoors) who was able to conquer his fear of going outside by taking one step at a time from Second Life out to First Life. Cancer survivors find support from other Second Lifers who suffer from the same disease. These were only some of the many stories cited in the article which sounded too good to be true at first glance. Could Second Life be this “panacea” that people have claimed it to be? Is it too good to be true?
Well, if we look at Second Life as serendipity, it could explain some of these benefits. Did Philip Rosedale, the creator of Second Life set out to make a platform for civil engineering feats, sociological studies and medical practice when he first thought of Second Life? No, he based his vision on the movie MATRIX and the book, Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. I imagine this was how Alexander Fleming felt when he tried to cure syphilis infections, left on a weekend to discover that his dirty petri dish culture wiped out a colony of staphylococci in 1928. Never in his wildest dreams did he think it would lead to the discovery of an important antibiotic, pencillin, that would save many lives. Or more recently, NIMH was caught off-guard when they administered scopolamine (an anti-seasickness drug) to depressed patients to check for its effect on memory. Instead of results on memory tests, they found happier, perkier people the next morning, leading them to a breakthrough in medical science.
Second Life may not be a panacea but it sure comes close. Its architectural, educational, business, medical and sociological benefits are only starting to come to light. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg! With the announcement of of IBM and Linden Lab this month of their collaboration in researching the possibility of avatars transcending different virtual worlds, Second Life will have the potential to create more powerful solutions. We should expect more serendipitous miracles in the future. Picture your Level 54 Blademaster in Asheron’s Call reading an online book to your child in Club Penguin world. Who knows? It may even lead to new research on Early Literacy!