The Washington Post published a snarky piece covering Tuesday’s Congressional hearing on online virtual worlds yesterday (Wednesday, April 2, 2008, A3) that, frankly, was disappointing to me and several others who frequent Second Life. Dana Milbank consistently chose demeaning words (“cartoon-like characters”), irrelevant details such as the attire of the audience members, and exaggeration (“Another witness, Larry Johnson of the New Media Consortium, went so far as to proclaim that…”) to make the point: that this was somehow less than serious. A time-waster. A game.
Well perhaps to some people it is. But to some people it isn’t. For those of you that weren’t around these parts last July, let me tell you what I just told the Post, over on their online comments.
Part of the attraction of Second Life is the social networking capability. It’s true. That’s a fair attack. But it’s also a blessing.
Last summer, I was diagnosed with an agressive form of breast cancer at 34. I was transformed from an active, happy, outgoing mom into a person who was very, very tired, losing my hair, and unable some days to even sit up. Some days I couldn’t move. My hair started falling out in clumps, and I knew I would soon be bald. Many of my friends were going to a conference, and I couldn’t go after all.
Lucky for me, the conference was also being held in Second Life. So I logged on, made an avatar, and decided to make her bald right away, to see how it would affect my interactions with people. It was difficult, and there were a few thoughtless comments, but then, I learned how to handle it better and navigate the social scene as well as the conference sessions flawlessly. By the end of the conference, I had new friends who didn’t care whether I had hair or not, whether I could walk and run like they did, or whether I was really homebound and very sick from the chemo.
As I progressed through my treatment for inflammatory breast cancer, I came to rely on Second Life less, but I will always be grateful for the virtual world and its caring denizens, who helped a sick young woman feel better about herself and return to health.
Shame on the Post for writing such a dismissive and snarky article; Second Life, like anything else, is a tool that can be used for fun, for work, for social networking, and for escapism from some very difficult days.
So while I personally haven’t been in-world in months, being able to attend BlogHer in Second Life last year while I was laid up due to chemo was absolutely incredible, and I will always be grateful for the opportunity.
Edited to add: We lost Lydia Wessel in California to IBC today. A member of the IBC list, along with her husband Mark, she fought valiently for 8 years after diagnosis until her body became overwhelmed and the treatments stopped working. Her last treatment was on 2/14; she spent the next few weeks writing letters to her family, finishing a book about her childhood, cleaning out her closets, and making preparations. She passed away on 3/16. Godspeed, dear Lydia. You will be missed.