Who needs friends?
By Roger Highfield
The internet-based virtual world Second Life may have a serious impact on people's real life relationships, one of Britain's best-known scientists warned yesterday.
Baroness Susan Greenfield, director of the Royal Institution, said she feared users of the popular simulation could abandon the messy intimacy of "real-life" human relations for two-dimensional liaisons in the virtual world.
Second Life was started in San Francisco in 1999 and now has seven million players who can create their own characters, known as avatars, buy goods, throw parties and build their own homes.
However, Baroness Greenfield says the implications have not been thought through. "People who dismiss it as a game will be in for a rude awakening," she said. "This will have a huge impact on society.
"Offering people the chance to have a permanent soap opera going on, in which they can participate, will be even more pervasive than reality TV such as Big Brother.
"This is the ultimate in that you can be involved, you can interact, but still you are hiding behind an avatar."
Could there have been a better advertisement for Second Life? “This product is so awesome you won’t want to go back to normal life.” It’s like when Congress was up in arms about Grand Theft Auto and every kid went and bought it. Baroness Greenfield may have a point, though. Recent advances in technology have had a trend of alienating people. Years ago a recluse would have to go out the house to get mail (for bills), shop for food, pick up porn, et cetera. Now all of that can be delivered right to your computer screen (or front door). People who already have problems with social interaction (or have a tough time distinguishing fantasy from reality) have very little reason to come out of their shells. And this attitude could convince others with a propensity for bouts of lonerism that this is a good course of action. The shining star of this phenomenon is hikikomori. In which Japanese youths lock themselves in their room for fear of the outside world. We probably should hold off on becoming Luddites and smashing all of our computers. But we should be cognizant of the importance of interaction (in person) and sunshine. This Daily Dish has been brought to you by your mother.