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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: April 21, 2007

 

ACTING SOMEWHAT IN the role of a foreign correspondent, author Jenni Siski explored the still-expanding cyber world of Second Life (current population: 5.3 million) and reported back to the London Review of Books that it didn’t seem to her much different from the real world (RL). “It turns out that there is no second life on Second Life, only more of the same old first and only one, but cartoon-shaped…. Not only does Second Life not offer an alternative existence, it positively encourages a replication of the regular world,” she wrote. At present, membership is free but soon a charge will be made for names to be listed online, adding millions to the coffers of Robin Linden whose “Linden dollars”, exchanged at the LindeX exchange, are SL’s operating currency (about $247L =$1US). An entire 16-acre island costs $1,675 plus monthly rent of $295, but there’s a 40% discount for RL educators and academic institutions.

Most entrants pay monthly rents ranging all the way up to $195 for a “region.” and then buy whatever they need to build on it or take part in whatever activities are on offer — pretty much everything including a red light district with pole dancers and “filthy fuck puppets.” Because SL entrepreneurs are just as opportunistic and greedy as in the real world, some early land-grabbers have made hundreds of thousands of (real) dollars from this unreal world. A teacher in Germany, Ailin Graft, became SL’s first millionaire by trading virtual property prices.

Members nominate an avatar possessing whatever characteristics they choose, as their second self, and so “big-breasted, muscle-ripping blondes” and male jocks predominate. “What this place needs is a grumpy old woman” wrote Ms. Diski, who decided to become SL’s single example of an older generation. Nobody spoke to her. “Like the old everywhere, I was invisible and inaudible” she reported, coming to the conclusion that she could be just as delusional in the here and now. “The point of a virtual existence became less and less clear to me.”

Alexander Besher, San Francisco author of the Philip K. Dick Award nominated novel RIM which forecast such worlds back in 1993, was asked what he thought of the concept. Said a skeptical Besher: “They should (all) get a life.”

ANOTHER SKEPTIC IS Jason Lee Steorts who takes off after the best-selling book, The Secret, whose gullible readers have already bought 3.75million copies to learn about “the law of attraction.” This questionable thesis apparently states that whatever dominant thought you can impress on your mind will then enter your life. “Your thoughts become things!” declares the author, Rhonda Byrne, an Australian TV producer of both book and a similarly-named film. In the National Review, Steorts calls her “a promotional genius… (whose) dogmas are tailored perfectly to the sentimental permissiveness of the country in which she has found her greatest success.”

IT SEEMS SAFE TO PREDICT that like it or not the day of the suicide bomber has come to stay. How long will it be before would-be suicides decide that it would be wasteful to do it alone so why not rid the world of some scumbag at the same time? Judging from current accounts, billionaire publishers and greedy landlords could be among the earliest victims, both of them sharing the sort of mindset in which money is infinitely more important than the lives of less elevated human beings.

“You know ‘that look” women get when they want sex?” asked Steve Martin. “Me, neither.”

WHAT CAN THE peace-loving Quakers do about the war in Iraq?
Well, judging by a recent essay in their Friends Journal, the only thing would be for like-minded people to think hard about how to change the culture. Nailing the reason for the war as a quest for oil, Maya M. Porter points out that our economy has become totally dependent on oil. “And that’s the problem. We buy it, all of us do. Because we have to… hellip;we are not exempt from responsibility. We are part of the consumerist society, like it or not.”

The only recourse, Ms. Porter suggests, is for groups to get together and try to figure out how to live without oil dependency. “There has to be a way to live that does not require fighting brutal wars to secure the energy necessary to maintain that way of life…. We have a responsibility to take a stand, to make an impression on the society at large to change its ways…. Like those dedicated Friends who opposed slavery when it was a socially and politically accepted part of their culture, none of us can do this alone.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: The Electric Sheep Company, which designs three dimensional properties in virtual worlds such as Second Life, has made a deal with CBS to create commercials…. That aspirin can be used to revive a dead car battery is one of the 2,209 useful tips in the new Reader’s Digest Extraordinary Uses for Ordinary Things to be published next week…. Those ludicrous misspellings in television close-captioning have long had their counterpart in movie subtitles where things are likely to get worse. Movie producers are being enticed to outsource subtitling to India and Malaysia where translators are offering cut rates…. Men are always asking what women want in bed, says Kathy Lette. The answer is breakfast…. Yahoo plans to add a singing anchorman to its newscasts who, a spokesman promises, “will leave you tapping your feet….” High Times magazine is pitching the networks with plans for a reality TV show set in its Manhattan office where, says editor Steve Hager, no toking takes place…. Some companies could save as much as a million dollars in printing costs after July 1, reports CFO magazine, when the Securities and Exchange Commission will allow them to distribute their proxy statements via the Web…. Women may fake orgasms, reflects Sharon Stone, but men fake whole relationships….” Has Google replaced Microsoft as the almighty pariah that everyone wants to cut down to size?” asks the Observer’s Richard Wachman …. TelevisionWeek devoted 20 pages of editorial and ads to praising Bob Wright who recently stepped down as NBC’s boss…. You don’t have to be rich to help with one of those far-sighted schemes that lends money to poor people in distant lands to lift them out of poverty because they’re always looking for helpers at www.kiva.org…. Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor liberty to purchase power. — Benjamin Franklin (1706-90)