Second Life as a predictor of social change?

Well maybe it is just the time of year
Or maybe it’s the time of man

We’ve got to get ourselves, Back to the garden

It’s unlikely that Second Life could ever be a predictor of real life social change, lacking disease, war, death, famine, debt and politics, but nonetheless is it possible to suggest that some elements of the game reflect the feelings of players as individuals before those feelings reaching critical mass and become an in-game trend?

We all have things that we wish would happen. ‘I wish there was a music and fashion style for us‘, teenagers in America might have said some time in the early 1950s, from neat detached houses in Los Angeles suburbs, to farms in the mid-west, to tenement blocks in New York. A demographic is there, and half a decade later, a whole youth movement, rock & roll, is sweeping the world. Indeed, ‘teen age’ was probably defined by that generation as never before, and continues as a demographic today (and forever).

The post-war years have also seen us try to create new demographics, some more successful than others. In the UK we have a General Election coming up in early May, and I just know that the political parties will be considering which demographic might swing the election result in their direction, identifying ‘Middle England Stay at Home Mothers’ as the demographic to target for electoral success, perhaps. These will then be known in the media as ‘the Mesh-ies’. I should add that these aren’t a demographic (yet) and yes, I did make the demographic up with a bit of an SL slant.

Unless there’s a DJ whose work I particularly admire, I generally play SL with the sound off. On that subject, a tip of the hat to DJ Cat and to Sunshine, two excellent DJs working in SL with an eclectic taste in music and who never fail to bring something new to this household’s ears…we’ve been introduced to more new (to us) music via SL than we would through the narrow, homogenised, playlisted music on BBC radio, for example. The other evening, however, we had Joni Mitchell playing in the background while sitting in Mr. Keng’s den, and I was also logged into SL, tramping around the ‘Burn’ sim that has been going on over the weekend, in advance of its opening.

It occurred to me that the place was filled with not only imaginative work, but clicking on profiles revealed it to be full of imaginative individuals whose profiles were clearly, obviously, extensions of their real life personas, as I think all of us extend our RL selves, rather than totally re-invent. Yes, I know some will probably say that their SL avatar is a total contrast to their RL selves, but I find that people generally stick with what they know, their true selves, and simply magnify it a little (or a lot).

During the past week we’ve had a little bit of debate, in the context of the blog, about reporting on an orgy, something that didn’t meet another website’s standards of what constituted genuine naturism. Which is a reasonable enough view: I share it. In turn, this got me thinking about the whole ‘shaving’ (of the genital area) trend within naturism, and which has been the trend within naturism for the best part of a decade. Where did that trend originate? That’s right, from pornography. The porn industry’s need for ‘greater detail’ drove the shaving trend, as did the fashion industry’s willingness to produce smaller and skimpier swimwear. And there we had naturism taking its cue from porn and fashion. How ‘genuine’ is that? If we’re going to pride ourselves on being free-thinking individuals, how free thinking is that? As free thinkers surely we should have been rejecting the ‘shaving’ trend cues from fashion and (particularly) porn?

I don’t want to re-visit the little spat that occurred, but sometimes there’s a bit of synchronicity that drives the blog posts. Joni Mitchell…blog drama….Icelandic anti-bulling social media campaigns…a counter culture evidenced at ‘Burn’…they all begin to draw themselves together.

 

burning man

 Pookes and my plans to run a bike ride at an SL even may have been dashed, but these ladies at the RL Burning man have their bike ride sorted.

We, naturists, are part of the counter culture now. We are a lifestyle that seeks to step away from a buttoned up (in more ways than one) society. We have a need to free ourselves, and if we adopt a holistic naturist approach to life, we’re rejecting the values of big business. Growing our own produce? Many of us do it, with food freed from fertilisers and provided with greater taste, rather than force grown, frozen, vacuum packed and flown(!) half way across a continent. ‘We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden (of Eden)’, as Joni Mitchell sang 45 years ago.

The hopes and values of the Woodstock generation were dashed, but I personally see elements of life where there are definite signs of of the values of big business being rejected, the values of politicians being rejected, and the emergence of modern ‘hippy’ values. How prevalent are ‘hipsters’ where you live? Yep, they’re here too. While you don’t immediately think of them as being ‘hippies’, they do seem to me to be part of that trend towards rejection of current business and social values. This, I think, is one of the aspects of the internet still being birthed: the ability to form ‘tribes’ and reach critical mass much more speedily.

tumblr_nkchpjsAVi1qzddoio1_1280

We must learn to think ‘natural’, in terms of harnessing the earth’s natural resources.

An Icelandic girl being bullied online reaches parts of the world, with global media exposure, in a way unimagined by the Woodstock generation. Critical mass reached, in a sense, with hours and certainly days of the original bullying.

In another of those strange synchronistic turns the blog experiences regularly, we also did a profile on Tisha, who rejected the world’s values to re-imagine her life in a small farm in France. While Tisha’s personal circumstances may have allowed her to do this, the point is that she did this, a modern ‘dropping out’. Many people I know in RL share this dream in their 50s, of terminating that dreary job and living what time they’ve left on the planet within their own personal vision of what life should be, rather than how life is. As part of that tribal counterculture, I know I shall run naked down a beach later this year in the pearly pink light of dawn and swim, float on my back, stare up at the fading stars and truly feel alive. I’m finding, too, that I meet a lot of first-time, RL naturists who are in their 50s (again, like Tisha) who come to learn that it does create this wonderful feeling of being alive and connecting with what’s important: our environment, our physical and mental well-being, our capacity to break out of this false set of business-driven values we’re brainwashed to accept as the norm.

Before moving on, let me just add that when I started in SL, the ‘shaved’ avatar was the norm. Keeping the avatar ‘natural’ an absolute rarity. Now, there has been a movement in the pendulum in the other direction, and the ‘natural’ avatar is increasingly in evidence. From my naturist experiences in RL I know the pendulum is swinging (slowly) that way too. I think it’s safe to assume that only a percentage of SL avatars are RL naturists, so what’s driving this subtle change in avatar appearance? Yes, I think it’s the values of individuals, the mind-set of individuals, rejecting a specific look in favour of something else. If replicated in the real world, I suspect this is going to reach a point where, once again, pubic hair is fashionable.

But this post is less about SL naturism as another thing I’ve noticed within the game, and wonder if it’s a form of cultural thermometer. The ‘hippies’.

Within RL there’s great evidence of ‘hippies’ becoming a thing, with the ‘hipsters’ as a sub-set. Examine any WNBR ride, for example, and you will see that it’s eco-warriors who form a part of every ride. Burning Man and the Rainbow Gatherings evidence the same. People wanting to have fun, but also wishing to make a statement.

NO to dependency on oil. YES to a more equable society. YES to sharing the fruits of the earth, throughout the earth. NO to agro-chemical businesses.

These messages and suitably adorned avatars are increasingly apparent in SL. Not just because there’s a Burning Man type festival on the grid this weekend, but to my eyes a growing ‘tribe’ within the game. So at what point will they reach some sort of critical mass and overspill their values into more mainstream, shopping mall elements of the game? At what point will ‘hippy style’ become more evident amongst SL’s fashion bloggers? At what point might the designers and builders of SL begin to accessorise this hippy tribe (as they’ve already done with hipsters)?

With the likes of the ‘Burn’ festival over the weekend, and with an increasing number of avatars adopting a ‘new age’/hippy/hipster look, it seems, as evidenced from my eyes, that we sometimes use our avatars to represent our real life values, and that this type of avatar now has centre stage in the vast and rich library of avatars and human types found playing SL. Where previously Nekos and furries were sizeable groups, then supplanted by the huge number playing Gorean role-play sims, I do detect a sense of the fashionable avatars being the hippies and hipsters, and that unlike previously these represent a real life group discussing real life issues that concern them, and are reflected in avatar type.

Is it just another SL fashion style, as temporary as previous groupings, or will this time the people behind those avatars, pursuing their RL values and treating SL accordingly, about to create a shift in how the real world an SL interact?

Should the hipsters and hippies of SL reach critical mass, will they begin to influence the minds of other players around them in a way no other SL fashion tribe has achieved before?

 

Ella

 

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