Video - What is real? Studying virtual worlds
The biggest obstacle in studying technology is the obsession of the media with what is big now
What is the meaning of the word "real"?
Virtual worlds like Second Life give us wonderful ways of thinking in new, fresh ways about that question. To call the physical world "real life" is the number one problem in the study of technology. In virtual worlds you can make real memories, and a lot of stuff that happens online is real: if you learn German online you can use it when you go to Berlin... on the other hand a lot of things in the physical world aren't "real"...
Anthropologist Tom Boellstorff sees no difference between doing ethnographic research in Indonesia or among the residents of a digital universe like Second Life. For over 12 years Tom Boellstorff has been an active resident of Second Life, not only writing books about his research there and the methodology used in exploring user-centric online societies, but engaging hands on with diverse communities.
In a recently published new edition of his book "Coming of Age in Second Life", he cautions against dismissing sustainable digital communities like Second Life simply because they are not the hot tech property of the day: "The biggest obstacle in studying technology is the obsession of the media with what is new and what is big. Nobody asks me why I am still going to and writing about Indonesia for instance. From an explorer's point of view the culture in Second Life today is as vibrant and fascinating to me if not more so than when I started out!"
In this 5 minute mini-documentary Tom Boellstorff not only addresses the issue of big data, avatar identity and what role the new wearable VR technology may play for revitalizing interest in virtual worlds, but elaborates on a more nuanced way to address the difference between what we tend to label "real" versus "virtual".