Thursday, July 31, 2014

what happens when digital cities are abandoned?

theatlantic |  People use terms like “majestic,” “spectacularly vacant,” and “post-apocalyptic” to describe real-life ruins. There’s an entire subculture around images of once-splendid buildings, now left to rot and decay. I’m a quiet fan of these urban explorers, people who devote time to poking around abandoned buildings or “haikyo”—and, if they’re lucky, uncovering stories about the people that once resided there. And because I’ve spent so much time inhabiting digital rooms myself, I often think about how time decays digital structures. I imagine all of the strings of text that have come before or after mine that similarly disappeared into the void. But what happens when those spaces stick around, as in a virtual world—when they can’t physically decay?

When Second Life launched in 2003, the world was captivated by visions of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash come to life. The virtual world isn’t a game--it’s a venue, a platform, a plot of undeveloped land, a blank canvas, an open world. Users make of it what they will.

In 2006, an avatar was featured on the cover of Business Week magazine as part of an interview about a million-dollar land management business. People were swept up in a great wave of excitement and possibility. Universities and corporations flocked to build huge structures, including full-size stadiums and digital recreations of their real-life buildings.
But that was nearly 10 years ago. I wondered: what happened to all of those buildings? Were people still making use of them? So I logged in. The world of Second Life, it turns out, is not abandoned. Estimates put the current active user-base around 600,000 members; in its heyday, it boasted between 60 and 80 thousand simultaneous logins. There are often a handful of people in most of the spaces you’ll visit, but it’s easy to find privacy. Here and there are signs that point to its lack of people: “space for rent”, “band wanted.” But the sheer variety of environments, and the obvious care that people put into them, remains stunning.

There are moments in Second Life where the artifice is obvious. Not just when it’s loading, building up the world from flat planes to polygons to intricate, textured shapes—but when you realize that everything is pristine, unlike real-world counterparts. It brings to mind the words of Philip K. Dick describing the detritus that’s started taking over the largely-abandoned cities in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers of yesterday's homeopape. When nobody's around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up the next morning there's twice as much of it. It always gets more and more.
There’s no kipple in Second Life; no tumbling, ivy-covered walls, or pools of stagnant water, no gum wrappers or cigarette cartons slowly disintegrating. 

Removed from organic decaying processes, the only ruins in this world, including simulacrum of piles of dirt and construction vehicles, are ones that have been deliberately built and placed there by a designer. But despite its empty spaces, the world still feels full of possibility, perhaps specifically because it’s all still standing strong, so many years on. It’s not abandoned; it’s simply waiting.


BigDonOne said...

...Uh-oh...BD has seen this syndrome before. The Creator starts dropping cryptic hints alluding to the 'finite nature of things.' Usually a time-consuming one-man operation that has become a tiresome burden. Compelling pressures from other growing interests, or sometimes health issues. So tell us, CNu, are you thinking of bagging Subrealism...??

CNu said...

lol, not likely.

Naive Tom said...

He has a mancrush on you though, was what he said.

CNu said...

don't start none, won't be none....,

Naive Tom said...

I didn't say it was reciprocated!

Constructive_Feedback said...

I am more concerned about the real people who invested real American currency into the games play so that their virtual character could consume products and services within this virtual world.

I recall that certain artists and architects began making money by designing items for consumption into this world.

They applied their talents productively because these skills were ultimately manifested to fulfill a present demand.

The consumer that bought into these items thanks to the hype but no longer utilize them - they are the source of concern.

Tell me, Mr CNu - What if the entire SMOKE AND MIRROR economic system called "America" is, in fact, a "Second Life" with sufficient HIGH DEFINITION LIVING that your sensory system is sufficiently TRICKED into believing that all that the average American pursues is real and not folly?

These are the views of the world by the late Rene Descartes - as learned in my college freshman, first semester philosophy class - which had a super-fine AKA upperclassman, who was a stimulant to my visual cortex at the time per the pheromones she was putting out.

Constructive_Feedback said...

CNu is on a philosophical journey today. Prodigy, Compuserv and, hell - even "Your Black Voices" (the first popular blog - before they were called "blogs"). Each of them had a treasure trove of human intelligence applied for debate and "FAQ"/ "How To" forums.

Maybe it is less important to have access to this information base today for posterity purposes. The real benefit was AT THE TIME these services were the scaffolding upon which individual human beings inserted their views and in aggregate structured learning was obtained by those who participated.

Ya Think?

Constructive_Feedback said...

CNu - Define "Cultural Darwinism".

CNu said...

No. For the most part, these humans are broken machines afflicted with multiple false personalities. Online fora, by-and-large, allow for the safe and anonymous amplification of this already pernicious fact and feed it's worst addictive tendencies.

The only real beneficiaries of the vast majority of online emanations are those who've managed to use the data it engenders for the scientific study of social structure.

CNu said...

Google memetic engineering or memetic warfare...,