Yesterday morning, I was working on the next installment of “Seconderth”, about Da Boom. As you’ll soon see, it begins by mentioning that the first 30-or-so regions created during SL Beta were named for streets and alleys in San Fransicso, near the Lab’s first offices (my home sim, Tehama, is among them). In fact, I had Google Maps open in my other monitor, looking at that part of town and saying to myself, “Well, I’ll be damned — there they all are.” All of the sims I’ve come close to memorizing during my frequent trips there in the past months, to the point that I can tell at a glance that something’s changed… all of those names with which I’ve built a nearly-emotional connection, as I also have (vicariously) with many of the people who first settled there, through their builds that are still there…
That’s when the Tweets began dribbling in. It felt a lot like the old days of radio and television: “We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin.”
There was a virtual earthquake in San Francisco yesterday…
…and it shook the foundations of Second Life as assuredly as it shook out approximately 30% of the payroll of Linden Lab. And, as with calamities in the physical world, the “news wires” (blogs & forums) were immediately flooded with preliminary reports of damage, speculations about the causes and effects — even impromptu memorials to the victims — much of it cast in a mood of shocked disbelief.
It’s as simple — and profound — as the idea that the real world we awaken to each morning is the same one we fell asleep in the night before. We instinctively relate to Second Life the same way. We have learned that not everything persists from login to login — builds, and sometimes entire sims, disappear overnight and forever — but earthquakes, hurricanes, and sudden cardiac arrest tell us that organic life is no different in that way, either. Still, we expect permanence overall, if not in the details.
I wrote that three months ago in “The Persistence of Vision“. I won’t claim prescience; in fact, I was writing in support of the idea that persistence of an environment is both a foundation and a formative influence on Culture arising within it. Now, we witness the inevitable human reaction to a sudden and drastic change to the environment — and once again are reminded that Life is Life, whether played out in physical or virtual space.
And — just as culture evolves within the constraints of its environment, a change in environment directly affects the culture within it. The more sweeping a change in the former, the more permanent alteration of the latter. The more drastically rapid the environmental upheaval, the more those who care about, and for, the culture they live in and helped to create will react with dismay.
[from ““Nothing but a pack of cards”]“
I will not join the speculation about what might become of Second Life, or how rapidly that might occur… but my confidence, already waning, is shaken even more, while my purpose of capturing, compiling, and presenting what has persisted in the world since its founding has been reinforced. So, while others figuratively inspect the earthquake damage to decide if the structures are still safe to use, I’ll continue to preserve their memories… just in case.
Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.
— Samuel Johnson, 1777