During my time in Algeria, where I am far removed from my “normal” U.S. life of non-stop activity and have way, way, way too much time on my hands, I’ve begun blogging and discovered “Second Life.”
We all know what blogging is (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this), and for those who aren’t familiar with Second Life, it is an online virtual world, which was developed a few years ago but came to international attention in late 2006/early 2007. What distinguishes it from other virtual worlds is that in this one the user can actual design and develop its content.
In the U.S. it doesn’t seem so odd to spend time behind a computer screen…we all do it for pleasure and/or for work. It’s not uncommon to find a household with multiple computers. Here, since the great majority of households do not have a computer or internet (let alone reliable electricity or water, but that’s a previous post!) most people have either never been on the net, or if they have their time is limited to internet cafes where (as far as I’ve seen and heard) they mostly chat. I know that some in the family view me oddly when they see me tapping away at my computer, so during the day I spend time with them, eat, drink coffee, sometimes go to town, etc. Life is centered on human interaction and companionship, with lots of laughter and discussion and sharing of time and thoughts.
At night, however, when everyone is asleep, I power up my computer and enter my own personal twilight zone, one of two worlds: the blogosphere or SL. Last night, for example, I was up until the wee hours of the morning reading news and blogs on the internet and then took advantage of a great internet connection to enter SL. I’m only on day 2 of my free SL membership, but I’ve already designed my avatar, learned to fly, to navigate around, and even to pray (virtually). Yes, last night I visited two areas I’d read about: Virtual Morocco with its replica of the Hassan II mosque, and Chebi, or a replica of the Mezquita de Cordoba. OK, true confession, I also visited a café and learned to bellydance…even winning a contest (they felt sorry for me since I didn’t even know how to use the animation) and earning Linden dollars.
The whole issue of SL and Islam is one that fascinates me and will no doubt be discussed frequently in the upcoming months. There is already some very interesting discussion of same on eteraz.org. While one could no doubt argue that it’s haram to “design” beings, clearly the benefits of including Islam in the SL world, with its discussion groups and possibilities for communication and learning, are promising.
The other issue that interests me about SL, and about blogging is the anonymity factor. I remain, I believe, anonymous as a blogger, and certainly so as a SL resident. I wrap myself into the cocoon of anonymity when I blog or fly around in SL in the same way I looked inwardly as a child when I wrote in my journal. Possibilities are endless and reality enters only when I allow it to. I’m still not sure whether the benefits of this outweigh the dangers involved in this separation from real life, real relationships and human interaction.
Like many things about my time in Algeria, the contrasts evident both within Algerian society and within myself and my experiences make me ponder where I am and where I, and we as a society, are heading.