Second Life is a virtual reality world accessed through the Internet. Participants create ‘avatars’ – online figures that can interact with other characters – and enter a world that in some ways mirrors real life: there are shops and businesses, and it is possible to buy real estate, clothes for your avatar, or a number of other products. You can also hold meetings or events in Second Life in real time, with your avatar interacting with others. The environment is much like that of a computer game.
Second Life reached the attention of trade unionists when the global union federation UNI staged a protest against IBM in Second Life in September 2007. Two thousand avatars took part in a demonstration outside IBM headquarters in Second Life, wearing union T-shirts and carrying (virtual) placards.
There was union wider activity on Second Life in the form of Union Island, where the TUC, Unison and several other organisations had a presence. This did have a purpose: Second Life is increasingly used as a workplace for telecommuters, so a union presence was useful to deal with issues specific to workers here. However, in January 2010 the decision was taken to close Union Island due to it not being used sufficiently.
While this is interesting and innovative, it is not relevant to most trade union activists: 70% of respondesnts to my survey felt that a trade union presence in Second Life was “useless”, and only two used it.
My experience of introducing activists to Second Life during training sessions has generally been ridicule, with comments like
“you should get a First Life first!”
I found Second Life time consuming, with high barriers to entry: installing software, learning the environment, a high speed Internet connection and computer with a good graphics card. There was little perceivable benefit for the kind of activism I am involved in.
The concept of Second Life clearly has potential – for instance, for distance learning, or for union conferences – but I believe that it is of little practical use to most trade unionists at the moment. It is also worth noting that Second Life is not a neutral space – it is owned by US Internet company Linden Lab, and therefore has the problems associated with other corporate-controlled places.
So: union communication departments, concentrate on low cost, easy to access technology, like email, text message and social networks. Second Life should not be a priority.
Any one have a positive experience of Second Life?