Monday, August 25, 2008

"Meaningful Fun"

Yesterday I attended a talk given by Tom Bukowski (Boellstorf), author of Coming of Age in Second Life – the first anthropological study of the metaverse. Bukowski spent two years conducting research, focusing on ideas of place, identity, avatars and sex. The lecture was packed, the questions provocative. Of particular interest was how he chooses to use the phrase “actual world” or aw rather than “rl” or real world. By using the phrase “real world” you assume a real world that is computer-free; that one life is more “real” than the other. One scholar calls the examination of that blurry line between the two worlds “boundary work” which is so appropriate. Regarding the separation between the aw/virtual world, Bukowski writes: “…what I find more significant and less debated is why we find the question of traffic between virtual worlds and the “real world” so compelling….A large body of anthropological work…demonstrates that crossing a boundary can strengthen the distinctiveness of the two domains it demarcates”. Virtual life is not a completely separate, isolated social world…Bukowski received a bit of skepticism from colleagues (though support at UC Irvine), but it seemed to me that this reluctance to examine virtual life likely stems from a generation of scholars who shy away from new technologies. Luckily, Bukowski-as-Boellstorf has been named Editor-in-Chief of American Anthropologist, journal of the American Anthropologist Association, which ought to guide scholars, young and old, into virtual studies.

Read the first chapter of Coming of Age in Second Life.