Friday, March 05, 2010

Is Addiction the "Killer App"?

Maybe this post should be titled:  Random Walk with Grace so I hope you wore comfortable shoes and I do hope you'll come along.  I would love to hear your thoughts on all or any of these snippets.

Yesterday I was talking to a few colleagues about a deep concern I have, which is that thanks to the ubiquity of news and life "streams" and despite the abundance of accessible information, we may actually be starving ourselves on an addiction diet of headlines.

I won't bore you with the lengthy discussion but I was making a few points about the attention economy, what it means to be fully "engaged", why "viral" is meaningless in the gift economy, the subtleties of the virtual goods market and what it tells us about human nature and the implications of re-tweets toward avalanches of information and misinformation.  All of these things are like baking ingredients, when mixed appropriately in the right order and amounts make delightful baked goods, and when not dreadful baked anomalies.

After the conversation died down (another frustration with the new time currency of meetings that end on the hour, at which time people pack up like school children and scurry down the halls even if we've not accomplished our goals).. where was I?  Oh yes, so this concept of attention is particularly interesting to me as I am blessed on certain days with shiny thing syndrome, and I find myself running like Ms Pac Man through life and news streams, consuming as much as I can before the ghosts .. okay, you get it.

About that time, Google showed me the way to the next level.  A dreadful story with a eye popping headline from The Sun sat right there in my Google news feed for Second Life "Gamer's Tot Dies of Starvation".  The first graph of the post by Rhodri Philips (emphasis mine):

A COUPLE addicted to computer games let their real life baby starve to death while raising a virtual daughter online, cops said today.

Suddenly, my shiny thing syndrome came to a screeching halt and I was completely absorbed by this story that describes how a Korean couple literally let their child starve to death as they spent time playing an online game, where they were ironically raising a virtual child.  Tragic on so many fronts no doubt, but the story contained a most compelling paragraph (emphasis mine):
They raised an avatar baby through their profiles on a Second Life-style game called PRIUS, while their real daughter was given just one bottle of milk a day.
I knew this was a story that would flame the virtual world/MMORPG community for two reasons:  1) the on-going controversy about gaming addictions and 2) that blatantly wrong, misinformed and misleading association of PRIUS and Second Life. (For future reference, PRIUS is more like World of Warcraft than Second Life and this unfortunate association is being passed around the press even today.)

So, naturally, I tweeted. But here's what I tweeted (emphasis mine):
gracemcdunnough *shakes head* Korean baby dies as parents Kim Yoo-chul and Choi Mi-sun raise Second Life prim baby |
Now, I didn't mean to be so intentionally misleading, I meant to tweet this:
gracemcdunnough *shakes head* Korean baby dies as parents Kim Yoo-chul and Choi Mi-sun raise Second Life-like prim baby |
but in my haste to be clever, first, provocative and you know all the rest of that social currency stuff, I sent out misinformation and I didn't realize it at first but within seconds I got these:
micala @GraceMcDunnough even in an article that has *nothing* to do with SL, it's still mentioned. How about maybe the parents were just idiots.
toxicmenges @GraceMcDunnough Careful, wasn't in SL :) Was in PRIUS - We got enough bad press as it is ;)
 And I'm thinking "Uh yeah I know this, didn't you see my oh so clever ... ah, heck."  So I sent off a quick:
gracemcdunnough @toxicmenges @micala You passed :)
and then this:
gracemcdunnough UPDATE: Korean baby dies as parents Kim Yoo-chul and Choi Mi-sun raise PRIUS baby |

and then I had a quick exchange with @slhamlet all within two minutes of the initial tweet.  

So my communication crisis was mostly adverted in a manner of a few minutes but only because I was paying attention and my thoughts drifted back to my original discussion and to another similar twitter exchange. In February this tweet from M Linden caught my eye:
mlindenSL #SL #SecondLife #Avatar -- Love the SL>RL Fashion connection!!
I have a high fascination for real to virtual world cross over so I went find out more about this story about the triumphant the return of Anne-Sofie to the fashion world.  From the ELLE-UK post:
...the Swedish designer returned with a collection inspired by Second Life and an avatar based on herself 'but improved by buying the wak of Angelina Jolie'.

So I asked myself the first question: Who is Anne Sofie and do I care? Answer: Some fashion diva, and not really.  Then the next question: What about her Second Life experience influenced her designs?  That answer was worth some research and in doing so I came up with this quote from The Independent:
Identity and deceit is a recurring theme and this season, for her first show in a year, Back’s inspiration comes from the online game Second Life, in which players create their own avatar. Back avatar is complete in its verisimilitude, if not in its career. “I make a living out of stripping there – it’s really easy money,” she quips. “Second Life is quite a shitty, slow game where nothing much happens, but people do make an effort with clothes, hair and make-up. The weird thing is, you have the chance to really create something fantastic – you know, with rabbit ears or you could be green. But most people want to look like Katie Price and Peter Andre, and wear clothes like people on Big Brother. It’s even more conformist than real life.”
and my subsequent tweet:
gracemcdunnough Ann-Sofie returns: Second Life is quite a shitty, slow game where nothing much happens..
Maybe nothing *was* happening when Ann-Sofie was around but all that's about to change with the advent of the Second Life Viewer 2.0 Shared Media feature.  Now you can exploit this capability so that you stay fully immersed in world longer and for more noble causes.  Want to read, comment or write blog post, tweet, watch a film - now you can all from the comfort of the Second Life "browser", er viewer.

Then I started wondering if fashionistas were prowling virtual farms in FarmVille.  Will we see exciting new overall and straw hat fashion statements cruising the catwalks?

You must be wondering where I'm going with this, and so was I until it hit me this morning.  Are we building ourselves the ultimate addictions?

Why do we Second Life Residents defend it so boldly when it's carelessly mentioned in the press? Do we simply have the vision for what might be and are defending that bright future, or are we blinded by our own addictions?

It's easy to scoff at the Korean couple.  Who lets their real life suffer so tragically because of an online game?   

We all know Anne-Sofie just didn't "get" Second Life, or did she?

We all think Shared Media will revolutionize Second Life in the best possible ways, don't we?

Are we already at risk of addiciton? Care to take a short quiz to find out?

Before you take the quiz, a few disclaimers are in order.

1) This quiz is meant to drive thought and/or entertain.  It is not a diagnosis tool. It's not science, this is more like art. I have no professional training in anything remotely related to psychology short my college work. I found the survey assessment below online here: and I changed references from the Internet to Second Life.  From that site:  Use this brief screening measure to help you determine if you might need to see a mental health or other social services professional to help you successfully deal with "Internet addiction (Second Life)." 

2) I wasn't the first to suggest this, I found that Landsend Korobase has a great post about Second Life addiction and did this very assessment back in 2009.

3) This is a Google form that collects no information other than your responses and it will not return a "score", it will merely tally the cumulative marks from everyone. 

4) If you want your score, keep track of your answers and use this point system 0=never, 1=sometimes, 2=often.  The scoring model says for scores >30 addiction is likely, 29-20 addiction is possible, 19-15 bordeline, 14-0 no addiction.

5) I don't know what I'll do with the submitted form data yet, I may try to shape it into an art piece in Second Life, or maybe I'll just post it using Shared Media. ;-)

6) Please don't spam this form. No one will notice or love you if you do and I'll just have to take it down.

So, what do you think - have we finally discovered the "killer app"?

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