Mitch Wagner has an excellent new article
in Information Week outlining five rules business should follow, with plenty of examples, in order to get the most out of Second Life. I’d like to comment on an issue he raised in his fourth rule, “be smart about keeping out trouble-makers.” In that context, he discusses strategies businesses can take to manage griefers who vandalize commercial interests, and noted that like the hyped-up claims that “the only activity in Second Life is cybersex,” griefing incidents are much less common than many pundits would have you believe.
Wired recently claimed
that “kinky sex” was the “big draw” for enticing return traffic to Second Life, and there is certainly a lot written about sex in Second Life
. However, what is troubling is the assumption that Second Life is pretty much only about sex. For example, in Wagner’s article, Lenovo V.P. David Churbuck is quoted as saying, “there is nothing to do in Second Life except, pardon my bluntness, try to get laid.” (As an aside, I note that my one-year-old Lenovo T60 Thinkpad is woefully underpowered for running Second Life, so perhaps reliance on Lenovo hardware may be contributing to Mr. Churbuck’s perception that there is nothing to do in Second Life. My Dell desktops work great, BTW.)
Time July 3, 1995 Cyberporn cover.
As I have found myself doing recently, let’s go back 12 years to July 3, 1995, when Time
magazine ran a sensationalistic cover story
, based upon a flawed Carnegie-Mellon University study, on how the Internet was utterly awash with Cyberporn. This launched a heated Web-based Cyberporn Debate
in the summer of 1995.
(Yes - this is in fact the same Time
magazine which on a slow news day recently listed Second Life as one of the “5 worst websites
Inspired by the Time
article, Senator Grassley remarked three weeks later in the Congressional Record:
Mr. President, Georgetown University Law School has released a remarkable study conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. This study raises important questions about the availability and the nature of cyberporn. …
The university surveyed 900,000 computer images. Of these 900,000 images, 83.5 percent of all computerized photographs available on the Internet are pornographic. Mr. President, I want to repeat that: 83.5 percent of the 900,000 images reviewed–these are all on the Internet– are pornographic, according to the Carnegie Mellon study.
As Donna Hoffman and I noted in our critiques of the Time cover story
as well as the Carnegie Mellon study
on which it was based:
We do not know whether Senator Grassley was misinformed or deliberately misled on the facts he presented. We do know that the numbers he presented were 100% incorrect. The most critical error in Grassley’s statement is that the 900,000 files (which were not all images, by the way), were from adult bulletin boards, not from the Internet.
So, the lesson is that if you spend all your time at place where there is plenty of cyberporn (i.e., adult bulletin boards), and you confuse this with the broader environment (i.e., the Internet at large), you will come to the incorrect conclusion that the broader environment is filled with cyberporn.
Why was this important? Congressional outcry against overblown perceptions of an Internet completely awash in pornography led to the passage of the Communications Decency Act
in 1996, signed, rather ironically, by President Bill Clinton. In the landmark case of ACLU vs. Reno the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the indecency provisions of the CDA in 1997. Free speech advocates successfully argued these provisions would have chilling effects upon literary work and medical information on the Web, as well as negatively impacting the Web itself as a communications medium (see Donna Hoffman’s expert witness testimony
So, returning to 2007, we are seeing some very similar things being written about how Second Life is utterly overrun by cybersex. While cybersex is not the same as cyberporn, how long will it be until Congress proposes new legislation regulating indecent behavior in virtual worlds?
While virtual sex in SL is certainly a business opportunity as well as a popular activity for some (as well as a topic of academic study
), what is refreshing about Wagner’s article is that he presents a more balanced perspective of virtual sex being a relatively small part of the broader Second Life environment (just like adult BBS’s in 1995 were a relatively small part of the broader Internet).
While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence, what is sorely lacking is solid data of the prevalence and popularity of sex in Second Life. Wagner quotes Linden Lab’s CEO Philip Rosedale as saying the ”sexually-oriented areas make up less than 18% of the land in Second Life.” However, this doesn’t define what a “sexually-oriented area” is, and this should be considered an upper bound estimate of SL geographic space dedicated to sexual activity - most likely a very high upper bound estimate. How many people have ever engaged in cybersex in Second Life? (I’d expect this percentage to be less than the percentage who’ve had sex in real life). What about last month, last week? How often? What percent of total time is spent on virtual sex activities? What percent of Linden dollars? How important do SL residents think virtual sex is compared to other things they do in SL?
In other words, some perspective!