Material Culture…. in a virtual world?

Exploring Second Life is not unlike wandering around an enormous digital Pompeii. Here are rooms, and paintings, and buildings… and yet more often than not, they are completely empty. SL is billed as a social experience, but any time I’m in there (which tends to be during business hours, EST) there are no people. It’s one big archaeological site, without the need to dig.

It should be possible then to apply normal archaeological theories in this world and to deconstruct what these spaces mean. And of course the meaning that I glean might not necessarily be the same meaning as the person who created the space (whom I could presumably interrogate, if they happened to be online when I was there).

Whilst wandering around in Second Life (and in Active Worlds), you start to notice things. The first thing is of course the huge variety of things that people create. The second, upon reflection, is the way that – in these worlds where anything is possible – certain common themes keep repeating themselves in this material virtual culture. There would seem to be a common grammar of what to build, and how to build it. It is interesting to note how in three short years a cultural koine has emerged in this space.

I guess I’ll get started.