This the first video I have made for a while, following my enforced break from online activity. The choice took more time to make than surface appearances suggest. My worry was that it was too obvious. There are rumours that Chouchou will be closing soon, so I might just be indulging in personal nostalgia. I have known Chouchou, and the connected Memento Mori, for around 10 years, both as a visual and musical experience. Also its strength is a simple beauty that has survived the years, rather than the latest graphics.
And yet closure is a perpetual aspect of Second Life. Sometimes it is predicted, and happens. Sometimes it is predicted, and doesn’t. Sometimes places just disappear for no apparent reason. And virtual worlds are different from the actual world: when something goes, it completely disappears. No ruins, no remnant base on top of which something else is built. All gone.
That’s not really a problem – it has been the nature of internet existence. But what pushed me was not the question of closure and disappearance of a particular place, Chouchou, but a general sense of the future.
Sansar foreshadowed this. Indeed, if VR had really lifted off, it would (naturally) have taken over from Second Life. But VR did what it usually did: it grew a bit, found some new niches, then faded away again. But the vision of what Sansar should be set up a question. It had an emphasis on people visiting creative situations made by specialists, rather than improvising and experimenting oneself. And suburban play times. Being ‘mates’ together.
It’s a kind of consumerist suburbia. And this is what Second Life appears to be becoming, driven by premium membership. The ‘Second Life Community’ webpage advertises ‘Fresh New Linden Homes are Here with New Themes and Larger Options‘. In the ‘April 15 UPDATE: Currently, new Linden Homes are sold out – but more are on the way. Please stay tuned to our blog and to this forum thread for updates’. It is a housing sales pitch to sell premium homes in smart new regions, just like any new-build western suburb. The message is reinforced by a video with promises of old tradition or new marine frontage. It echoes appearances in The Truman Show. And as commented in a Vanity Fair article 20 years on: ‘their paranoid dramedy seemed absurd—until life began to imitate art’.
The video also promises a place in a ‘planned community’ and to live in a ‘corner’ of a community. This is the crunch. Buy a home, buy some furniture. Be comfortable. Look good in your mesh. ‘Choose a life… Choose a family.’ as Irvine Welsh framed life in Trainspotting. And maybe you can visit a museum, where things like Chouchou still exist. But don’t expect a new one tomorrow: making spaces like that is not what Second Life is about any more. The future is smart and it is retail. Creativity is for sellers and providers, not for residents and users.
And maybe this is really where we are at. A space to buy stuff, not a place for quirky, odd inventiveness and creativity.
Do I no longer fit? I’m not interested in spending a day in my ideal comfortable home with a planned community. I’d rather make my own choices in SL. Or go to my local printmaker workshop, in the actual world. Put ink on paper in unpredictable ways, work with other people who are equally interested in unpredictable things. After all, that is what drew me into Second Life in the first place.
But the move mirrors the dominance of app culture, where slickness and consumerism, user data and sales, is what matters. The internet has changed over 10 years – you no longer have to be hands-on to deal with technological or program challenges. Realistically, Linden Lab has to make money to survive, and so change has to happen. And just because I have my doubts about the point of the internet today doesn’t make it wrong.
So maybe this is all coming to an end for me too. I have the record of the many things I made over the last ten years. Maybe the time to move on is getting close.