I really didn't intend to blog much about Second Life, but have been sufficiently intrigued by my recent visits and what happened there to pursue the topic one more time. Wandering about the empty landscape of the Learn4Life island is ...well, frankly, boring. There's a limit to how much I can amuse myself without company in any life, real or virtual, and so far I've only encountered someone there twice. They were civil and helpful and behaved just as educators should.
But this is where I started thinking about the implications of using this environment educationally. I know there are rules about age restrictions in "mature" areas - but how do you ensure that everyone is honest about their age? Go to some of the more exotic locations and you're likely to meet people - and be invited to explore, to be someone's friend, to join them in a teleport to a location complete with furry rugs and log fire and objects which allow you to indulge in a variety of sexual fantasies with whoever happens to be around. I don't know how I'd feel if my teenage daughter, say, was sitting alone in her room having a virtual affair with a strange avatar. Would I dismiss it as part of the learning experience, as safe as reading Lady Chatterley's Lover? Or would I be concerned about the possibility of harassment, or of some crossover into the real world?
And I really don't know how I feel about this - it's not merely a rhetorical device to say so. But I do know that I find it insidious, personally; that the images have a disturbing tendency to recur in an obsessive manner; that I find myself noticing that someone (a real someone) is standing just the same way as some avatar I've seen. Maybe it's because of the visual element. Books don't have the same effect.
I'd welcome input, if anyone else cares to join in!