Our exciting (virtual) lives

Our exciting (virtual) lives

By Megan Jicha

When cloudy skies, cold temperatures and rain arrive, college students gather to shop the stores of Newbury Street and eat the fine foods of Boston while catching up with friends and family. No drab forecast could ruin an outing like this, because there is no need to step outside anymore.

Since the launch of the World Wide Web in the early ’90s, people have made the Internet a common place to spend their time. However, over the past few years, it has become a place to live their lives. With instant messaging, e-mail, video chat, downloadable music and movies, online banking, online shopping and virtual worlds, people are free to spend entire days in front of the computer screen without human contact.

This human contact is instead replaced with virtual.

People no longer have to present themselves to others online in 2-D fashion. They don’t even have to present themselves at all.

Second Life, an online virtual world allows for its members to create characters, refered to as avatars, to look however they want.

However, the loss in human contact occurred before 3-D characters took the place of humans.

The earliest ideas relating to what we now know as the Internet date back to the late 50s, when the USSR launched Sputnik and the United States formed the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

In 1969, the first DARPANET link was formed between the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of California, Santa Barbara; the University of Utah and the Stanford Research Institute. According to “The History of the Internet”, by Christos Moschovitis, Hilary Poole, Tami Schuyler and Theresa Senft, this was the technical core of what would become the Internet.

From there, steady and imperative progress was made by the technological world. In 1972, Ray Tomlinson of BBN created the first e-mail program. People at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications created the first graphic browser, Mosaic, in 1993. Mosaic spurred the beginning of the World Wide Web, but Netscape Navigator would later supercede it in 1994.

As the World Wide Web gained popularity, it began to develop the programs and websites, forever changing the way people do business and socialize.

Online Business

Katie Drago, a self-proclaimed online shopaholic, said she thinks the Internet makes business easier, because shoppers can choose when and where they shop, unlike retail stores.

“It is the 12 a.m., pajama-wearing, ice cream-eating customers like myself who prove Internet business is so much more convenient,” said Drago, a sophomore graphic design major.

Drago also said Internet businesses benefit from the coincidental and bored customer.

“Although some people will take a stroll down Newbury Street out of pure boredom and randomly choose to enter stores they do not usually go into, but personally if I am bored, I am more likely to sit in front of my computer and choose random sites to visit and shop around in,” she said.

Not only can you turn to the Internet for boredom shopping, but for comparative shopping as well.

“I always look for my course textbooks online,” said mechanical engineering major Dustin Avila. “Instead of paying outrageous prices at the bookstore, I can compare prices for the books I need online. This allows me to pay a reasonable amount of money for a book I will only use for four months of my life. Last year I saved two or three hundred dollars by buying used books online.”

Unsure of how much money you have available to spend during your Internet splurges? Online banking allows people to check their balances, view bank statements, pay bills online and transfer funds.

“Since my paychecks are directly deposited into my bank account, I do not ever really have a purpose for visiting my bank, so online banking becomes my only real contact with the bank,” said sophomore psychology major Christina Lavorna.

“The convenience of paying bills online also allows me to keep track of everything. I always know where to look for my statements and I can make payments quickly without worrying if it got lost in the mail or if I forgot to put a stamp on it,” Lavorna said.

Getting hunger pangs from all your virtual business transactions? No need to walk to the fridge or go to a restaurant, the food can come to you.

Night Owl, a food delivery services that picks up food from well known restaurants, can deliver to the door

“My roommates and I have already ordered from Night Owl this semester,” said Christine Morrill, a sophomore human services major. “It is great because you can get a good meal from a real restaurant that you like instead of fast food. Plus you do not have to get dressed up to go out and sit down to eat.”

Social Movements

People are not only limiting their human contact with businesses, but also with friends and family. It is not that our generation has become a society of loners, but instead it has become a society that has accepted smiley graphics and acronyms as acceptable substitutes for a friend’s voice and facial expressions, because of their convenience, said Drago.

One of the most popular forms of this virtual communication in the form of interactive chat is AOL Instant Messenger. AOL launched this ad-supported instant messaging program in 1997. The company released the newest iteration of the program, AIM Triton, earlier this year.

“AOL Instant Messenger is my most convenient form of communication for many different reasons,” Lavorna said. “First and foremost, it is free. It beats paying for transportation to see a friend or for telephone service, whether it be an actual call or a text message. Secondly, it is instant. If I realize I do not know a homework assignment for a class, I can quickly get the information from another classmate online.”

If the person you’re looking to contact is not online, the most popular forms of asynchronous chat are MySpace and Facebook.

Tom Anderson, Chris DeWolfe and a small team of programmers founded MySpace in July 2003. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation also became partial owners in July 2005.

“MySpace used to be my master, and I its slave,” Drago said. “Maybe not so extreme, but during high school, no matter where I was, I would ensure to check my MySpace at least about three times a day. Even if I was at a friend’s house or family party, I would skip out on socializing in reality to post comments on my friends’ sites.”

After MySpace came Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook in February 2004 at Harvard University. Shortly after Facebook started, then known as The Facebook , over half of Harvard’s undergraduates registered on the social networking service. Facebook soon expanded to other universities in Boston, colleges and universities across the United States, Canada and the rest of the world.

“Like most kids, who typically lie about how often they use Facebook, I would say that I check it at least twice daily,” said sophomore criminal justice major Mark Trant. “It is a good way to learn about people you meet without having to actually talk to them, which can totally make or break any relationship, may it be friendly or romantic. It’s better to find out if a person is completely boring by their Facebook profile instead of actually talking to them.”

Your Second Life

Once you begin to perform the bulk of both your business transactions and social interactions online, you start to form a second life on the Internet. This leads back to Second Life.

Launched in 2003 by Linden Labs, Second Life allows its users to live in a world where they can do whatever they want.

Murder and stealing are virtually the only things not permitted in Second Life.

Originally 64 acres, Second Life has developed into a 20,000-acre world filled with nightclubs, fashion shows, educational institutes and operational businesses.

“People flock to Second Life because it offers freedoms they do not have in the real life,” said John Lester, a.k.a. Pathfinder Linden, a Boston resident and Community Manager at Linden Labs.

“It lets you connect with people all around the world. It is a great place to meet like-minded that share your ideas and dreams, no matter where they are on the planet,” he said.

Not only can members create their own avatars, but they can also own virtual land. The price of land starts at $9.95 a month plus a land-use fee proportional to the amount of land owned. The pricing ranges from $5 for 512 square miles to $195 for 65,536 square miles.

For those who want more of a private property, members are able to purchase their own islands. Small islands, consisting of 65,536 square miles of land, costs $1,250 plus a monthly maintenance fee of $195. Large islands, consisting of 262,144 square miles of land, cost $5,000 with a monthly maintenance fee of $780.

Although land can be costly, it can help one to acquire money as well.

The virtual world has its own economy and money, Linden Dollars, but members pay real American dollars for their virtual land. Unique to other virtual worlds, Linden Dollars can be converted to American dollars, and vice-versa. Although exchange rates vary, 250 Linden Dollars usually equal one American dollar.

To build one’s financial status on Second Life, Linden Labs encourages members to

obtain jobs, where other members will pay for their services, like wedding planners, pet manufacturers and game developers.

Second Life also encourages its members to start businesses online and then bring them into the real world.

Lester said a good example of this is to take a series of screen shots into a graphic novel and sell the rights to a real-life comic publisher.

Members are able to do this because they have the rights to everything they create.

Second Life is not only a world for business and social settings, but for educational settings as well.

Professors can set up an account with Second Life and receive one free acre of land to hold classes. They can enroll up to 25 students in Second Life for $150.

Harvard Law School is one of the many established universities that will take advantage of the educational opportunities on Second Life.

Harvard Extension School computer scientist Professor Charles Nesson will co-teach a course with his daughter, Rebecca Nesson, called Law in the Court of Public Opinion. The course will be offered jointly in the Harvard Extension School and the Harvard Law School this fall semester. Harvard Extension School students will take the course through Second Life, while Harvard Law School students will take it in person.

Second Life members can also take courses on Second Life know-how, such as how to build objects, create clothes and execute basic functions in the virtual world.

Tateru Nino, a virtual world basic/intermediate building instructor who refused to give his real name, has been an instructor since October.

“I enjoy being an instructor,” Nino said. “It filled a need – that being that there were no classes on general building tools at the time.”

Second Life has also served as a host to some special events. Included in these events are concerts headlining musicians like Duran Duran, promotions for major companies like Coca-Cola and political speeches from political icons like former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, a possible 2008 presidential candidate.

Second Life recently suffered a computer security breech of an unknown cause. During this breech user’s information, including names, addresses, passwords and some credit card information was compromised .

To insure the further protection of user’s information, Second Life is asking all members to change their passwords.

“In the end, everyone comes here for their own reasons, and we generally stay in Second Life for some rather different reasons,” Nino said. “We come for sex and gambling, and stay for social or content creation or business, or come for business and stay for sex and gambling.”

Morrill said the world is only likely to become more intertwined with the Internet, blurring the lines between “virtual” and “reality.”

“I can see the Internet being more interactive than ever,” Morrill said. “Imagine being able to reach into the computer, grab clothes, and try them on before buying them online. Our lives will be encompassed by the Internet, somehow more than they are now.”

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