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The editorial on Second Life in last week’s issue of The Santa Clara was well written. However, as an educator and entrepreneur who uses Second Life in the classroom, I have a few friendly responses.

1. Social virtual worlds are not a replacement for real life.

The notion that Second Life supplants daily, physical existence is fear-based, and it does not reflect the worldview of most SL residents. From the outside, social virtual worlds such as SL bear a surface resemblance to quasi-addictive and life-devouring game environments such as World of Warcraft. However, social virtual worlds have a much more complicated relationship to the physical world.

As the medium evolves, researchers are learning that many people use social virtual worlds in the same instrumental ways that they use Web browsers. For example, residents enter into Second Life to attend lectures, to work on creative projects, to learn a new language or to catch mixed reality musical performances.

2. Computer users are not necessarily disconnected from other human beings.

Networked computers are fundamentally social media. They give us the power to connect with other human beings in new ways across great distances. These connections can be rich and meaningful, and they can pave the way for supportive interactions in the physical world.

Real-world spaces and real-world people always matter, and we should never let the computer screen replace our interactions with the physical world. We also need to practice caution when converting online relationships to real-world relationships. But this is just a fact of life in the media-saturated 21st century.

3. There is plenty of educational and community-oriented content in Second Life. The hard part is finding it.

I strongly encourage staff, students and faculty to collect firsthand data before leaping to conclusions about Second Life’s potential. Once one learns how to use the software’s built-in search tools, it is possible to track down upcoming educational and community-oriented events. One might also Google “New World Notes” or “Click Heard Round the World” to find terrific community-oriented updates.

With a bit of patience, it is possible to find lectures, classes, support groups and musical performances almost any night of the week. However, be warned: At this stage of the medium’s growth, one will not always be rewarded with the instant gratification that is delivered by the World Wide Web. The secret is to approach SL with the same set of scheduling expectations that one might bring to a calendar of upcoming events on campus.

Of course, since Second Life is a platform for the imagination, residents might sometimes stumble upon bizarre or unsettling images. (The same thing is true at the library. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone!) It is fortunate that students at Santa Clara are mature and Internet-savvy enough to know that escape from disturbing content is always one click of the mouse away.

4. This is just the beginning.

The editors ask, “Why would a student need to visit the de Saisset and view uploaded versions of art, when they could just walk a few minutes from their dorm or conveniently located off-campus house to see them personally?” This question misses the point entirely.

The university’s presence in Second Life highlights campus culture and makes it accessible to the rest of the world. There are approximately eight thousand students at Santa Clara who are fortunate enough to live a few blocks from Mission Church and de Saisett Museum.

Millions of Second Life residents do not have that opportunity.

And what about the 70,000 alumni Santa Clarans who long for moments of quiet reflection in Mission Church? These nostalgic graduates might be very interested in seeing what events are buzzing on the virtual campus. In theory, alumni could even be invited to listen to presentations of the finest student work.

Such scenarios might be closer than you think.

In these early days of this new medium, Santa Clara University deserves applause for its courageous vision. As Carl Sagan wrote, “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.”

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