The more the Real World pushes in, the more Second Life starts looking like First Life.
On Wednesday, with the FBI looking over its shoulder, proprietor Linden Lab shut down Second Life’s casinos and declared there shall be no wagering on games of chance throughout the land.
Then yesterday came word that IBM — once famous for its unspoken but rigid white-shirt-and-wingtips workforce dress code — would be spelling out guidelines for the appearance and behavior of employee avatars in virtual worlds. There’s no mention of navy blue suits, but workers are advised to be “especially sensitive to the appropriateness of your avatar or persona’s appearance when you are meeting with IBM clients or conducting IBM business.” In other words, it would be best not to come to meetings as a badger in a ball gown. Employees are also urged not to be two-or-three-faced. “Building a reputation of trust within a virtual world represents a commitment to be truthful and accountable with fellow digital citizens,” IBM states. “Dramatically altering, splitting or abandoning your digital persona may be a violation of that trust. … In the case of a digital persona used for IBM business purposes, it may violate your obligations to IBM.”
I find this deeply reassuring, somehow. It fits neatly with the discovery that the social stratification that characterises the real world also applies to social networking sites — with MySpace down the socio-economic (as well as the age) scale, and Facebook up the scale in Preppyland. Stand by for the first New Yorker cartoon showing two Baby Boomer parents confronting Preppy teenage daughter with trailer-trash troglodyte in tow. “Don’t you think he’s a bit MySpacey for you, honey?”