More than Second Life - It's a Second Nation

written by: Pooky Amsterdam

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A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.

A small group of thoughtful people could change the world.  Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

The electronic campfire which we gather around for news and support is a worldwide one.  Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and various other networks allow for people to update, keep tabs and offer useful links 24/7.  They also allow for that most rare and valuable of human commodity - kindness and support in dire times.  Where those have passed or fallen, there are Facebook accounts where we can leave our messages for families and friends.  That we can gather around topics of interest from far flung places, keeping the conversation focused and vital is a great strength of our networking power. 

Twitter and Facebook are what I call flat applications or 2D applications of interaction.  For those who want to flip through or read what other folks are saying, commentating along the way, possibly coming back to have an ongoing conversation, touching on some things of interest, it obviously works.  There are instant messages, now voice and soon webcam will be ubiquitous. When I want real dialogue with a group of people, I log in to Second Life where my avatar, an extension of my person, can have a real–time conversation with others of “my kind.”  This feeling of belonging to a virtual or Second Nation tells a lot about what virtual worlds can be.  They are often left out of the social network conversation and I have wondered why because what they can offer is truly great.

What virtual worlds such as Second Life can accomplish goes beyond what the flat web can because the degree of presence you have in an avatar in the virtual world is akin to your physical presence in the physical one.  So as an avatar, those you are speaking with in voice or text (and Second Life offers up over a billion voice minutes a month) can hear you, see you, walk with you and can show you something.  All in real–time as events are happening and this can be experienced together, simultaneously.  When that something is the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life in Second Life, it becomes noteworthy:

  1. Since 2005, Relay for Life for Second Life, the only global and virtual fundraising event of this kind began.
  2. Over the past 8 years more than $1,000,000 USD have been raised through individual and team donations from the user base of Second Life.
  3. The first year RFL of SL began, $5,000 dollars was raised, this year over $373,000.

 

It is noteworthy because of the amount of money raised for a charitable organization within a virtual world. Fundraisers for good causes, from Japan's recent Tsunami to donating to Haitian relief are of course also found on Twitter and Facebook, as are pages where you can donate to the American Cancer Society.  What makes the American Cancer Society in Second Life so special?

 

And here the number of personal stories, the human interests, the hope, help and community that being part of a virtual world means, speaks volumes.

I remember interviewing RFL of SL's initial visionary, Fayandria Foly, two years ago and yes this did start with the vision and dedication of one person.  One person's dedication in any world, meta or terra, indeed has changed the world many times over, usually with the physical strength and mobility someone without cancer can muster.  For those who are stricken with the various stages of the disease and recovery, being able to work from home and in privacy becomes essential. In 2005, Fayandria, a melanoma cancer survivor who understood that talking to someone privately, even anonymously, about a disease which ravaged your physical self was easier for some, began to make her vision of RFL happen virtually.

  • -She knew that talking to family members about what was happening to your body was to put too great a burden on them at times, that one needs an environment where other people understand, immediately.
  • -She knew of those who were afraid to ask their doctors relevant questions, either because they were intimidated or just not knowledgeable enough to ask the right questions.
  • -She saw how being virtual meant being able to ask these questions and get answers from experts and also from those going through exactly the same thing.
  • -She told me a story of a woman with cancer who was afraid of needles and unable to face getting the treatment she needed, until she found a support group in Second Life.
  • -Fay has helped many survivors, helped them speak to others and has helped those who hopefully will be survivors.
  • -She knew that both caregivers and those who have lost loved ones to cancer need to speak to others who went through the same thing, anytime, anyplace and from anywhere.

This means virtually and this has come to be very meaningfully Second Life.  Teams of people, many of whom have worked on the Relay in some capacity, have grown stronger over the years, many starting by walking in their avatar form on the track which remembers those we lost.  The Team Captains have risen from the ranks of those who work for Relay year after year, if they can. There are luminaria which can be lit and then through a channel can also display your message in text. The track which runs for about 10,000 virtual meters are lined with lights and messages from thousands of people.  This is a global event and available to so many people for free, without prejudice or judgment calls.

The track is also lined with virtual creations that are whimsical with giant flowers, sparkling waterfalls, amusement rides and also serious mazes which you enter and experience, firsthand, some of what those who have been diagnosed with cancer go through, to posters urging us to get our colon screened or information about latest research in oncology.

There is much help, support and community here 24 / 7 for those whose lives will truly never be the same again.  And I think it's important to write about, not only as it's a watershed moment for Second Life which deserves real commendation for being a platform where people converge, learn, share and create upon to bond their hopes together.  This is also true for those who are in education, architecture and/or who love to shop.  What that over $1 million mark means is that people have been reached because of a virtual avatar based community whose activities they can take part in directly.

The American Cancer Society ran the live stream of the Second life Telethon event on their Relay home page over this past weekend.  The American Cancer Society recognizes the value of this virtual community which can offer solace, information and fundraising support to a large group of people by reaching them most effectively where they socialize, and dance, and laugh, and shop and cry as well, because we are after all people. Each avatar a person, each person contains the potential to give. And we do, through small and large sums, sometimes as small as 4 cents. All of these micro payments add up:1 million dollars is serious money, as in take it to the bank money. The money raised is remarkable, but after all we are doing incredible things, as virtual beings and there is no limit to what we can be, so no limit to how much we can do.

 

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