When I thought about creating a virtual world meetup inBoston, I asked myself whether the real world any longer had any relevancy. After all, if we can meet in the virtual world, why bother with the real world? I’m an avid participant of Second Life but I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy the Second Life Community Conference last August. As it turned out, I had a great time socializing with numerous other highly intelligent, friendly and creative individuals who had found in Second Life a place where they could connect with others, work and play.
As I reflect on the origins of my experience with virtual worlds I remember certain friends and family members saying, “Welcome to the real world” whenever I complained about my first job after college. I never thought about college as a virtual world but it did have some of the qualifying characteristics especially if you never had the opportunity to attend. In graduate school when insomnia was a major issue I found comfort by calling telephone party lines in the middle of the night like The Velvet Underground and the Pilgrim Network. As a form of virtual world they were exciting and mysterious and in the back of many people’s minds was the hope of meeting in person and many of us did.
Although it’s nice to log in to Second Life without having to get out of my pajamas, in many ways connecting with people in the real world can be simpler and just as rewarding, in its own way. I was in a bricks and mortar convenience store the other day and the senior store owner came inside after shoveling snow, looked at me, shivered a bit and rubbing his hands together he smiled and said, “It’s cold out there”. It’s New England, in the middle of winter, and after having had four major snow storms in as many weeks the statement was indisputable.
At that point I smiled and said, “It is cold out there” and we both laughed. It was a classic example of small talk but upon closer examination it was also a great example of how much leverage can be brought to an interaction in the real world. Claiming that we bonded while commonly facing the foe of weather might be an exaggeration but the simple fact was that we connected and enjoyed each other’s company if only for a brief moment, after having just met. I’m sure a conversation like that could happen in a virtual world but the sophistication of the communication with all it’s attendant body language, voice tone and immediacy is much harder to manage.
Meetup.com is an interesting phenomena and I have to admit that I didn’t really get it at first. I’m an avid member of a variety of different professional organizations and clubs and when I first discovered Meetup.com it seemed too commercial and unappealingly amateurish. None-the-less, with experience, I have found that the magic of Meetup.com is the connection found with people who have a very specific niche interest in common. In addition, anyone can start a group based on a personal interest and share that interest with others. I started a virtual world meetup because of my interest in the explosive growth predicted for virtual worlds. I enjoy meeting new people and practicing the art of conversation regardless of the situation but, when this group meets for the first time I know we’ll have topics of substance to explore.
So if you think the real world is no longer relevant, join the virtual world meetup and we’ll prove you wrong. Likewise if you’re an avid participant in virtual worlds, please join us. A friend of mine who is a relative neophyte to the Internet once asked me which I enjoyed more, the real world or the virtual world. To his dismay I replied that the question really wasn’t very relevant because there really isn’t that much difference. I tried to keep a straight face and went on to say that, “In both worlds you can connect, work and play with others and that’s all that really matters”.