I recently discovered Terra Nova via the trackbacks on my visitor stats. It's an intriguing collaborative weblog about virtual worlds. Nathan Combs wrote this piece about my article on Walter Ong, and it was followed by a number of insightful comments.
Just to link them together, here is my response to Lisa Galarneau's comment:
Lisa, you wrote:
'Can people let go of their fear long enough to experience the benefits of virtuality? Can they even conceive that there might be benefits that they can't imagine?'
I think the second point is especially interesting, because on the whole the answer is probably no - they cannot conceive of benefits. However, they *can* conceive of a whole lot of terrors! Porn, theft, spam... these are the downsides that they can well imagine, and do. When someone is too terrified to use a chatroom, they're not likely to try a virtual world. I've found this frustrating and depressing, yet I suppose I have to concede that their fears do sometimes have a grain of validity, not because of the porn and spam etc, but because the experience can indeed play with your mind and it can be hard to cope with. I was a victim of this in the early days and I am sure many here have experienced being taken for a ride or hurt in some way in virtual environments.
In the end I decided it is about maturation and that in the process of learning to live online we go through stages of child, adolescent and adulthood. In that context, it is easier to imagine how one's 'inner child' might be attracted or repelled by an initial encounter with a virtual world. To go one step further, I think it's possible to skip the growing up part and jump straight into online life as an 'adult', abiding by the rules and protocols you have been given rather than learning them from experience, but sadly missing out on some of the intensities gathered along the way by those of us who learned by trial and error.
But, Lisa, I'm just an armchair psychologist too! Like you, I look forward to a more informed view. And I'm curious to know whether any work has been done on this, because I'm about to embark on some myself.