I think that Second Life may have just “jumped the shark.” What band is claiming to be the first to establish an island in the virtual world and to design avatars who will live there and perform concerts “in world”? Not some 2006 buzz band like Tapes ‘n Tapes or Cansei De Ser Sexy. Not even a more widely successful but still new act like, say, The Killers. No, it’s Duran Duran. (Hat tip to the blog of The Current, a public radio music station here in the Twin Cities that is helping make me happy to live here).
Now, I am old enough to remember the episode when Fonzie actually jumped the shark, so I also remember when Duran Duran was cool. I was in middle school and it was the 1980s. This cannot be a good sign for the future of this virtual world — itself the subject of a fair amount of 2006 buzz.
I have remained somewhat skeptical about the potential for widespread adoption of intensive virtual worlds such as Second Life. (As most readers probably know, Second Life is a 3D virtual world in which individuals create characters called “avatars” and interact in a fairly free-form environment — talking, building stuff, and even running large-scale businesses.) I agree with much of what Ethan Zuckerman said in this characteristically brilliant blog post, wherein he questions the world-changing potential some see in Second Life.
The technology is often slow and most people in the real world lack access to either good enough technology (broadband and a powerful computer) or sufficient computer and graphics knowhow to do much in that other, pretend world. Indeed, it is difficult even to figure out what you should be doing — a lot of the time it seems people are just shuffling around in Second Life somewhat aimlessly (or I suppose flying around, since avatars can fly). My sense is that building anything substantial in Second Life takes hours of patient and dull labor. Finally, there also seems to be, predictably, a surfeit of shopping, sex, and gambling.
And yet … there are all these very smart people who evangelize virtual worlds and are so excited by the possibility for grass-roots democratic discourse or using virtual worlds as a dynamic extension of their offline activities. Some of them are acting on their enthusiasm with intriguing experiments, like Charlie Nesson’s new class conducted in Second Life. After all, Larry Lessig dedicated his famous book Code: “For Charlie Nesson, whose every idea seems crazy — for about a year.” Maybe we should reserve judgment for a while. I would be happy to be proven wrong in my skepticism.
But, Duran Duran? I mean, c’mon! And what about this, from the band’s press release:
The project, which launches officially later this month, is the centre-piece of a new online strategy for the band designed by the London-based 3003 Group, Duran Duran’s strategic marketing agency, which will also include a one-stop, global mobile downloads shop and a new, state-of-the-art band website, in the run-up to the release of their upcoming Epic Record’s album in the New Year.
I still think I see the sharks circling…
UPDATE: Commenter Joe Gratz notes that at least one other 80s star, folkie-crossover Suzanne Vega, appears to have beaten Duran Duran to the punch. And, as he also comments, Suzanne Vega still retains some coolness.