I apologize for these sporadic postings… my dissertation has been keeping me busy, although I have to say that I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m about half way done combing through my hefty stash of data (over 1,000 pages of transcripts collected over a year and a half) and starting (maybe prematurely?!?!) to feel nostalgic about the experience. Maybe this feeling of nostalgia was spurred by reading Becky’s article on the plausible downfall of SL. As noted in a comment by RiverPearl, I too have been feeling the sting of “bad air” in private sims and the growing prominence (for better or worse) of Linden sims. While individual communities have seemed to overcome economic barriers that come with for-profit VM like SL (for example, Pirats was able to migrate to a Linden sim when they could no longer afford their own), there remains a prevailing sense of loss within these communities that is unlikely to disappear anytime soon, especially with the news of these alarming statistics.
Ironically perhaps, when I first started exploring art in SL, one of my main concerns was preservation. This came as no surprise to me given that I had once considered an M.A. in art conservation. As I immersed myself in the medium, I came to realize that the ephemerality of the art and the environment itself added yet another emotional dimension to VW, akin to mythology. I met countless artists who recounted nostalgic tales of “lost” builds, once wonders of the virtual world which were elevated to masterpieces in our collective memories. Even if I had never experienced these builds first hand, I would play my part in propagating the magic of these lost wonders. Then, when rumors leaked that certain builds would close, we would all line up to take in the site, take pictures, immortalize it in a way that came to build communities and deeply rooted emotional ties between avatars as well as between avatars the environment we came to call our world.
Like in RL, art is not only about the art “object” (or art “performance”), but also about the community that forms around and from the artifact. While I’ve basically grown up with art and earned a B. A. in Art History, I don’t think I ever felt this statement to be as true as in SL. If I’ve learned anything since I first logged on to SL back in February 2008, it’s that community matters and that without community, we are very close to nothing. When I think back, most of my knowledge did not come from formal education (classroom lectures, etc.), but rather from everyday learning, talking to friends (in SL and RL), my parents, my professors outside of the classroom, from everyone on this blog, etc. – in other words, from my communities. And that, like Becky implied, is NOT ephemeral.
What will happen to SL and all the amazing art it houses? Only time will tell. But I can tell you now that just like most of the Ancient World’s Seven Wonders, these works will go on regardless of whether or not we manage to preserve them – they’ll live on in our collective memory, in our mythology, and only serve to reinforce the strength of our community and emerging culture.