Thoughts from Thoughts from Burning Man

I’ve been not paying much attention to the Web around Second Life lately (RL has been crazy, and I’ve barely had time to get into SL itself). In catching up a bit today, I ran across Philip Linden’s post Thoughts from Burning Man, and couldn’t help but comment.

Executive summary: Second Life has certain good things in common with the Burning Man festival. Philip says that Second Life has to change radically (whereas apparently Burning Man doesn’t). Why is that, exactly?

So I’m gonna be a contrarian here for a minute, at least.

Burning Man was a big part of the inspiration for Second Life, and some of what’s special about Second Life is also some of what’s special about Burning Man.

But, you say, the two are very different.

Burning Man has always been comparatively small and comparatively hard to get to, and you don’t have a problem with that; or at least I don’t see you saying that you think it would be improved if there were convenient shuttle-bus service, and the place was expanded enough that millions of people could attend.

On the other hand, you say that Second Life must “get a lot bigger”. It must change in fundamental ways. The changes will be disruptive and painful. Things that we love now must be swept away by tides of progress, so that Second Life can become more palatable to “hundreds of millions”.

I’ll bite: why?

The other possibility, which has been mentioned only very indirectly here, is that Second Life should stay as it is; or rather, should continue changing as it has. As an open and freewheeling place, driven by Resi ideas rather than marketing plans, friendly to the odd and the creative, chaotic and ugly in spots, confusing in places, mystifying, annoying, disturbingly lovely in places. All those things that the shopping mall down the street is most definitely and intentionally NOT.

I think, and maybe I’m naive to think it, that in fact if SL continues that way, without being pushed into an “all things to all people, easy and safe and bland” direction, that it would turn out that the hundreds of millions *would* in fact eventually come. Come not as passive sheep going toward whatever looks safe and familiar and was recommended by a celebrity on TV last night, but come as hundreds of millions of creative individuals, creative as every truly engaged individual is who either creates directly, or acts as a creative viewer, contributing their own thoughts and feelings and trails through the world.

By all means let’s make SL something that will appeal to and benefit the hundreds of millions. But let’s do it by allowing SL to be what it is, not by killing the magic that makes it special. If SL becomes accessible to the hundreds of millions by becoming dull, by becoming something that advertising agencies link to bikini-clad models on prime-time TV, by becoming bland and easy and undisturbing and nonconfusing, we will have wasted a huge opportunity. Might as well have made yet another soft drink or TV drama, rather than a whole new world.

Burning Man would not benefit from being opened to, and made “accessible” to, hundreds of millions of people in the obvious ways.

Do you, do we, really think that Second Life would?

And as always, I would love to hear your thoughts…