We go to conferences and talk about SL and get laughed at. We talk about it with friends and they shake our heads — or get worried that we’ve just joined a fanatic cult. In fact, here is where the sudden insight from my friend comes into play. The point is, we can’t understand why similarly intelligent and open-minded people simply don’t “get” Second Life, while they waste away their precious employers’ time microblogging on Twitter and Facebook. We’re stumped at how few of our RL friends and familiars actually get into SL and develop a strong relationship with SL like we do. And this has always baffled us. We shrug it away saying that “the interface is too hard” or “they had a bad first experience by bumping into a griefer” or something similar, and ask Linden Lab to do something about it (which, slowly, they do — like getting rid of traffic bots).
But this is not quite what it takes to get more and more people to join SL.
No, the real reasons might be way more difficult to explain. Here is one thought: people that are in SL share a specific mindset that drives them to come back to the immersive environment. Either you have that mindset, and you wish to get involved more deeply in SL, or you can, at best, become a “tourist” — dropping in now and then but not commit to SL as a focus for your life (not, as so many media journalists wrongly report, as an alternative to your life — escapism definitely exists, but it’s not the main reason for being in SL).
You might notice that you could replace “SL” with some religious descriptions. And you wouldn’t be very far off — in fact, the whole issue is not “any” kind of “religion” (or cult), but rather a quite different type: one that deals with rationalising, with analysing, with logical reasoning, with passion, but also with a secret, hidden meaning (or knowledge) that is almost impossible to impart to outsiders. Putting into other words, Second Life shares quite a lot of attributes of esoteric religions.
Now you definitely will not wish to see SL, one of the most impressive technological achievements of our rational and logical world, to be compared with “religion” 🙂 So I should be more careful about my meaning — and, by doing so, you’ll almost immediately be part of one of two groups. The first group, by far the largest one, will reject the comparison and say “no way”! That’s exactly where I’m aiming at: esoterism is definitely not for everybody, and you’ve made my point: thank you very much! A few of you, however, might have the proper mindset and studied esoterism at some point in their lives: for them, this will all make sense to you. Thank you as well 🙂
To you esoterists out there, you can now safely skip over the rest of the article; you’re already familiar with the concepts… you’ll be a very small minority, however, so I’ll have to tackle the rest of the world with my ramblings 🙂
It’s highly likely that among the remaining readers, about 80% will be atheists, and 20% or so will be mildly involved with some sort of spiritual guidance in your lives. Surprisingly, among both groups, the atheists — specially the ones that are both open-minded and very skeptical — will probably remain until the very end. The media commonly portrays esoterism as strange, obscure cults, related to complex symbology and weird rituals, mostly for complete lunatics, serial killers, or anyone with serious psychological problems. It is the very stuff of blockbuster movies and best-sellers. Weirdness exists, and it sells well, but nobody in their right minds would really take it seriously.
(You might have noticed I’m not talking about Second Life any longer! See how I have used similar words though?)
Esoterism, however, can be explained in a very simplistic manner: it’s one of many possible spiritual paths leading to a (personal) goal which always involves compassion to all fellow human beings (note that the “all” is fundamental here — there can’t be any discrimination). This path will reveal that we all have the innate ability to do so — i.e. it’s inside our nature to be fundamentally altruistic and compassionate, but our minds are clouded by all sorts of emotions and dependencies on aspects of the material world. The esoteric path will make you realise this and get you in touch with your inner, pure self (think about self-improvement). Depending on the tradition, the path can be either mystical (“sudden revelation”) or purely intellectual (which in the Western world is named “the occult way”, something that has such a pejorative, negative meaning these days that I prefer to avoid it — just remember that “occult” means “hidden” and that’s what is meant here). While “sudden revelation” might be out of the question for most of Humanity, the intellectual path — meaning mostly putting the methods to the test of reason, seeing what makes sense and what doesn’t, following logical arguments to the conclusion — takes usually much longer, but is sometimes easier to follow.