The Real World

Thursday, April 10, 2008

April is National Autism Awareness month, and while I am completely pro-awareness, I found an interesting article that made me do a double-take.

David Savill, a 22 year old man from England with Asperger's syndrome has joined the growing community of Second Life. If you have not heard of either, Asperger's syndrome is a milder form of Autism that deals more with difficulty in social situations and Second Life is a computer program, much like the Sims, where people all over the world can connect online building their own lands and communicating with others. Savill had the idea to combine the two.

People in Second Life get the chance to create their own areas and land for others to visit, so Savill set up shop promoting a meeting place to educate people on the condition as well as providing a space for social interaction and "real-world practice" for those with the condition. Here is where I started raising an eyebrow in question.

I can understand the concept of having a virtual place for people to go to and learn about Autism and its different condition levels. The interactive part is the appeal to it. I personally would much rather play games where I get to control a character who finds out about something instead of simply looking up information on a web search. But I wonder if Second Life is really the best vessel to accomplish this idea.

The biggest issue I get caught up in is the virtual world that has been created. When Second Life first appeared, I saw a good amount of people on campus having a ball with it. In fact, someone had started turning an area into the campus of Buena Vista University; arch and all. People were spending hours on their computers, walking around with their characters and talking to other people at school.

Maybe I am not awed by the wonder of this technology, but I do not find it necessary to create yet another electronic tool to interact with others around us. We already have plenty of chatting programs and email that allows us to NOT go and talk to anyone else. Do we really need another virtual world that keeps us locked behind our computers, vacant from facing the real world? We already abuse the technology we have and are hiding behind. I see students talking on a chat program with other students who are in the same room, sometimes even sitting right next to each other in silence!

While I could go on about how disconnected we are becoming with each other, which I think I have before, I want to go back to Savill. He made the point of how his creation on Second Life is helping people with Autism, especially Asperger's syndrome. It is providing a place for them to approach social interaction within the safety and comfort of their own home. He talked about how people can practice real-world situations and prepare themselves on how to deal with others. Even a Yale professor added in, saying technology could help foster social skills for people with Autism.

So do we subvert real-world communication for virtual stimulation? I cannot say I completely agree on the validity of this virtual world in preparing people to interact with others, but I'm not opposed to it. I actually find some relief in seeing the technology we take advantage of put to such possibly great use. Good work Savill.