The wretched refuse of your teeming (virtual) shore: Second Life as homeland to the socially isolated

by Kevin Sherman

Institution: AUT University
Year: 0
Keywords: Virtual world; Attachment; Disability; Isolation
Record ID: 1305570
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10292/8620


This mixed methods research explores the attachment that individuals harbour for the virtual world of Second Life by comparing participants with strong feelings of attachment to Second Life with those with weak feelings of attachment. In order to identify these two groups of participants, this research employed an online questionnaire that included actual world national attachment scales and their virtual world counterparts. Based on the results of this questionnaire, these two groups of participants were identified and located and their further participation requested. Once individuals agreed to further participate in this research, the two groups of participants – the primary group comprised of those with strong, multi-dimensional attachment for Second life and the comparison group comprised of those with weak attachment for Second Life – were then interviewed using qualitative, semi-structured interviews. Based upon thematic analysis of the results of the qualitative interviews, it was found that participants who possess strong, multi-dimensional attachment for Second Life tended to be those who can be classified as Socially Isolated or, in other words, unable, for the most part, to experience social interaction in the actual world. Participants who possess weak attachment for Second Life tended to be those who can be classified as Socially Supported or, in other words, possessing, for the most part, the capacity for actual world social interaction. The results of the thematic analysis indicates that across six of seven identified themes, the Socially Isolated participants possessed a much more positive perception of Second Life while the Socially Supported possessed a much more dismissive perception of Second Life, one characterized by ambivalence, derision and/or embarrassment. The research concludes by suggesting that Socially Supported participants are put ill at ease by a virtual world that attempts to replicate the actual world in which they already live while the Socially Isolated are not only untroubled by such a world but they exhibit deep appreciation and attachment for Second Life. In fact, Second Life seems to play a critical role in determining the very quality of their lives; it provides them with many things that the Socially Supported take for granted, including opportunities for socializing and friendship, workplace interaction, recreational activities, and even things as banal as walking down the street, sitting at a bar and dancing with a stranger.