Expanding on Karyne Levy’s “controversial” Business Insider article

Three days ago, I wrote my opinion on Mrs. Karyne Levy’s article “Second Life Has Devolved Into A Post-Apocalyptic Virtual World, And The Weirdest Thing Is How Many People Still Use It” that was published on Business Insider. I noted that the article left a fair bit to be desired on several levels, even though I didn’t list them all. The article started off by citing a few articles and opinions, and then we saw a narration of what Mrs. Levy experienced by starting a new account and diving into Second Life. Since Mrs. Levy’s article is still talked about and a meta-discussion has already begun in various places, it seems appropriate to revisit it and expand on it. Please note that I use quotation marks for the word “controversial” in the title, because I feel that the whole controversy surrounding Mrs. Levy’s article is completely unjustified, even though I was critical of it.

The article contained a few factual errors; for instance, you’re not hit in the face with adult-rated classifieds in search unless you set your maturity ratings accordingly – although, I have to note, it’d have been helpful if you had greater control over what themes/topics search will promote to you. Even someone who is interested in accessing adult-rated regions may not be interested in seeing advertisements for openly sex-oriented regions and establishments. Also, the virtual sex industry (as Inara Pey correctly points out) didn’t fill in the gap left when the big corporations left SL. It was always there. It was there, flourishing and booming when I first joined in 2006 and SL was riding on the crest of its hype wave, with corporations and academic institutions flocking in. I also need to point out that this claim (i.e. that the virtual sex industry came in to fill in the gap that was left when the big corporations left) implies a coordinated, conscious and concerted effort by the Lab to create a sex industry, which is simply untrue. Regardless of that, Mrs. Levy was unfairly lambasted for various reasons that miss the point completely. Let’s see three of them:

She didn’t optimise her graphics settings” and/or “she didn’t use proper hardware“. This is utterly irrelevant. There are many people out there that use SL on obsolete or near-obsolete hardware and thus cannot enjoy all the eye candy that’s on offer. Furthermore, such “proper” hardware may not have been available to her. This “criticism”, thus, is very wide of the mark.

She tried to denigrate Second Life“. No, she didn’t. There was no intention anywhere in her article to do so. Just because she didn’t go ga-ga over SL’s current state of affairs doesn’t mean she meant ill towards it and the Lab. Sadly, this criticism is also combined with the usual conspiracy theories about “the media being against SL” or something. Please. This is pure prokanoia and needs to be curbed right away, along with the persecution syndrome that’s so widespread among SL’s user base. No one is on a mission to destroy Second Life. In fact, most of the media don’t care at all about Second Life. They covered it (with a lot of overhyping, much of which should be blamed on His Holy Philipness and the corporate pipe dream he touted) in the past, saw it fell far short of the completely unrealistic expectations they and the Lab’s top brass created, and (i) deemed SL a failure, which was wrong and unsubstantiated, (ii) moved on to the “next big thing”. No, the media aren’t “conspiring” against SL. Mrs. Levy didn’t mock SL or anything that happens in it, and this has been missed by those who accused her of trying to “bring SL down”.

“She didn’t hang out with the ‘right’ people” and “she didn’t visit the right places”. Hogwash. She went out to find someone to talk to and hang out with. The first people she came across (the ones at the Game of Thrones-themed roleplay region) shunned her. Most beginners would get frustrated at that point and just leave. To her credit, she persevered and went to Caledon Oxbridge. Even though she didn’t find a mentor  there, she found someone who was willing to talk to her, spend time with her, show her around and show her a good time, to the best of her knowledge. Was Judy’s (Mrs. Levy’s guide) view of SL limited? In my opinion, it was, and perhaps what Mrs. Levy saw contributed to her choice of title. But that’s beside the point. The point is that Mrs. Levy showed us once again (because we tend to forget we all were clueless newbies once) what any person that enters SL for the first time goes through and, although the odds are stacked up against the new user, she had a bit of fun (not enough to keep using SL, though). And, as I said earlier, she did it without malice or intention to “mock” SL.

As is evident (I hope) from my previous post, I have mixed feelings about Mrs. Levy’s article. The title implies that she researched how Second Life has evolved or devolved throughout its eleven-year course and came to this conclusion. Yet, there’s a wide gap between the title and the nature of the article. If the article were to live up to the title, I’d have expected Mrs. Levy to document things like how the Lab and the Press (self-criticism on behalf of professional journalists is something we rarely see) created unrealistic expectations as to what the platform could do, I’d have expected to see a narration of how SL has or hasn’t been used for purposes other than our “mundane” escapism, etc. I didn’t see that. Most of the article was a narration of what Mrs. Levy experienced over the course of a few hours as a newcomer to Second Life. And this is precisely why I said the article reminded me of James Thurber’s fable titled “The Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing“, and my opinion still holds. Judging by what Mrs. Levy wrote, a much more fitting title would have been “My Five Hours in SecondLifeLand” or something similar, because that’s what she gave us: the first few hours of a beginner in SL.

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7 thoughts on “Expanding on Karyne Levy’s “controversial” Business Insider article

  1. I totally agree. While her views were a little shallow, and there is no doubt that the newbie experience nowadays leaves a lot to be desired not like it was back in my day, my only objection to her article is the title. Post apocalyptic? What ‘apocalypse’ was that? Does she even know what an apocalyse is? That element was sensationalism of the worst type because it was meaningless and out of context, done only for effect. If nothing else though, it has got us talking, and perhaps we will be a little kinder to newbies in future……….. ;0

    1. Indeed, the first point that needs to be criticised is the title; it’s poorly chosen and creates expectations that the article can’t live up to. Mask it away, and it’s a non-judgemental article that contains a few errors and several points that should be taken into serious consideration.

  2. The title is misleading and further more, i’d say that for a “journalist” or at least someone pretending a bit of info or analysis about the topic she didnt made her job. She took informations before starting yes, but she only took one source, which (“by total chance”) was one of the ones anouncing the death of SL for years, obviously demonstrating their own frustration and not SL health.
    So yeah, it would be stupid to think her article is a conspiration, or any attempt to destroy SL (because she can’t do it lol) but nonetheless, it was a good demonstration of what can journalism be when its not done seriously and done in the only perspective of sensationalism.
    If we may say for sure she had not bad intentions toward SL, we can’t say either she had good ones. and this gives keys for a lecture of her experience as a noob. I challenge everyone who doesnt think SL is good to have a good first experience if they try. When you think smth is bad, before testing, it happens rarely that you have a good experience with it when you test it at first. Because your mind is full of bias.
    As i said, in your previous post about the same topic, from what she tells of her experience she didnt even opened the website page and didnt reached the destination guide.
    Of course, she met bad persons, but when you are full of negative ideas you focus only on the negative sides. I remember pretty well, my first days in sl, more than 5 years ago. If of course, it has not been easy to use and understand the viewer in the first weeks, i probably met an equal amount of jerks and adorable persons. I remember pretty well the second category, while i forgot totally about the first one. And during all those first weeks, i didnt stop to be surprised about how much ppl were offering their help. So or she has been incredibily unlucky, or i have been incredibily lucky, but one thing is sure, before starting SL i didnt had any negative or positive idea about it, i just had curiosity and willing to discover. The only info i got about SL was thru a TV show specialized about media which made an episode about SL. No more.

    1. If you read the article carefully, you’ll see there was no conclusion as to whether SL is good or bad. However, the title is at odds with the article’s contents, and this leads me to something I suspected, but opted not to write in the post: Maybe she didn’t even choose the title herself. In the Press, journalists and columnists often get asked (ordered, actually) to write about something; they write it, hand it in and then someone else (who may not have read the article thoroughly) chooses a title. I suspect this is what happened here.

  3. Well, the tittle is not a conclusion but a statement.
    Her article has nothing from a serious article but its a pale copy of the first part of the article she mention from Chris Stokel Walker in the Verge. She even use some same construction of sentences. But it looks like she barely read the following parts of Chris article. What a poor demonstation of journalism.
    Even the telling is bad. its a succession of statements without transition between each others.
    And well, honnestly i dont understand why there is so much noise about this pretended article, because it doesnt say anything but the author hasnt done her job and has bad bias about SL.
    Instead, here is a pretty interesting reading : http://www.academia.edu/5900113/When_Flanerie_Goes_Virtual_New_Reflexive_and_Exploratory_Forms_of_Agency_among_Cyberflaneurs_on_Second_Life
    Someone who came last year in SL for his master’s thesis. He knew all the difficulties a newbie can meet while starting SL; he even knew a bad welcoming from some SL forumers when he asked if ppl wanted to be interviewed for his thesis. And nevertheless, i find he s got the essential about why there are still so much residents in SL.
    This is a serious reading about SL, unlike Karyne’s paper and see, it made any noise…. People like to focus on negativity pretty more than on positivity. Go figure.

    1. When I started writing my first post about this article, I had a feeling about how this article was written. Here it goes:

      Editor: “Karyne, virtual reality is back in vogue, even Second Life is back in the news, and we need to have a feature.”

      Karyne Levy: “Uhhhh… OK. So, what do you want from me?”

      Editor: “I want you to write something, of course! Search the web, make an account or whatever, do whatever it takes, just do it. And I want the article yesterday!”

      And the rest is history… As for the title, I’ll point out again that journalists don’t always get to choose the title of their articles. This is often a job for the editor-in-chief. The fact that this title is so disconnected from what there is in the article leads me to think Mrs. Levy didn’t get to choose it.

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