I just got back from "The Great Mall" in Milpitas, California. Nice mall — not GREAT — but nice. I was thinking as I wandered from store to store how little I really need or even want to buy nowadays.
The goal of merchants is to convince the consumer that they "need" or "must have" the goods they are offering, whether it be an ice cream maker, an Elvis Presley clock with hip-shaking action, or a hoodie designed by a rap star. Often they are selling a fantasy to the consumer — perhaps the dream of being slimmer by buying a portable rowing machine, or the vision of wooing that special someone with an expensive perfume, or being the imaginary host of fabulous parties with your margarita mixer and high-end sound system.
In Second Life, I suspect that much of the commerce is motivated by dreams that are unrealized in the real world. If, as John Batelle says, Google is the "database of intention" than maybe Second Life is the repository of unfulfilled desires.
In Second Life you can obtain 3D simulations of most anything you desire in the real world — clothing, cars, houses — for pennies in the dollar. A full zoot suit or a red victorian gown are going for under $4. If you want a fancy car, the Mustang GT V4 Turbo is only $10, whereas the red motorcycle from Akira can be had for $1.70. If you need to escape your cramped studio apartment in the real world, for $20 you can have a stone lake house or a haunted Victorian mansion.
But why would you spend real money on something that isn’t real — a house that can’t shelter, a car that doesn’t transport, a jacket that won’t warm? Why wouldn’t you just be a giant robot or a cave-dwelling drawf? Maybe because for many SL residents their avatars represent their vision of happier, more successful, more fabulous versions of themselves. It’s me, but better.
So by looking at how residents are living in-world, aren’t we really peering into their own wells of desire? Aren’t we seeing 3D visual representations of the parts of ourselves that we aren’t able to actualize in our regular lives?
I am content knowing that I have the kind of life where I am not lacking anything that I truly want in this world. There is no fancy car, big house, or designer clothing that I dream about one day owning. The things I want are either experiential (dancing and travelling) or fairly modest consumable goods (books and music.) As Sinead O’Conner sang, "I don’t want what I haven’t got."
I feel very blessed.