Video: I'm pretty, you're pretty…

By Senior producer
msnbc.com
updated 9/29/2006 4:39:57 PM ET 2006-09-29T20:39:57
COMMENTARY

In the virtual world, my name is Tony Whizzenhunt. I wanted the last name “Tamale,” but it was taken.

I am six feet, three inches tall, and incredibly buff. My blonde hair is cropped clean, but with just enough product to say, “Yeah, I’m the boy next door… but you live in Hollywood, baby.”

Today I joined more than 780,000 people living a double life on the Internet. More precisely, a second life at Secondlife.com.

Second Life presents an alternative universe where everyone can be what they want to be. In the form of avatars-the Internet icons, not Hindu gods-people can meet, dance, and explore in perfect physical form as any personality they choose.

At Second Life, everyday people can be virtual stars, corporate giants, or the leaders of the free world.  And everybody looks amazing.  No one is fat or bald.  Everyone dresses like a Spice Girl.

These cyberatti perform plays, sell real estate, and party at Studio 54, which still exists in this parallel universe.

It starts to get a touch creepy when it occurs to you that this person you’re dancing with most likely looks nothing like this back here on earth.

Sure, I may really be buff and blonde and 22, but, I mean, others could be lying.

That’s the appeal, of course.  If it were real life they would call it work. And, as Internet behavior expert Michael Shelby explained, these virtual worlds can sharpen the imagination and help people learn problem-solving skills.  They also give a new life to people most in need of escape--the disabled, homebound, and even senior citizens.

“It expands horizons, and it's a chance to meet people from all over the planet with no racial or socio-economic boundaries,” Shelby said.

And it’s also a chance for an average Joe to be a superstar in a cyber secret garden that has yet to be Disney-fied or turned into a sitcom.

But that’s coming.

Last month, singer Suzanne Vega became the first major recording artist to perform at Secondlife.com, and former Virginia Governor Mark Warner has appeared there, as well.  He promises to hold a virtual town hall there before the 2008 presidential election.

Advertisers are knocking on the cyber doors, as well.  Right now, the currency of Second Life, called the Linden, has no value in the real world.  It won’t be long before the Linden is tied to your PayPal account so your real life personality can wear the Timberland boots you bought at a virtual store.

But in the meantime, I was proud to stumble upon something just before it became too big and popular.

For just a brief moment, I lived in a world without The Gap.

And I was beautiful.


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