February 2008 - Vol. 16

Parents, Keep Your Kids in the Real World

by Mike Shaughnessy

The following article was originally published in the North American Kairos Youth Culture Newsletter. If you would like to subscribe to this monthly newsletter, please visit their website at: http://www.kairos-na.org/youthculturenewsletter.htm

World of Virtual Reality
Last month a woman sued her husband for divorce due to adultery. He had been married for the last two years to someone else someone he had never met. His second wife was on SecondLife! He was spending 10 hours per day "with" her. Welcome to the world of virtual reality.

What is SecondLife?
Think of MySpace cubed. MySpace allows me to profile myself on-line for the world to see. In SecondLife I create a new identity through which I lead a second life. I create my name and choose my body. I then buy my skin color, physique enhancers and clothes. Then I get myself a voice ... and some dance moves. Now I can walk, talk and order a virtual beer sitting at a virtual bar talking to my virtual friends. I am living my life "in-world."

I spend real money buying fake flowers for a virtual girlfriend who is actually a 35 year-old, twice-divorced man in real life.

My virtual community is set up by me. It's exciting, convenient, self-affirming, narcissistic, fast-paced. I " have it my way my songs, my friends, my shows, my values. It's a Burger King heaven as sung by Frank Sinatra. I can leave it when I want and change it how I want.

Imagine a church where you pick the leaders, the songs, the preacher and the topic. That's also already available to Christians in-world. Now all you need is a push-button God to answer your prayers.

Future SecondLifers
SecondLife, due to its complexity, appeals to the twenty-plus age group, but everything just said about SecondLife exists for six- to fourteen-year-olds at Club Penguin in a simplified form. Club Penguin looks cute. It averages 500,000 children on-line per day. Many are future SecondLifers.

E-marketer predicts that 53% of children will be in-world by 2011 - in three years. Why? Barbie, Nickelodeon, the Cartoon Network and Bratz have all just launched virtual worlds for children. Lego and Ty Girls are about to and McDonalds can't be far behind. Think of their combined impact on the world of six to eleven year olds and shudder!

Youth face increasing pressure to live in-world at an ever younger age. Slowly, the real world is left behind: the world of church and chores, pimples and parents, siblings and sinners, to be replaced with the iPod, cell phone, X-box, and MySpace. Life is lived more and more "inside the Matrix." Young people today are handling technological dynamite at the age their parents played with matches.

TO THE POINT: Parents, keep your kids in the real world. Delay their connecting to the virtual world and its portals until you know they can handle it. Give them a great experience of FirstLife instead. Oh, and who owns Club Penguin? Disney! "It's Disney, Jim, but not as we knew it."

[Mike Shaughnessy is an elder in The Servants of the Word and the Director of Kairos in North America. Kairos is an international federation of outreaches to high school, university and post university aged people.]

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