It was cold and raining in New York City, early Sunday evening. I did a reading from my novel, The Plot to Save Socrates, to an international audience -- people from Romania and other places overseas, as well as the U.S. -- and not a raindrop hit me as I traveled to the reading. That’s because I did not do it in this world, but in Second Life.
In Second Life, avatars not only read aloud from their books to audiences of avatars, but they do lots of other things we ordinarily do in our flesh-and-blood lives. Avatars get their hair styled, buy clothes, rent and purchase land, dance, make love, do all manner of business, and run shops. I just opened the Soft Edge book shop on Book Island in Second Life.
Second Life has its own monetary system -- Linden dollars -- which residents use to purchase scripts, land, objects, books, even body parts. I’m trying something relatively new in my Soft Edge book shop: All of my books are linked to Amazon. Browsers can click on the title of any of my books -- the books in my shop have all been written by me -- and get right to their Amazon pages, where the book can be purchased with real U.S. dollars. More money for me, an actual book in hand for the reader.
My reading on Sunday, part of Adele Ward’s Second Life "Meet the Author" series, was televised in Second Life on SLCN.tv -- Second Life Cable Network -- and is now available to everyone on the Web at the SLCN.tv Website. The availability of Second Life “off world” -- or in real life, or RL, as the residents say -- is part of the growing intermingling of Second Life and the rest of the Internet. I was also interviewed by Esther DeCuir for an article in a Second Life newspaper last week -- an article about my Soft Edge book shop. Like the SLCN.tv interview, the article on SLNN -- Second Life News Network -- is available to everyone on the Web. These news and television operations, as well as my Amazon book links, show the increasing extent to which Second Life is permeating and works with the rest of the online world.
Selling books from Soft Edge book shop, however, feels more like being in a real bookstore than IMing from a Web page with my books. The other night I was standing in front of my shop -- or more accurately, my avatar, PaulLevinson Freenote, was. Another avatar was walking by, and stopped to look at my most recent novel, The Plot to Save Socrates. The big spinning book cover I have in the shop contains reviews as well as the link to Amazon. We chatted for a few minutes about the book, and then the customer clicked on the Amazon link and purchased it. I told him where he could mail my novel, if he wanted me to autograph it. This felt so close to being in a bookstore, I could almost feel the texture of the book in my hand.
I’ll be doing monthly readings at Pulitzer Square near my book shop on Book Island. The first one will be next Sunday, at 3 p.m. Eastern time, and I’ll be reading from the sequel to The Plot to Save Socrates -- Unburning Alexandria. I’d be delighted to see you in the audience.
Everything in our first life has precedents, and Second Life is no different. People have been chatting online now for decades, ever since the French Minitel system in the 1980s. Texting is still the key to communication in Second Life, with the nice supplement of recently added voice chat capabilities. You find an avatar to dance with and select a script -- you can waltz or boogie -- then you chat and watch your avatars dance on the screen. Or you can have a conversation over images of steaming coffee cups at a table in a café.
Or come to talk to me in front of my bookstore any time you see me there. I won’t be able to actually shake your hand, but my avatar and yours can have a nice chat.
— Paul Levinson, PhD, Author, Professor, and Chair of Communications and Media Studies, Fordham University