William Gibson on Second Life and his work

You recently did a reading in the virtual world of Second Life, where you are a kind of patron saint. I got shut out — I didn’t realize capacity would be an issue — but I caught up with it afterward on YouTube. Did the event turn out as you’d expected?

Apparently there’s always finite space in Second Life. I was actually in a room at the Centre for Digital Media in Vancouver with a live audience so I wasn’t paying much attention to the Second Life aspect, which is probably a good thing in terms of my performance. I had a laptop open so I could see it as if I was watching from within Second Life. What I saw I found a bit distracting — people levitating and sitting on top of the microphone.

How much time had you spent in Second Life by yourself?

Just a couple of hours. I think it only works if you’re hooked up socially. Otherwise it’s like walking around outside a shopping mall in Edmonton, Alberta, at 4 in the morning in December. You never see anybody and if you do, chances are they run away.

Some people have called Second Life the fulfillment of your vision of cyberspace. Does it at all resemble what you had in mind in 1984 when you wrote about a “consensual hallucination” in “Neuromancer”?

It is and it isn’t the vision I had. It’s what the characters in my early novels would call a “construct” — that was a word I used before virtual reality was around. I did imagine constructs where people could appear in avatar form. And in “Idoru,” I imagined these teenage girls leading virtual lives in abandoned corporate Web sites which they’d taken over and altered to build themselves a hideout. Those are the two things in my fiction closest to Second Life, but they’re not really anything like it. It never would have occurred to me to write something about a corporation building a virtual world in which shopping and real estate were two of the most popular activities. It sounds like too conventional a science-fiction novel.

From his interview on Salon, with Dennis Lim.

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