Friday, May 16, 2008

Second Life Offers Alternative Teen Summer Jobs to Flipping Burgers

“While his friends scramble for jobs flipping burgers or bagging groceries this summer …” These opening words of the May 16th Wall Street Journal article “My Virtual Summer Job” by Alexandra Alter caught my attention even though, at 8 a.m. this morning at the car wash and with no decaf coffee (I don’t drink caffeinated), in hand I was barely awake.

The article goes on to describe how teens are using their skills to make real money on virtual world websites. One teen expects to make $4,000 a month this summer on Teen Second Life by using the site’s graphic-design tools to build homes, offices and schools. A set of twins who are inventors on Second Life and sell their gadgets expect to each make about $2,500 a month this summer.

In the Journal’s Independent Street blog by Wendy Bounds in connection with this article she wrote: “Yet as the next generation of builders, metalsmiths, designers and architects increasingly use pixels instead of penny nails and pencils to create, will there by enough talented craftsmen and women to put solid roofs over our heads and well-made clothes on our backs?” And she then added: “Do we value that kind of bricks-and-mortar work properly anymore?”

Here’s the comment I posted in response to Bounds’ blog: “This trend can be looked at in a positive light – these virtual experiences can be internships for the real versions of these jobs. And these virtual jobs can be great to write about for college application essays. These kids are following their passion at an early age, which is what I blog about at"

While – disclaimer coming – I have never played Second Life or Teen Second Life, I have frequently stated that high school and college graduates have very little knowledge about the basics of life – such as balancing their checkbooks, hiring a plumber, paying the utilities bill. If these virtual universes with their own real currency can help teach teens and young adults about these basics, I think this could be a very good thing. (As long as these virtual worlds don’t take over the real words of teens and young people.)

I’ve read numerous articles about how the mind doesn’t know the difference between the real thing and a simulation. When professional golfers, for example, stand at a tee and visualize their next swing, their mind can’t distinguish between the visual swing and the subsequent actual swing. And virtual simulations are used for training airplane pilots, among others.

It seems to me that there can be considerable good coming out of teens and young people earning real money in virtual worlds, including the encouragement of entrepreneurship and the concept of working hard without adult prodding. Let’s not bemoan the end of the real world yet.

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