Boellstorff—Coming of Age in Second Life

Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human.

by Tom Boellstorff

[Boellstorff, Tom. 2008. Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.]


  • The virtual is not new—we have always been virtual because we interact through the mediating lens of “culture.” SO being virtual is being human.
  • Virtual /actual binary rather than “real”
  • What makes SL so different (as opposed to social platforms) is the use of techne in a “third place.”
  • We are starting a new Age of Techne. Humans (homo faber) have always used craft to create, but virtual worlds create a new way to do this (homo cyber).
  • Techne – human practice that engages with the world and creates a new world as well as a new person: homo cyber

Great summary written by John Postill:

Annotation Summary for: Boellstorff – Coming of Age in Second Life (2008)

Page 3 (18), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Arrivals and departures. Imagine yourself suddenly set down surrounded by all your gear, alone on a tropical beach close to a native village while the launch or dinghy which has brought you sails away out of sight (figure 1.1). You have nothing to do, but to start at once on your ethnographic work. Imagine further that you are a beginner, without previous experience, with nothing to guide you and no one to help you. This exactly describes my first initiation into field work in Second Life.”

Page 4 (19), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In this book I take the methods and theories of anthropology and apply them to a virtual world accessible only through a computer screen. To ex-plore how anthropology might contribute to understanding culture in vir-tual worlds, I have departed from many previous studies of Internet cultureby conducting fieldwork entirely inside Second Life, using my avatar Tom Bukowski and my home and office in Second Life, Ethnographia.5 ”

Page 5 (20), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “in this book I take Second Life’s emergence as given and work to analyze the cultural practices and beliefs taking form within it.”

Page 5 (20), Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” although some insightful research has claimed that online culture her-alds the arrival of the “posthuman,” I show that Second Life culture is pro-foundly human. ”

Page 5 (20), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “First, although My second line of analysis is that virtual worlds do have signifi- cant consequences for social life.”

Page 5 (20), Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” It is not only that virtual worlds borrow assumptions from real life; virtual worlds show us how, under our very noses, our “real” lives havebeen “virtual” all along. It is in being virtual that we are human: since it is hu-man “nature” to experience life through the prism of culture, human being has always been virtual being. Cutlure is our “killer app”: we are virtually human. ”

Page 6 (21), Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” I argue that ethnography holds great promise for illuminating culture online, but not because it is traditional or old-fashioned. Ethnography has a special role to play in studying virtual worlds because it has anticipated them. Virtual before the Internet existed,ethnography has always produced a kind of virtual knowledge. The quotation from Malinowski that started this book asked you to “imagine yourself ” in a new place (Malinowski 1922:4), to be virtually there.”

Page 6 (21), Underline (Magenta): Content: “ethnography holds great promise for illuminating culture online, but not because it is traditional or old-fashioned. Ethnography has a special role to play in studying virtual worlds because it has anticipated them. Virtual before the Internet existed,ethnography has always produced a kind of virtual knowledge. ”

Page 8 (23), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Claims that a virtual world like Second Life is composed of nothing but subcultures mistake notions of subculture in terms of identity and style (Hebdige 1979) for anthropological notions of culture in terms of shared meanings and relations of power.”

Page 8 (23), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Everyday Second Life.”

Page 16 (31), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Terms of discussion.”

Page 16 (31), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “as I can attend a wedding or build a house in Second Life, so I can interview those in Second Life about their experiences and also engage in “participant observation,” following people”

Page 17 (32), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “around in their daily lives as a member of the community.”

Page 17 (32), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “My definition and Castronova’s both presume three fundamental elementsto be present in all virtual worlds: they are (1) places, (2) inhabited by per-sons, and (3) enabled by online technologies.12 I particularly wish to avoid “synthetic” and “artificial”: for some researchers these terms have value, but for my purposes they obscure how the most distinctive fea- ture of the worlds under discussion is not that they are fabricated, but that they are virtual. The “real world” of human social life is also synthesized through human artifice.13 Virtual worlds are self-evidently tions, but they are far from unique in this regard.”

Page 18 (33), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “As a result, the pivotal terms for my analysis are “virtual” and “actual.””

Page 18 (33), Highlight (Yellow): Content: ““Virtual””

Page 19 (34), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “This gap between virtual and actual is critical: were it to be filled in, there would be no virtual worlds, and in a sense no actual world either.”

Page 19 (34), Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” The binarism ofvirtual/actual is an experientially salient aspect of online culture, not just a terminological nicety (”

Page 19 (34), Highlight (Yellow): Content: ““cyber,” ”

Page 89 (104), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Visuality and land.”

Page 89 (104), Highlight (Yellow): Content: “blight”

Page 89 (104), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Authored by a group calling itself “Polite Neighbors,” the signs read: If you support Joanie’s, do not buy from this store!!! Stores of this na-ture belong in commercial areas. For someone to take the atmosphere of one of the most Romantic Venues in all of Second Life and trash itwith flashing Nightclub lights is rude and uncalled for . . .”

Page 91 (106), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “We care about this neighborhood Zazzy. We live here.”

Page 91 (106), Highlight (Cyan): Content: ““there is no ‘place’ in the virtual beyond the metaphor” (Rutter and Smith 2005:85).”

Page 91 (106), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “What some have described as “a shift from the 2D web to the 3D web” is really”

Page 92 (107), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “the shift from network to place, or, more accurately, the addition of online places, since networks will continue to exist.”

Page 92 (107), Highlight (Cyan): Content: ““a user can log into [a virtual world] from any computer on the Earth. . . . The screen turns into a window through which an alternative Earth . . . can be seen. . . . The window by which your computer is depicting the world is, in fact, the surface of somebody’s eye, and that somebody is you” (Castronova 2005:6, emphasis in original).”

Page 92 (107), Stamp (Quote!)

Page 93 (108), Underline (Red): Content: “Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nine- teenth Century, Jonathan Crary”

Page 93 (108), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Though obviously one who sees, an observer is more importantly one who sees within a prescribed set of possibilities, one who is embedded in a system”

Page 94 (109), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “of conventions and limitations” (Crary 1990:5;”

Page 94 (109), Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” To, in Crary’s words, be “embedded in a system of conven-tions and limitations” is to be within a culture. Crary’s interest in techniquelinked these methodological issues to questions of techne”

Page 94 (109), Highlight (Yellow): Content: “Age of Techne.4”

Page 95 (110), Note (Orange): When?

Page 96 (111), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Rhed and I were now hundreds of meters in the air in a large box, on the inside of which Rhed had placed im- ages depicting a countryside receding into the distance. This was a virtual virtual landscape.”

Page 96 (111), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Builds and objects.”

Page 97 (112), Highlight (Yellow): Content: ““prims””

Page 98 (113), Highlight (Yellow): Content: ““scripts,””

Page 98 (113), Highlight (Yellow): Content: ““builds”:”

Page 98 (113), Highlight (Yellow): Content: ““objects”:”

Page 100 (115), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Through gift exchange—even when no gift is immediately expected in return—virtual relations become “actual,” a form of self-constitution that in the Age of Techne is possible entirely within a virtual world.”

Page 101 (116), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Lag.”

Page 102 (117), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “While in many cultures time is experienced as a continuous movement, in all virtual worlds during the period of my fieldwork cyberso-ciality was bracketed by “logging on” and “logging off.” This distinction be-tween online and offline may be the most consequential boundary-markerbetween the actual and the virtual”

Page 102 (117), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “As one resident put it, “small talk about lag is like talking about the weather in rl.””

Page 102 (117), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The phenomenon of lag may seem utterly boring compared to the sen- sational topics that dominate the literature on virtual worlds—gender swap- ping, cybersex, virtual sweatshops. Often, however, ethnographic research discovers its greatest insights in the most innocuous, tacit dimensions of so- cial life. As time out of virtual joint, lag provides a socially salient means to ethnographically explore the coconstitutive status of temporality and place.”

Page 103 (118), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Second Life, like all “massively multiple” virtual worlds during my fieldwork, was based on a “client-server” architecture, where most of the virtual world was housed on servers rather than the personal computers of residents (Castronova 2005:82).”

Page 104 (119), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Person A: Is anyone in Northern California by any chance? Person B: <~~ Nor Cal Person A: How’s the weather? I have to pack for Thurs-Sun. Person B: Hottest July on record here. Person C: I WISH this was California, because then it wouldn’t be 1:00am”

Page 105 (120), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “One resident spoke of being “always jet- lagged from living evenings on Pacific Standard Time,” which has become the new Greenwich Mean Time for many virtual worlds.22”

Page 105 (120), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Even when place becomes virtual, time remains actual.”

Page 105 (120), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In Being and Time (Heidegger 1962), Martin Heidegger worked to show how “different ways of being . . . are all related to human being and ultimately to temporal-ity” (Dreyfus 1991:1). To simplify one aspect of a complex philosophical argument, Heidegger distinguished between the “thrownness” of everyday life and what he termed “breakdown.” One of his favorite examples of this was that of a man hammering a nail: in the activity of doing so, the man isnot aware of the hammer as such, only of the activity of hammering. It is only when, for instance, the handle of the hammer cracks that a moment of breakdown ensues and the hammer as an object enters conscious percep-tion. This breakdown “necessitates a shift into a mode in which what was previously transparent becomes explicitly manifest. Deprived of access to what we normally count on, we act deliberately, paying attention to what we are doing” (Dreyfus 1991:72).”

Page 106 (121), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Lag is nothing less than an interruption in the thrownness of temporal-ity, a breakdown of time made possible by the gap between virtual and ac-tual. In this sense, lag is an annoyance but is also a kind of gift from virtualworlds; it represents a moment of breakdown demonstrating the cultural construction of time. ”

Page 106 (121), Stamp (Exclamation Point (!, Red))

Page 106 (121), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Afk.”

Page 106 (121), Highlight (Cyan): Content: ““away from keyboard.””

Page 107 (122), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Although “afk” is a contrac- tion of “away from keyboard,” what afk really means is “away from virtual world, but with virtual self still present.””

Page 108 (123), Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” Multitasking in and out of virtual worldsin this way dates back to the earlier days of MUDs (e.g., Turkle 1995:184), revealing how “windows have become a powerful metaphor for thinking about the self as a multiple, distributed system” (Turkle 1995:14)”

Page 112 (127), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Immersion.”

Page 112 (127), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Lag and afk are not just tardiness and daydreaming online; they are novelaspects of cybersociality that reveal how configurations of place and time constitute virtual worlds. ”

Page 115 (130), Highlight (Yellow): Content: “homo cyber.”

Page 116 (131), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In the Age ofTechne, the most significant shift is not from augmentation to immersion or vice versa; it is the shift from sensory immersion to social immersion as techne’s assumed effect.”

Page 116 (131), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Presence.”

Page 117 (132), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In Specters of Marx, Derrida set forth the idea of a “hauntology,” a theory of haunting (rather than an “ontology” or theory of being), linking it to the virtual and to techne: “the differential deploymentof tekhne . . . obliges us more than ever to think the virtualization of place and time, the possibility of virtual events whose movement and speed pro-hibit us more than ever . . . from opposing presence to its representation” (Derrida 1994:169). ”

Page 117 (132), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “From such a hauntological perspective, afk is not a state of exception, but a specific “metaphysics of presence” (Derrida 1974:131).”

Page 117 (132), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Phenomena like lag and afk indicate how “the ultimate lesson of the ‘virtual reality’ is the virtualization of the very ‘true’ reality: by the mirage of ‘virtual reality,’ the ‘true’ reality itself is posited as a semblance of itself, as a pure symbolic construct” (Žižek 1992:135). Virtual worlds show how we have always been virtually human.”

Page 184 (199), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In overly simplistic terms, Furries are persons who identify as animals or animal-like, and often wish to be embodied as animals in some fashion. Furrie culture, which for some but not all participants had sexual aspects, predates and exists outside of virtual worlds. In a sense it links up to forms of “totemic” identification with animals that date back to the earli- est recorded cultures and have been a classic topic of anthropological inter- est (Durkheim and Mauss 1902; Lévi-Strauss 1962). Furrie culture has long been incorporated into virtual worlds—even when they were solely textual, as in the case of the “FurryMUCK” MUD, which opened in 1990 (Koster 2003:452; Reid 1996:339, 1999:111) and Furcadia, a furry-based graphi- cal virtual world, which opened in 1996.3 Furrie groups have often been a source of controversy, due to outsider discomfort with a sense such persons are “role-playing” (that is, exhibiting an inauthentic self in a virtual context”

Page 184 (199), Highlight (Yellow): Content: “Furries”

Page 185 (200), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “that expects authenticity) or with sexual aspects of Furrie identity (Kend- all 2002:45–46). Furrie culture was widespread in Second Life, with some residents living entirely as animal-like creatures and others embodying themselves as Furrie in more circumscribed contexts.4 Many formal groups existed for Furries, and there were a range of properties (including multiple islands) devoted to Furrie culture, often with builds suggesting forests or other natural landscapes. Toward the end of my research it was estimated that at least 15,000 residents owned Furrie avatars.5”

Page 237 (252), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Since humans are always crafting themselves through culture, they have always been virtual (Clark 2003). The virtual is the anthropological. This makes it possible to study virtual worlds with the same flexible, underdetermined ethnographic tools used to study human cultures in the actual world. Alongside this continuity there is change. In the Age of Techne, human craft can—for the first time—create new worlds for human sociality.”

Page 238 (253), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Virtual worlds do not lead to an erasure of the human: as one Second Life resident observed, a virtual world can act as “another plat- form for the human OS [operating system].” They do, however, transform what being human can mean, recalling how “we have used our relationships with technology to reflect on the human” (Turkle 1995:24).”

Page 239 (254), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “At the beginning of the twentieth century, the philosopher Henri Bergson claimed in the aptly titled Creative Evolution that: As regards human intelligence, it has not been sufficiently noted that mechanical invention has been from the first its essential feature, that even to-day our social life gravitates around the manufacture and use of artificial instruments. . . . If, to define our species, we kept strictly to what the historic and the prehistoric periods show us to be the constant characteristic of man and of intelligence, we should say not Homo sapi- ens, but Homo faber. In short, intelligence, considered in what seems to be its original feature, is the faculty of manufacturing artificial tools, es- pecially tools to make tools, and of indefinitely varying the manufacture. (Bergson 1911:138–39, emphasis in original)”

Page 239 (254), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The idea of an Age of Techne challenges the assumptions of the “Infor- mation Age,” predicated on a conflation of the human with homo sapiens, the “knowing man,” which thereby equates “civilization’s new horizon” with”

Page 240 (255), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “a “knowledge space” (Lévy 1997:8). In contrast, Bergson’s analysis locates the human in techne rather than episteme, in crafting rather than knowing.”

Page 241 (256), Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” The idea that anthropol-ogy assumes cultures are discrete wholes has always been somewhat unfair; even schools of thought considered the worst offenders, like functionalism and structuralism, were often characterized by a notable savvy in this re-gard. For instance, in Argonauts of the Western Pacific Malinowski empha-sized that his ethnographic object was a “trading system, the Kula”: that is,a distributed network rather than bounded place (Malinowski 1922:2).”

Page 241 (256), Underline (Magenta): Content: “in Argonauts of the Western Pacific Malinowski empha- sized that his ethnographic object was a “trading system, the Kula”: that is, a distributed network rather than bounded place (Malinowski 1922:2).”

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Page 283 (298), Underline (Red): Content: “Hayles, N. Katherine. 1999. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.”

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