What is the secret wellspring of inflation in Second Life? I offered prize money for this secret at several events, and had no winners.
Answer: MyTime -- Unbilled. The sheer number of hours that often highly-skilled and educated people are willing to sink into this collective server farm in the sky.
Most people keep staring at me blankly when I say that. (Of course, that may be due to the fact that our little avatar faces can't make the kind of expressions yet that we see in Bells & Spurs!)
The other day, a woman with the last name of "ACS" (a special last name created just for the Anshe Chung Studios) got on the horn on the gigantic group list Dreamland Citizens. I don't know if anybody realizes that just the Dreamland Continent population now is about 500 people. Actually, I have as many in all my groups, but whereas my tenants include newbies paying next to nothing or people renting $25 walls, Anshe's people at a minimum something like $55 to get a deed access at the lowest cost, and then they pay $25 USD a month for a 4096 m2 chunk of server space.
The combination of her real money and play money has enabled Anshe to hire staff -- and gosh, does she need them with more than 125 private islands with dozens of special themes, builds, and activities. Dreamland is really another world, one of the many Third Lifes beyond Second Life where you are promised freedom from lagging, griefing, and ugly builds by stupid neighbours in exchange for harsher rules, summary executions from membership lists, and a black void to gaze at beyound your mini-island at the edges of the sim.
So here's the rub: this woman is Chinese, seeing as how the natural thing for Anshe to do is to go back to her homeland, where her SL riches -- which might seem huge to us but aren't really that much for running something that requires the labour this empire does -- simply extend a lot farther.
Ms. ACS is struggling...obviously her English is limited. She is dealing clearly with some kind of computerized scheduling system and merely cutting and pasting. So her message, unformatted and mispoken, comes across something like this: "9:00 PLEASE TO GET 46,86,27 CENTRAL PARK ALL FREE WELOMCE"
Inevitably, people start gently ribbing this poor dear and also lob off the usual predictable Internet Theory of Fuckwadery like "Hey, can I come naked?" etc.
"Say," I IM to this list. "She's earning a living wage...Are you?"
You could have heard a pin drop on that list. There wasn't a single reply. Because deep in the gnawing souls of each and every person on that list, some of whom are SL's known content creators, was the realization that no, they aren't earning al iving wage.
The reason they aren't earning one is that there isn't one to be had in this inflationary world where not only is MyTime is free, MyProduct is often free, too.
When David Linden talks about SL being a monetarized socializing platform, he knows full well that while there is monetarizing and socializing to the tune of $250,000 USD in turnover a day now, nobody -- and I mean nobody -- is earning a wage like *he* is earning a wage in RL. That is, if there are a tiny handful of one or three like Anshe Chung and her husband, sure. But the overwhelming majority of people in SL making money are NOT making a living -- unless you call "making a living" living in a trailer in Kenosha.
It's not just that there isn't enough of Anshe to go around, it's that her RL time just really isn't billable at RL rates. That is, in RL, she could be teaching, selling real estate, or handling helpdesk complaints, and making more per hour in Germany, among the wealthiest countries of the world, than she can in SL -- when you factor in that a lot of her wealth is the latifundista type -- land rich and cash poor, with land or cash that were you to attempt to liquidate it all at once, you'd only end up depressing your own market.
We'd all like to believe that our time in SL isn't really like Real Life Time. We'd like to think, like the children going through the wardrobe to Narnia, that all the years of time we spend in SL "don't count" against the clock in Real Life. We might disappear beyond the Lamp Post and rule realms as kings and queens in SL, but when we come back, the meter is still running on our apartments, our mortgages, our kids' tuitions, our grocery bills. We can tell ourselves that we spend only hobby-like time in SL, evenings and weekends, but in reality, if we punched a clock or were handed a list of our log in hours, we probably would be astounded. If you are doing customer service work in particular, the amount of time you spend every day even while doing something else taking care of emails or popping in to fix something sure adds up.
So RL time is really what we do spend here, and we spend it like drunken sailors on leave. Almost any endeavour in SL requires huge layouts of picky, cranky work -- whether you are in build mode or PSP mode or parceling mode. It's a time suck!
People I've tried to explain this insight to often are puzzled. Let me try to give some examples.
Here's a post from Shaun Altman:
Camping: L$285 in 15.833 HOURS!
$1.00 USD: L$285 in 1 minute or so!
The time and hassle here are so far apart that it's just rediculous. 15.833 HOURS of someone's time is not worth $1.00 USD? This just CAN'T be.
He's finding it hard to understand how someone would have some 16 hours in the day to sit in a camp chair to earn what they could use $1.00 US merely to buy. Answer: they have little or nothing to do in their other windows, and can keep an avatar on doing that; they are students; they are housewives; they are disabled persons on pensions; they are partly-employed or self-employed with either disposable income or time or both; they are gaming addicts -- camp chairs often go together with the hope of winning big at a casino.
Let's say I see somebody sink the Linden down to 300/$1.00 US. Let's say my tier is due that day. I could look at the LindEx and spend the day fuming and plotting and switching packets trying to sell my $100,000 or whatever at that price to pay tier; I could pay tier out of my bank account and keep Lindens; I could just cash it out merely to get the bill paid and not think about.
What circumstances would enable me either to be the kind of person who could offer their Lindens for 300? Answer: a person who either has so many Lindens they need to get at least some out, or a person for whom the $35 or $50 US that they might lose by not waiting is completely insignificant -- mere lunch or a cab fare or movies or something they just don't care to think that much about.
If I bill $50 hour RL, the thought of sitting on SL for 16 hours either to get a camp chair payout or to prevent a LindEx loss or to find some bargain from hunting just aren't justified. 16 x $50 is $800. It's not going to be possible to care about the $1.00 or $10.00 that might be "saved" in SL by sinking time into it.
Time is available to sink -- but only so much! Many people take out of their sleep budget, exercise budget, family togetherness budget to meet their SL time clock demands. It's more "fun". Or is it?
Yes, the Lindens, like other game manufacturers figured out that the way to get the job done on user content and fresh content of any kind is to get people providing it for free, otherwise the cost is too high.
Philip Linden, speaking for Google recently, rhapsodizes about the bright Third-World kid who somehow gets on broadband, logs on to SL, makes a kick-ass weapon of some sort, sells it to Americans for a sum that will feed him and his family for a week, and lift himself out of developing-world destitution.
It's part of his dream of a Better World, and it's compelling.
Of course the social/psychological/cultural substrate to sustain that kind of innovation might be missing from both the Third World country, the under-educated kid in that country, and SL itself. No matter. The Tsar of Stream, the Pan of Panopticon forges on, blasting away any inconsistencies.
The culture that might come in on the heels of such a bright kid might be replete with beliefs in horrid, rigid hierarchies, injustices, even torture. It might involve readily subordinating oneself to restrictive ideologies, totalitarian systems, stifling credences. No matter. In the isolated space of the Internet/third world/game nexus, Content Creator is King, and a disembodied mind and hand and eye that can cheaply produce a product for Westerners greedy for content online will not be studied too closely.
I've had ample experience from SL and RL to conclude that far from ending the clash of civilizations, virtual worlds will enhance them.