My friend Stephanie has created an amazingly interesting and weird new project by opening a factory in Second Life! In an attempt to raise serious issues about the intersection of 3d web environments like Second Life and World of Warcraft and our real world economy, she’s created the Double Happiness Jean factory, the first virtual sweatshop. It’s a little hard to wrap your head around, but they are selling real world jeans (that you can wear) that are digitally printed onto a special fabric, but in order to have the jeans produced a number of people need to be “working” in Second Life. A half dozen people need to literally be simultaneously online and pressing buttons on virtual machines in order to make the virtual conveyor belt run, and for the jeans to be produced (printed out) in the real world.
These workers actually get paid in Lindens, the currency that is used in Second Life. They are paid 200 Lindens an hour, which is about 90 cents. Word is that this is good pay in the virtual world. People talk a lot about how Second Life and other virtual worlds allow for all kinds of experimentation that is difficult or impossible in real life. But can we seriously talk about something being different or alternative when the same exact capitalist social relations that exist in our first life are reproduced in Second Life? What does it mean that people who spend hours and hours in virtual worlds, I would assume in part to escape the problems, pressures or seeming limitations of their real lives, go to work in a virtual factory in order to be able to buy virtual clothes and code scripts to be able to perform virtual sex acts on other avatars?
I feel like I hear more and more about protests, strikes and other activist actions within Second Life, but I’m still unsure as to what they all add up to. There is an excitement and buzz around these things, it seems largely because they are new, but do they challenge any power in a real way? Are the virtual offices of a company a site where they are vulnerable? Is anything actually created there that can be stopped or blocked? Are companies dependent enough on their virtual presences that disrupting them has a real world effect? I guess I don’t really know, but I’m very skeptical.