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									                                                                                                                     shaped creature descends from out of
                                                                      the cyber world, I have to admit that I was    nowhere. He is wearing a top hat and a
by Angela Balcita

                               ere’s a secret: I have always          leery. Growing up in the ’80s, I didn’t have   monocle.

                    H          wanted long legs, purple hair,
                               and the ability to fly. Until
                    recently, I had given up on these aspira-
                                                                      the Internet. If I wanted to meet new peo-
                                                                      ple, I actually had to walk out of my house
                                                                      and talk to other humans face-to-face. At a
                                                                                                                         “Hi Imagina,” appears in my chat box.
                                                                                                                         “Hello,” I type. Communication on
                                                                                                                     Second Life is currently done via Instant
                    tions. But as a new member of an online           time when teens have a variety of online       Messenger although there have been rumors
                    society, I can redesign myself, even if it’s in   social networking outlets, I was eager to      that a voice feature will soon be added.
                    a world that exists only on my computer.          see how TSL was different.                         His screen name, Jay Closterman, is
                        Welcome to Second Life, a 3-D virtual              The first thing I learned was that when   posted above his head, and after we
                    world created by San Francisco-based              they say Teen Second Life, they mean ages      exchange pleasantries, I learn that the egg is
                    Linden Lab, where “residents” from all            13 to 17. And they’re not kidding. Even for    a teen and an active volunteer here on the
                    over the globe can create online personas         an adult reporter like me writing a story      Eye4You Alliance Island. His looks are his
                    called avatars, connect with other resi-          about Second Life for a teen magazine, TSL     own creation. “I wanted to look somewhat
                    dents, and move through a virtual land-           is a virtual Fort Knox. Despite approval       like Humpty Dumpty,” Closterman explains.
                    scape any way they please. With over 5            from the TSL Community Manager, a full         When I ask if I can interview him, he kindly
                    million residents to date and over $1 mil-        background check, and my pledge to             obliges. “I can get out some chairs, if you
                    lion being exchanged daily, Second Life is        uphold the community standards, I was          like,” he says, before two slim, shiny silver
                    also a multimillion dollar business.              informed that the closest I could come to      chairs magically appear before us.
                    Residents can buy and sell their virtual real     TSL was to visit two islands owned by real-        Launched in October 2006, the
                    estate and other in-world creations with          world organizations that teens and TSL-        Eye4You Alliance Island is a partnership
                    Linden dollars that translate to actual real-     approved adults worked together to create.     between the Alliance Library System in
                    world currency. A world that prides itself        I teleported there immediately.                East Peoria, Illinois, and the Public Library
                    on being shaped completely by its users,                                                         of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County in
                    the main grid of Second Life is reserved          An Eye for Creativity                          Charlotte, North Carolina. According to
                    for ages 18 and older. But Teen Second            I am moving my avatar, Imagina Writer,         Kelly Czarnecki (screen name Saryn
                    Life (TSL) allows those under 18 to have a        through a vast space under an endless sky.     Fanwood), an adult co-leader at Eye4You,
                    hand in developing their own corner of            I am on the Eye4You Alliance Island, a         the island was created to take the idea of a
                    the virtual world.                                lonely place that has little in the way of     library beyond the stuffy buildings most
                        While I was drawn in by the way I             development: a model of a miniature city,      teens are used to.
                    could create my persona according to my           a few billboards, a half-constructed build-        “While we have involvement from
                    own preferences and fly gracefully through        ing. I think I’m alone when a large egg-       adults that are not just librarians, we

                    10         IMAGINE                        May/June 2007
                                                                                               Dedicated to helping teens develop leader-
                                               in their interface and display, Second Life     ship skills and an awareness for global
wanted to have a space that teens and          differs in its emphasis on ownership and        issues, Global Kids invites teens to create a
adults could work together on to redefine      creativity. These residents are encouraged      world where they can address current top-
learning, libraries, and community,” she       to design not only their own avatars but        ics in a way that’s fun and educational.
says. Soon, the island will have educational   also the world around them, and to take                                     Continued on page 34
services, libraries, and other resources and   ownership of the things they create.
programs teen residents will create. But for   Additionally, unlike video games, “playing”
now, it’s very much in construction, relying   Second Life doesn’t necessarily involve
on volunteers like Closterman for support      meeting a goal, reaching another level, or
and development. Recently, Closterman          attaining a particular objective. Rather, the
assisted with a class that taught teens how    idea is simply to take advantage of the
to make in-world creations. “This class was    opportunities of living in a virtual world.
on how to make a chair. Each student tried          Sticking to Second Life’s tagline, “Your
building a chair in-world,” he says. “The      World. Your Imagination,” teens are in
chair you’re sitting on is the chair I made    charge of making this space into whatever
for my example.”                               they want, using the adults primarily for
    In addition to teaching, Closterman        guidance. Even on an island in TSL where                                                  Angela’s
uses his skills to contribute to Second        teens know there is usually a TSL-                                                         avatar,
Life’s booming economy. Where else can         approved adult present, Czarnecki has to                                                  Imagina
a teenager create and sell furniture and       make sure she lets these teens control                                                     Writer.
pre-made buildings in his own store            what the island will become.
called Jaymart?                                      “It is not always easy for adults
    Developing their own classes, build-       (including myself) to not want to take
ings, and businesses is one of the things      over and control everything. We have
that draws residents to an island like         to learn when we need to do this, but,
Eye4You. It’s one of the reasons a teen with   much more, we need to step back and
the screen name Sean Marsi sticks around.      listen to the teens to create opportunities
    Marsi has shaggy black hair, a blazer,     for them,” she says. “This is a space for
and flared jeans. He is another active teen    teens and we need to respect that.”
volunteer. “I teach building and host
events such as game shows, games, and          Changing the (Virtual) World
classes.” He first heard of Second Life on     Teen power is alive and well on another
an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer               island owned by Global Kids, a real-life
Online Role-Playing Game) list. While          New York-based organization that
Second Life is similar to these MMORPGs        launched an online presence in 2006.

                                                                              May/June 2007                       IMAGINE               11
Teen Second Life, Continued from page 11
     Barry Joseph, the Online Leadership        cational and creative. As Joseph says, they
Program Director at Global Kids, explains,      don’t need to feel like they have to act seri-
“Virtual worlds make it easier to use educa-    ously. “They just know that they are being
tional techniques that are great at engaging    challenged and having fun.”
and teaching youth, but harder to repro-
duce offline, such as learning through creat-   Making the Virtual Real
ing or modifying, developing social             Okay. So it seems that TSL is more than
networks, working in teams, being involved      just about playing dress-up or mindless
with informal peer mentoring, and more.”        socializing. TSL residents have found a
     In December 2006, the Global Kids          way to put the virtual world to good use.
Island partnered with UNICEF to hold a              “My passion is building and teaching. I
weeklong World Fit for Children cyber-          also enjoy running various activities. I love
festival. Teens from around the world           working on projects such as developing
competed to create in-world structures and      this island,” Marsi reminds me. In the next
participated in workshops that addressed        few years, he’ll be looking for a job that
the topics of HIV/AIDS, education, health,      deals with computers. He says his work at
and child exploitation and abuse.               TSL improves his ability “to work with oth-
                                                                ers on group projects and           Tom Chalkley, Continued from page 29

                                                                have patience for others who        Hellman. He and his friend have a Web
                                                                don’t know how to play.”            comic that they draw entirely on a digital
                                                                    Closterman concurs.             tablet. They don’t do any drawing on
                                                                When I ask him what he              paper at all. I think they even live in dif-
                                                                wants to be when he grows           ferent cities and do everything over e-mail.
                                                                up, he says, “Probably an
                                                                architect. And Second Life is       What has been your favorite
                                                                truly helping my architec-          project to work on?
                                                                tural education!”                   Actually, my favorite is the kids’ book I’m
                                                                    It appears that these           working on now. Let’s just say it may be
                                                                teens are here for the same         the most unusual math book ever pub-
                                                                reason I am: they imagine           lished for children. Like many of the ideas
                                                                their lives a little differently    I’ve had for kids’ books, it grew out of les-
                                                                from the ones they are living       sons I’ve tried to communicate to my own
    Other activities on the island have         now. Additionally, they are eager to use a          kids. I have an eight-year-old and a
included a question-and-answer session          virtual world in order to understand how            twelve-year-old, and those are two great
about the genocide in Darfur with Mia           they can improve the real one.                      ages. Entertaining and enlightening my
Farrow; a simulcast of the MacArthur                “Even if just one teen feels more               children is extremely important.
Foundation’s announcement of its new            respected for the talents they have, then                Dr. Seuss is one of my heroes because
Digital Media, Learning and Education           we’ve done our job,” Czarnecki says. “We            he was able to be completely entertaining
Initiative; and a discussion (and dance         can sustain the island and build partner-           and educational at the same time. He
party) on youth and digital media.              ships to make a better world. And it all            would educate you, and you knew you
     On the Global Kids Island, teens not       starts from one pixel.”                         I   were being educated but you said, “What
only talk about global warming, but they                                                            the heck? I love the rhymes, the pictures,
can witness a simulated volcano erupt.                                                              the characters. Go ahead and educate me.
They can spend an evening watching a vir-         Join Teen Second Life at                          It’s okay.” I never resented the morals of
tual glacier melt and understand the con-         http://teen.secondlife.com.                       Dr. Seuss like I resented them in so many
sequences of rising sea levels. Activities                                                          other children’s books. Dr. Seuss was
like these are often followed by a debate         To read more about the                            strongly moral, but it was always fun.
between teens from all over the globe             Global Kids Island, check out                          Last night I was working on the book
about how these problems can affect the           http://holymeatballs.org.                         and it was bliss. I felt like this is what I’m
real world and what changes they can                                                                supposed to be doing. When I was done
make in their own communities now.                To read more about the                            with these drawings, I was paging
    While these teens are talking about           Eye4You Alliance Island, check out                through them and I was smiling. So,
some heavy duty issues, the goal of Global        http://eye4youalliance.youthtech.info.            that’s a good sign. There’s hope for the
Kids is to create a space that is both edu-                                                         old guy, yet.                                I

34           IMAGINE                       May/June 2007

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