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

Boellstorff, Tom. Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Princeton and oxford: Princeton university Press, 2008. Pp. 336. ISBN13: 978-0-691-13528-1 (hbk.) $32.95 (22.95 [pounds sterling]); 978-0-691-14627-0 (pb.-2010) $22.95 (15.95 [pounds sterling]); 978-1-4008-2972-9 (e-Book) $22.95.

Now available in paperback, this intriguing book in media ecology has won awards from both the Media Ecology Association and the Association of American Publishers. upholding dual goals of a strong theoretical framework and ethnographic detail, the author uses rigorous methodologies. Relying on Malinowski, Appadurai, and other classic thinkers in academic anthropology and sociology, Boellstorff explores the world of Second Life and its many implications for concepts of personhood and makes an important contribution to the investigation of cybersociality.

Organized into three parts, nine chapters, and helpfully illustrated by more than 20 imprints from the author's life online, the book chronicles Boellstorff as he travels through the literature of media ecology and the philosophical background for his entering into and legitimizing the virtual world as a "culture" in which he can work as a participant observer. The author used focus groups, surveys, polls, and 60 interviews, and other informal/observational conversations that provide data for analytical contexts. Between 1994, the benchmark period for early research of this type, and the time of Boellstorff's research, roughly a decade, participants in Second Life went from 100 people to 10 million users with 1.5 million logging on per month, and approximately 50,000 persons in world at one time. Yet the virtual worlds are still considered "new" in terms of academic life course research, and while they borrow all aspects of the real world, the enterprise is at work remaking--not merely simulating--community, selfhood, personhood, and human nature, as the author asserts throughout his investigation. In the process of this exploration, Boellstorff addresses questions of sexuality, race, gender, intimacy, grief, grouping, and addiction to and within online worlds, and some of his comparative approaches between actual countries are intriguing. How users in Muslim and non-Muslim countries differ from users in Indonesia and the Western worlds are clearly the rich ore that future researchers in this world will want to explore. The highly readable prose of this narrative is transparent, honest, personal, and yet academically rigorous, and full of occasional surprises. For example, Boellstorff's admission that
 Throughout my research I was struck by the
 banality of Second Life. Exotica could certainly
 be found, from castle in he sky to alts, furries,
 and gender transformations. Yet everyday
 Second Life was also mundane creativity, conversation,
 intimacy, shopping, entertainment,
 even tedium. As one resident put it "that's the
 dirty little secret of virtual worlds; all people end
 up doing is replicating their real lives." (p. 239)

The author raises the problem in his preparatory chapters about the rationale for producing a book: it is old-fashioned, print on paper, without a website or DVD in the jacket. Boellstorff concludes that a book is valuable for the many ways in which it affirms the value of the human, which of course has everything to do with printing history, and the culture of the civilized encounter between reader and the real pages that are well crafted in this book.

--Claire Badaracco

Marquette university
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Author:Badaracco, Claire
Publication:Communication Research Trends
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2010
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