In Walks This Avatar, With a Thick Papery Thing . . .

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 21, 2007

Que Publishing held an online party in Second Life recently to fete the release of "Second Life: A Guide to Your Virtual World" -- 416 pages on navigating that user-generated community in which residents buy virtual property, go to virtual work, deal with virtual family members and do all of the other things that, in real life, make us grind our teeth.

Brian White's guide joined "Second Life: The Official Guide" and half a dozen other instructionals explaining how to maximize your "in-world" experience. By year's end, nearly 20 will be on the market, including the tender buddy flick of the SL community: "Alter Ego: Avatars and Their Creators."

A startling observation: These are all books.

Let us ponder this.

We are all flying thumbs and keystrokes and voice activation and touch-pad shortcuts. We are swimming in technologies and applications and cyber-ubiquity. But when it comes to understanding how to really use these shiny new inventions, we rely on a stubborn piece of dead tree, a centuries-old technology that started with papyrus in the Fertile Crescent. Huh.

Richard Mansfield wrote "How to Do Everything With Second Life" in response to SL's steep learning curve: "The first week you're so confused, you go buy some clothing and instead of putting on a jacket you put on the box the jacket comes in. It's very embarrassing. The other avatars know you're new because you're walking around wearing a box."

His book has tips on shopping for new skin, spotting flaws when buying said skin, and what to do if you encounter a three-story-tall gay robot.

"Amp Your MySpace Page" has a six-step checklist on launching a multimedia blitz of self-promotion. "It's not enough just to have a profile on MySpace," the book cautions. "You want to . . . develop an online following [and have] other users wanting to know what you're doing and wanting to be your friend."

And "YouTube 4 You" dedicates seven pages to browsing for videos (hint: point and click) and a full chapter to watching them.

There was even, a few years back, a 128-page book on the art of texting. Bet it would have been longer, but it was prbly wrttn lk ths.

Helpful, every last title, and written so clearly as to assist even readers who refer to Google as "the Google."

Don Norman, author of "The Design of Future Things," calls the book avalanche "both horrifying and amusing. . . . Technologies really are being packaged in a way that's not intuitive or usable to the consumer," so publishers seize that market and rush-order them every time something vaguely new rolls out.

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