After registering and downloading the software you begin by selecting a name and an "avatar" which is a virtual person. Once you log on the first time you are in a tutorial section which guides you through the basic movements and physics of this world. It also gives you your first opportunity to edit your appearance. I was amazed at the number of attributes that were editable, especially the facial features, but really throughout the entire character.
I had a chance to learn how to talk with other's who were logged on which provides an interesting context to the concept of chatting online with people you haven't met. In addition to the normal concerns about chatting with strangers, every person has an avatar that (most likely) bears no resemblance at all to what they really look like (or even what gender) but this does give an interesting opportunity to explore communication divorced from typical assumptions. Both parties might have switched gender roles or ethnicities or heights or weights, and so it would be interesting to analyze the difference in communication that takes place when someone is able to define themselves completely separately from their real-world physical appearance.
This world is complex and I only began to explore it, but it is easy to see how people could become addicted to having an entire "second life" online where they could do and become things they might not be able to in the real world. It would be interesting to have a class set up their own community online and be able to interact through avatars with classrooms from elsewhere in the real-world since it would be live and real time, but without some of the limitations of video conferencing. Second life offers the possibility of endless creation of virtual things so that any resource could exist in a virtual classroom, shared by any student around the world.
Also, from the standpoint of a digital literacy, the thought processes behind the physics and construction of the world (and the early hints that you can contribute to the building of this world) as well as the social networking components definitely stretch brain muscles that are not used by making a powerpoint or surfing the net.
Interesting all around . . . and it might actually be more stimulating and enriching than watching TV, so I can understand why some people choose to spend their free time in second life. I, however, barely have enough time for my first life!