New Brighton Pier in Second Life
There are thousands of eyes on top of a stick, there are thousands of eyes in the moment before the body…
Dogen: The Insentient Preaching Dharma
Piers were once a technological marvel, Victorian enterprise and innovation made visible with all of its forward momentum. At the end of the twentieth century, the Internet had a similar marvellous status. Piers let us walk on waves, the web took us into ‘cyberspace’. Both piers and Internet still exist and it seems appropriate that there is a pier in Second Life: New Brighton to be exact. (This is not to be confused with the former pier in New Brighton on the Wirral, dismantled in 1978.)
Before it became a utility and work-harness the Internet seemed exciting – we were ‘writing on the world with light’ and soaring through information architecture. It was as if we would soon live without bodies. But here we are, staring into screens that somebody made from physical materials, looking at arrangements of pixels shaped by signals sent through cables under the sea, as embodied as ever. Meanwhile barnacles clog the stanchions.
I pressed plastic keys and electric things happened to conjure the Second Life images, hard to see sometimes in the afternoon sun.
My father’s not bad really
He got me these wires and bits
Apart from that he talks to me hardly
I’m just into CB
This is Happy Harry Plank
from the land of waving palms
calling out to Cedar Plank
477 CC Res O Code 13
– The Fall, ‘I’m Into CB!’
I never quite got Second Life – probably because I haven’t spent the time necessary to become fluent in moving the avatar around. ‘I’ walk into walls like a seaside drunk, like one of the ‘Chowbent cheap-tripper[s]’ who were the scourge of the real New Brighton at the start of the 20th Century (according to Harold Young in A Perambulation of the Hundred of Wirral.)
New Brighton Pier has an authentic pier-like feel and features, though it was curiously unpopulated when I visited. There is even a troupe of resident performers, New Brighton Belles – I’ll try and get back for a show. We may not live in a seamless cyber-world, but it is still pretty amazing that people have created this artefact for others to experience. All these thousands of glowing screens; all these temporary lights…
Dad drove us the long way home, along the seafront so that we could see the illuminations, thousands of bulbs making hanging lines and cascades in a gigantic night, then home.
– Jack Bishop, unpublished diary
As on any pier visit, I walked to the end. The water surrounding it all made a convincing distance, mathematics generating thousands of waves glinting in eternal movement. The sea, the sea…