A recent poll suggested that the majority of people think Second Life has no benefit to society. Which left me wondering what sort of benefit anybody thought it might have had, to whom, and what those polled thought was meant by the term 'society'.
The notion that 'society' exists seperately from the people of whom it is constituted is a totalitarian one. It is Nazis and Communists who think of the word 'people' as a singular, as in "The German people demands . . .". To totalitarians, society (they may call it the 'volk', the 'people' or whatever) has its own needs separate from and superior to the needs of individuals.
To any normal person the polling question could be put a different way. "Does Second Life have any benefit to people?" or just "does it have any benefit?"
There cannot be any doubt that if the question was asked in this way the answers would have been different. The way the question was actually phrased seems to imply, without actually stating, that it is asking about benefits to people other than those who frequent Second Life. My suggested rewording, properly, implies nothing of the sort. So think about the default answer of people who have never visited Second Life, remembering that this group will dominate a polling sample.
If the focus is on benefits to society, the person who has never been there will ask themselves if they are conscious of any benefits from Second Life. They will, of course, say no. But asked if it has any benefits to people those polled will naturally assume that it means to the people who use it. They will also naturally assume that people would not go there if they derived no benefit from it. You don't need to know what the benefits are to answer yes.
This same test could be applied to any minority pursuit, especially a new one, of which many people will be ignorant. Ask people if it provides any benefits to people other than the users, and people will say no. Ask if it provides benefits to the users and people will say yes.
But Second Life is an entertainment. Why should we expect it to provide benefits to anyone other than the users. And what entertainments do? What benefit does cricket or baseball provide to people who never play or watch?
It really would be wise to simply dump this silly word 'society'. It adds nothing to any discussion.