Second Life: A Disruptive Technology?

Dr. Christensen, a Harvard professor, first coined the term “disruptive innovation” in his book “The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail”. Dr. Thornburg (2009) defines a disruptive technology as one which works more efficiently and has additional benefits than the previous technology, thus rendering it obsolete. One example provided by Dr. Thornburg was the transistor replacing the vacuum tube (Thornburg, 2009). The transistor functions as a solid-state electronic switch and replaced the vacuum tube. The transistor is smaller and consumes considerably less power; therefore, a computer system built with transistors is smaller, faster, and more proficient than its counterpart made with vacuum tubes. The transistor disrupted the need for vacuum tubes.

Another example is the virtual world Second Life. Second Life is an online social networking environment where users create an avatar and can interact with other avatars (users) or with other objects and/or places. It is not just about communicating with each other; Second Life also users to create these objects and places such as a organizations building stores where individuals can shop or setting up a meeting in order to discuss goals and objectives of the company. Second Life is a disruptive technology because it replaces how people interact with each other. By creating a virtual representation of themselves, users collaborate, communicate, build, and do business with each other without actually meeting face to face.

In education, teachers can set up an online classroom so students can listen to lectures, participate in a book talk, or immerse themselves in a particular setting such as the War of 1812. However, like any online environment, I feel it is important to balance it with face to face interaction. The implication of relying on a solely virtual setting can have social consequences. This is why I felt a sense of unease when Rosedale (2008) stated that individuals prefer their avatars over real life. Second Life is a valuable tool for learning and interacting with each other but should not be thought of as a replacement.

By allowing users to interact, collaborate, and share with each other, it does seem like it might be competing with other social networking sites like Facebook but at this time I do not see it displacing any other technologies. However, I do feel that in the field of education, Second Life had the potential to disrupt elementary education but since their Teen Grid came to an end, Second Life wasn’t very successful in this endeavour. MineCraft has now come into the picture to displace Second Life in use in the classroom. Having said that, I believe that Second Life will be around for the next ten years as it has the potential to replace text to text communication via graphic and text communication. Additionally, Second Life is still in its infancy and Linden Labs, who owns Second Life will continue to refine and update their product. In due time, something else will come along to disrupt this online environment; perhaps an environment that employs the use of gloves or 3D glasses.


Laureate Education, Inc. (2009). Emerging and future technology: Disruptive technologies. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Rosedale, P. (2008). Philip Rosedale on Second Life [Video]. Retrieved from


2 thoughts on “Second Life: A Disruptive Technology?

  1. I agree with you that Second Life is disruptive because it replaces how people interact with each other. I wonder how is impacts social capabilities and adherence to social norms and mores. Do you have any experience with Second Life or anything Like it?

  2. Great post! Have you used Second Life? I have not participated in it I just learned about it for this assignment. I had not thought about being able to emerge my students in a time in history or a geographical place that we might be learning about. It seems as if this would help students to be more engaged thus enhance learning.

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