About two months ago, some of you might have caught a discussion panel sporting Robin Harper — aka Robin Linden — and Jack Balkin — professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment at Yale Law School. It was hosted by the USC Institute for Network Culture and Global Kids as part of the MacArthur Series on Philanthropy and Virtual Worlds and was somewhat curiously called « Philanthropy and Virtual Worlds: Do Avatars Dream of Civil Rights Considering Civil Liberties ».
Of course, the event was not actually held with that fancy strike-though title ; it went live under the simple heading « Considering Civil Liberties ». But it was originally announced as « Do Avatar Dream of Civil Rights » (see here and here ; and take note of the above mentioned Global Kids URL while you’re at it). One week before the event proper, the title suddenly changed.
I have been trying to put this curious title morph out of my mind for a while (in fact, I had latched on the whole issue originally for the panel’s content, and was hoping to get my teeth into that. Nothing more be said than that it was rather anti-climactic, though it did cure me of my dread of Robin Linden). But somehow, I can’t. It irks me.
Granted, it is entirely possible someone just noticed that another paraphrase of Philip K. Dick’s best known novel title sorely lacks in originality, and decided to change the title because of that (not that the new one shone in that regard). Still, I find it a rather surprising thing to do on such short notice, and I’m left wondering… What if, instead, someone realised that they had leant so far out of the window, trying to be funny and clever, that gravity was taking over ? Pondering how soft that concrete sidewalk will be on landing can do wonders for a change of mind.
For a sidewalk there is : one week before the sudden change in title, Tateru Nino posted A person chooses, a tool obeys on Massively. And sparked a discussion which took me by surprise. I would not have expected that alluding to the avatar as an entity in its own right would be such a contentious matter. Neither did the panel organisers, it seems.
The gist of Tateru’s argument, in case you haven’t read her post, is that an avatar is nothing but a tool, a « device without intention » no law can directly apply to, and that the tool’s user is the only actor in the play. It was followed Continue reading