The great escape

There has been a spate of posts about the balance between First and Second Life lately, starting with my friend’s Dandellion’s thoughtful and entertaining blog post Going Schizo. At its core is the question how to handle the realisation that the personalities we evolve in the 3D metaverse of Second Life might seep back into our atomic life (a distant echo of some of Dusan Writer’s earlier thoughts). Besides a fair number of comments, it has also spurned Kit Meredith to ask the question if atomic her is jealous of her avatar, and Botgirl Questi to complete her schematic of the relationship of metaverse and meatverse. Independently of those, Zippora Zabelin has touched on the same topic in her beautiful Life is a game.

The funny thing about all these is that, much as I wanted to give feedback and tell the authors how much I enjoyed their posts, my own uneasy balance between First and Second Life has not let me do so until now. Consoling and supporting a friend much in the same situation as Dandellion’s unknown avatar, but also saying a chance good bye to another one who was leaving SL, as well as finally accepting some other friends and lovers will never come back, has made me painfully aware how ephemeral our second life can be — and how fragile whatever fleeting balance we find is.

It also made me think. Because while we often discuss how, and why we leave this world for good, we rarely dwell on the question that maybe should have been asked first : why bother with the effort of two lives at all ? Why come to Second Life, and stay ?

I have an answer to offer, Continue reading

Chimaera

I have never been much of a political activist. The way I see it, however passionate you are about an issue, politics have a way of wearing you down by making you argue the same things over and over again, until anything you say is but the n-th rehash of things said countless times before. And while repetition might hone your skirmishing skills, each pass blunts your heart as much as it sharpens your tongue.

That, and the fact that I am a hopelessly shallow person of course, have been enough to keep me away from the nitty gritty of political work. Oh, I might cheer and wave, I might even run that first, glorious mile when events are still fast paced and exciting ; but don’t look for me when the going gets slow — unless it is in the boutiques we passed on that first mile. It has always been that way. I have always been that way. 

But life moves in strange ways, especially when you have two of them, and in one of mine at least things have been… different, lately.

Not entirely surprisingly, this has to do with trademarks ; trademarks as made into policy by Linden Lab, and as protested against by so many in the blogosphere. And then again, more surprisingly maybe, it has not. It has not because when all is said and done, what the issue really boils down to is not a silly set of writing rules for bloggers, nor even the presumption to enforce these by brute force if need be, but one simple and far more general question :

What kind of world do we want to live in ?

Yes, yes, I know how that sounds. Don’t call the orderlies yet (later, maybe : being put in a straightjacket and manhandled by burly men, then locked into a cell, only ever to get out for an ice bath or some electric shock therapy … but I digress).

Let me explain what I mean. Continue reading

So say I all

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

Story Box

I always am in deep awe of those bloggers (say, Lillie Yifu, or Prokofy Neva) who turn out post after post in one long prolific stream. My own thought processes are so haphazard and incoherent I’m actually rather surprised I eventually manage to publish anything at all, never mind at the break-neck pace some are able to sustain. It’s a bit like watching an old toaster : no matter how long and hard you stare, you’ll always miss the moment it ka-chunks — and most of what it spews out, somewhat ballistically, is charcoal, not toast.

It thus comes as no surprise to me that more often than not, someone else beats me to the punch, putting things into neat words that have been pinging around my head in hapless chaos, making me blurt « yeah, that » when I read their findings.

Dusan Writer has done so tonight, and he has done even better, carrying the thought much further than I would ever have been able to :

But when I look at Second Life You-Know-Where I don’t see a game, and I don’t see a role-playing environment, and I don’t see an e-commerce engine (although to some degree it is all of these) – I see the possibilities for stories. And in these possibilities I am attracted to how Second Life may be a new camp fire around which we weary hunters gather, scratching pictures in the sand with our primitive tools and telling each other of the days we’ve had, and the adventures ahead.

As I owe Dusan an apology for having somewhat misrepresented his stance on Second Life You-Know-Where in my last post, all I will do today is bow deeply to him, and send you over to his post, should you not have been there already : The Story Box: Second Life You-Know-Where & Magic « Dusan Writer’s Metaverse

The world Philip made

I am not often invited to chime in on a topic (unless it is SL Y-K-W‘s interface design, for some reason, and I still suspect those who do invite me of pulling my leg — pointing out it is abysmally bad, and getting worse instead of better, hardly makes me an expert after all), and thus I am usually happy to comply, especially when the invitation comes from a friend (yes, Grace, and by the way, you still owe me for risking snow blindness testing Dazzle). But when my friend Rick van der Wal recently invited me to comment on the discussion going on about « immersionism » versus « augmentationism » he had kicked off (or rather : rekindled) on his blog, I have been loath to comment. Particularly loath, I must say, not only because people I admire for their opinions and intelligence butted heads so hard the sparks flew (though I must admit it is a tad intimidating), but mainly because, simply, I don’t get the whole discussion. At all.

Call me stupid.

Well, actually, I prefer to be called other things (chérie, for instance, is veeery nice, though some people make my heart flutter as much when they call me vicieuse — you know who you are), but stupid will do for the time being. Because I must be missing something seeing how heated the debate gets. Which is why I decided to post my misgivings here, and hope for my peers and betters to point out what I have missed. Please be kind.

Always one for delaying the bashing by a display of good research (who said I hated dazzle ?), I’ll start by pointing out that I am indeed aware of the discussion having gone on for quite some time, as well as of its roots in the debate surrounding the advent of voice in the SL Y-K-W client. I have read Henrik Bennetsen’s Augmentation vs Immersion on the SL Y-K-W wiki ; admired Argent Bury’s manifesto, Taking a Stand and Sophrosyne Steenvag’s Open Letter To My Augmentationist Friends for their clearness and radicalness of thought — though I find myself unable, and unwilling to follow these two down the path of styling myself a fully autonomous digital being. I am aware they are considered the ultimate immersionists. I also know many of the bloggers and SL Y-K-W personalities I most admire side with them, to a different degree — Dandellion Kimban, Gwyneth Llewelyn, Grace McDunnough just to name a few… forming a camp, to quote the wiki, pitted against another one of people who, well, do what exactly — regularly use SL Y-K-W without immersing themselves into it in the least ?

I don’t get that.

Yes, yes, Continue reading

Wild, wild west 2.0 continued

Sometimes, you just stumble over something and think « my thoughts exactly ». Now I admit this happens rarely to me, as I am a chronic dissenter, but Doug McMahon’s statement « Why » he is developing a Constitution for the Metaverse (while admitting to not using Second Life You-Know-Where actively, fancy that) strikes me as the straight continuation of my own thoughts in « Wild, wild west 2.0 ».

The question of why I would seek to draft a constitution for the metaverse, and why I think it might need one, is an obvious one. I genuinely believe that any online world in which users seek some kind of autonomy from the real world cannot function satisfactorily without one. To this you might reply that Second Life You-Know-Where, the leading metaverse, seems to be doing just fine. But I would question whether the benevolent dictator model for metaverses is really sustainable. All the power in Second Life You-Know-Where is concentrated in the hands of Linden Labs, they are the archetypal judge, jury and executioner with the added twist that they are also the law makers and the executive in the world. I am by no means accusing Linden Labs of anything underhand in this, I recognise the efficacy of this for their business model and that without it the world may not exist, but I am questioning whether this is a system under which one would or should chose to live.

The fundamental goal of a constitution is to distribute power in such a way that it allows for a fully functioning society whilst protecting the individual from the state. The goal is the rule of law – power under law, not under men. To those who resist the introduction of law into the metaverse I say this: first, it need not look like the law of the real world, indeed it should not look like the law of the real world; second, law is already pervasive in the metaverse, in the form of the ToS document, copyright and contract law, law suits brought in the real world concerning metaverse events. The only way to restrict the impact of laws not suited to the metaverse is for the metaverse to have its own.

I think we might have to watch this one…

Wild, wild west 2.0

Two weeks ago, I had my first experience of griefing. Somebody entered my home unasked (and we are talking of a skybox over 500 m up, with closed privacy drapes at that) ; I hit « eject and ban » in reflex, and after some fruitless IM exchange my « visitor » started some silly scripted device flooding my screen in green chat. I then did what a good SL Y-K-W citizen is meant to do : I filed an Abuse Report in world, complete with the required screenshot, location and situation resume. Shortly afterwards, I got a polite if obviously boilerplate mail from the abuse report team telling me my report had been received, would be investigated and that I would be notified of the results.

That was two weeks ago.

Now, I could wave this off and tell myself I have learned the hard way never to forget re-enabling my alarm system after a visitor left. The fact is that I do use a scripted alarm and ejection system since I built my skybox — I never relied on the Linden’s enforcement of the TOS, my co-Second Lifers’ You-Know-Where denizens respect for other resident’s privacy and what should be common sense and good manners enough to believe I could leave my home unsecured.

But the Lindens’ complete failure to react rankles. All right, I can hear the old hands hooting with laughter at the thought of anybody in SL Y-K-W below concierge level expecting any kind of reaction to what was, ultimately, « only » a breach of privacy and some minor harassment. It still sucks. So much, actually, that it begs for some thought what kind of environment we live in. Continue reading