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

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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

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

Second Life Guess

[I apologize for not being able to correct the title of this post so as to conform to the new trademark policy of Linden Research. A suggestion by the office of C. Linden and / or Linden Research’s censorship trademark lawyers is however pending]

Linden Lab’s ban on SL Y-K-W banks is in effect as of today, on the dot two weeks after it has been announced. Two weeks in which, in the words of Massively’s Tateru Nino :

…we’ve had protests – some assuredly genuine, some apparently staged – runs on banks (a sort of game of musical chairs, where everyone hopes not to be the one left standing when the music stops), and the usual commingled mish-mash of cheering, screaming, jesting and angry outbursts…

— much of it happening in the SL Y-K-W blogosphere (see my own round-up of it here). Now the grace period is over, the economic effect of the ban turns to have fallen somewhat short of the sky caving in, in fact seeming to be near to negligible for the SL Y-K-W economy as a whole (though I am sure that on the personal level, for people having lost money in the crash, this is an entirely different story).

Seeing that and the fact that Linden Lab seem nowhere close to reverting their decision, the discussion of the pro and con seems to have petered out somewhat. Artur Fermi stating in essence « Good riddance, and keep the hype down » on Your2ndPlace and Aldon Huffhines / Hynes arguing on SLNN that Linden Lab’s decision is ill conceived and drives needed financial services out of the official grid, and that LL should reconsider are more or less the last ones to battle it out. Prokofy Neva and Benjamin Duranske on the other hand have added most welcome shades of grey to the often black and white discussion by casting some light on the people behind the banks. So, what am I up to, besides fawning for some more pats on the back for my diligent compiling work ?

Well, there is a twist on the debate I find fascinating : Continue reading

Linden Lab en route to Hell, at last

The road to hell, it is said, is paved with good intentions. The same might be true of other destinations held akin to hell by individuals and organizations, though it is a matter of debate if these destinations would be considered such by anyone but the traveller. Take Linden Lab and governance for instance. One could argue the point that for the bunch of laid back coders and start-up entrepreneurs that constitute LL’s core, the notion of governance is by its very nature indeed hell. If it is, LL has taken a big step down that road, the biggest to date, and — of course — out of good intentions.

Hell ? Governance ? Girl, what are you gabbing about ?

Well, you will not have missed the fact that, with its New Policy Regarding In-World “Banks”, effective from January 22nd, Linden Lab has decreed what amounts to a total ban of in-world banking activities. This has been hailed, or at least acknowledged as inevitable, by observers as diverse as Benjamin Duranske, Prokofy Neva, Nobody Fugazi, Tateru Nino and Dusan Writer; dissenters have been few and in between, easily dismissed as either obvious lobbyists (for instance Arbitrage Wise, « CEO » of JT Financial) or as missing the point (see Lillie Yifu’s angry retort to Robert Bloomfield’s plea for a continuation of SL Y-K-W banking activities as a sandbox for RL studies). Not surprisingly, the decision sat far less well with depositors, who, on hearing the news, panically flocked to the ATMs to withdraw their deposits en masse before the impending closure of their « bank » (see Prokofy Neva’s superb on the spot reportage ; also the articles on Your2ndPlace and Massively), as well as being accompanied by cries of « despotism » on the comments everywhere. The whole thing simply reeks of RL déjà-vu.

Now I’m not going to discuss the pros and cons of the banking ban, nor of its implementation (try aforementioned Arbitrage Wise on Your2ndPlace, or Aldon Hynes on SLNN, a man also on record for saying it needed Colgate to bring smiling to SL Y-K-W avatars, for criticism of that). There is little my gut feeling and homebrew reasoning can contribute to what brighter minds have written. Neither am I going to ponder the question what the balance between scammers and little boys playing bank might have been ; being neither a lawyer, nor a theologian, I find the degree of inherent malice pretty irrelevant to my opinion of the impact of people’s actions.

What I do find interesting is why Linden Lab felt necessary to step in — and what this means for the future of Second Life as a society, a topic I hold dear since the spectacular failure of my first and only recurrence to in-world policing.

Gwyneth Llevelyn has summarized the three current theories about LL’s motivations. In a nutshell, these are : 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…

Age and Treachery

On the set of « A Fish Called Wanda » then 77-year old director John Crichton was given a t-shirt by his co-director John Cleese. It read

Age and Treachery Will Always Overcome Youth and Skill

Though this was meant as a joke about the significant age difference between the director and the rest of his crew, there is a moment of philosophical truth in this. Faced with a world ruled mainly by elder people with an entirely different background and set of interests, youthful talent is doomed to fail. Witness the departure from the Second Life Teen Grid You-Know-Where-for-Underagers of its whizz kid Katharine Berry, as announced in her blog.

For those of you who have never heard the name before, Katharine Berry is probably best known as the developer of AjaxLife, a web based Second Life You-Know-Where client which has allowed many people to maintain their social network on SL Y-K-W even when unable to install the SL Y-K-W client on a machine. I have been using AjaxLife on and off, myself, and have been full of admiration for the work of one single dedicated developer, a female one at that, always a sure way to win my sympathy. What I was not aware of before the announcement of Katharine’s withdrawal and the accompanying media coverage is that she is « only » 15 years old (an ageist reaction I will come back to later).

As befits to her being underage, Katharine has religiously stuck to using the Teen Grid you know where alone, gaining a track record there as a forum moderator, volunteer and provider of web services (all of these by now defunct). Exemplary one would say, were it not for the fact that it must have been a very disheartening experience. As she explains in more detail here, her main reason for leaving Second Life You-Know-Where is the complete state of neglect Linden Lab seems to leave the Teen Grid you know where in, and the low resident count which follows from this sorry state of affairs.

Now, like most Main Grid Second Lifers You-Know-Where denizens I presume, I have been entirely oblivious of what goes on on the Teen Grid you know where. Judging from Katharine’s comments on her departure, it hardly looks like an interesting offering for bright young minds. In fact, it looks suspiciously like an excuse everybody can agree on when it comes to excluding teens from Second Life You-Know-Where in general. By everybody, I do mean that Linden Lab aren’t the only ones at fault here, though they are obviously responsible for the sorry state of the thing, but that all of us Grid Second Lifers You-Know-Where denizens share a part of this. After all, we always point to the Teen Grid you know where as the place for underage Second Lifers You-Know-Where denizens to go whenever we squabble with the Lindens and each other over the value and founding of age verification. It is such a convenient fig leaf when we basically agree that everybody under legal age (and that means anybody below the age of 21, in some cases) should be excluded from participating in Second Life You-Know-Where. They have their own grid you know where, haven’t they ?

Katharine’s withdrawal alerts us to the fact Continue reading