About szanne

I'm the Assistant Director of pICT -- People, Information and Communication Technologies Program at San Diego State University. pict.sdsu.edu

Lifecasting – Reality 2.0

I had heard about lifecasting earlier this year. It’s getting more popular as this article in the LA Times shows. Strap a webcam to yourself a cast your life.

I never got into reality shows. And since I have a Second Life, my TV’s been in the shed out back. I can watch Desperate Housewives online.
I like these kinds of trends because at their core they redistribute discourses. The argument is of course that most peoples’ lives are not “entertaining,” and that there will always be a desire for “high quality” entertainment. From the industry’s point of view, that’s a point. From my point of view, TV on the whole is not high quality entertainment.
Looking at trends likes these is more about looking at life in 10-20 years. TV viewing is already the domain of primarily BabyBoomers.

Let’s wait and see.

Meaning well – Designing well

Just reviewing Hooks’ Teaching to Transgress and Palmer’s The Courage to Teach, both of which focus on the humanity of teaching. I think most of us involved with technology and teaching get the importance of “keeping the humanity” alive. I’m concerned that the folks who are a bit skeptical about technology, or a design approach to teaching and learning will do more harm than good when they get their hands on new tools. I’m seeing in the Second Life educational community a lot of projects and approaches which mean well, but really aren’t effective because of a lack of understanding about the technology, the context, how people learn and how to design learning. These are more important than in a Hooks’ kind of classroom because when things don’t go right, the humanity can only go so far at appeasing the frustration, boredom, confusion, etc.
Only the most highly motivated learners will slog on through. DE (distance ed) is a case in point. Lot’s of miserably designed DE programs have given the approach a bad rap. The unfortunate thing in the case of DE, is that it can be a viable option for many learners, not just those who’ll slog through poor designs.

Getting to Me

What matters most is how my avatar evokes a me which allows me to immerse myself in the environment (Taylor, 2000).
My initial explorations and my play explorations have by and large occurred in mature areas dancing, chatting, etc. When I log-in and before I teleport somewhere, I get ready. I decide what I want to wear. It’s a mood thing. I’ve created several different outfits, with and without accessories. I’ve become very adept at changing clothes “on the fly.” My experience however is more like “I’m changing looks,” because in these social environments, all you are is “a look” on some level. It’s the same experience as in a RL nightclub.
But the experiences I have with other residents makes me think about the degree to which they do and don’t reveal, live out and embody their RL identity in SL. For example, my avi’s shape, height and weight is not entirely different than my biological body. I change my hair color regularly, but I have this sense of coming back to “me” when I’m in my dark hair.
My look (including my hair) is based on an overall aesthetic. I like contrast and simple lines. I like to bricolage a mix of sophistication, sexiness, casualness and coolness. I carry these preferences over from RL.
I’ve met a colorful assortment of residents, most of whom have human looking avatars. It’s occurred to me lately that there may be a fair number of people who’s avatars embody an ideal. And why not? I started thinking about all this when I met a cute woman at one club who told me she was 65 in RL.
I look at profiles usually before I start chatting with someone. There seem to be more or less the same number of people revealing and concealing their RL selves. Some simply write: What do you care about my RL. Or RL is RL and SL is SL. What I like so far about some of these folks is that they’re clear about play, fantasy and being immersed. And their avatars express that physically.
I understand however how different people have different ways of evoking a Me i order to experience immersion and how “holding on” to particular aspects of RL facilitate that. That’s part of my hair thing. Not only do I feel Me the most with dark hair, I have a distinctly different hair style, a bob. Most women have long, flowing styles. I tried that for a minute a felt very uncomfortable. The same is true with breast size and height, two pronounced features of your avatar. I adjusted mine smaller because I felt very uncomfortable. I wonder though if part of our avatar preferences has something to do with what we prefer to look at as well as what we prefer to project?

The Military Industrial Complex

It’s commonly thought that the notion of a Military Industrial Complex was the brainchild of Dwight D. Eisenhower. In fact, the establishment of the military academy, West Point, in 1802, birthed the idea. At a time when scientific knowledge was beginning to take center stage in colleges and universities, West Point, the first technical institute in the U.S., became the national center for scientific inquiry. “Under its’ auspices all sciences became pertinent to military purposes (Rudolph, 1962, p. 228).

Rudolph, H. (1962). The american college and university: A history. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.

Communicating in SL

Since the ubiquity of email, I write more than I talk. As voice chat gets going in SL, I’m curious how that’s going to affect communication. With text chat and IM, I truncate my speech and my thinking is naturally truncated too. I have had a deep conversation IMing in SL and it went well. When I’m in group settings with lots of people texting I notice the way the conversation moves, how and what participants text. The context isn’t conducive to long-winded messages but to short responsive, overlapping conversations. Our language has and will continue to change as we use it in new contexts. Emoticons and common abbreviations such as BRB (Be right back) or TY(Thank you) are two examples. Another is the ability to follow a chat with overlapping conversations.
But communication has other dimensions as well, such as our avatar’s body language and proximity to other avatars. I was recently being bumped and pushed repeatedly by a guy while I was dancing. I thought he was a noob (new resident) and learning how to control his avatar. It was odd. I IMed him to ask him to stop but he didn’t. He IMed me and said he didn’t like how I was dancing. I retorted equally agressively and he continued pushing me until he pushed me into the water. My system crashed before I could report the abuse.
I was in my male identity. The dance animation I was using, I’d got from from one of the female avi’s there. My interpretation is that my dancing style was too feminine for him. His Avi was very masculine, my male avi is not. I IMed him because IMing is private and I didn’t want to make the incident public at the time. Had I been chatting the interaction, things might have gone differently. Others would have been a part of our conversation; they would have “witnessed” it more clearly. It’s difficult to say to what degree others had noticed his abusive behavior.

“If you have a chance to have a second life, why don’t you.”

A wise friend said this to me after I told her about some of my SL experiences. It was in response to my stories and reflections about revealing one’s RL identity. I should preface by saying that these stories come from experiences I’ve had in social venues where there is mature content and activity. In these sims, a fair number of people deliberately explore fantasies, other’s perhaps not so deliberately, and certainly some not at all. You can sometimes tell from profiles who’s thought about identity, role playing, fantasy, etc.
I have an Alt (alternative avatar) whose RL identity is mostly hidden. In that profile, I’ve given some basic information I thought was important. No matter what you write, you’re revealing something about yourself. In fact, everything about being in SL (your looks, behaviors, the places you go, etc.) says something about your RL identity.
In my profile, I’ve given the languages I know because it says a lot about my RL and SL identity in an international context. And I’ve written that I live in southern California so that others know I’m likely American and I live in a cool place ;).
I think of identity as Who I am, which is different than the roles I play in life. In RL, I’ve noticed this distinction in women who are mothers. I’ve met women for whom being a mother is role and others for whom it’s their identity. This is but one example; there are many.
In this SL example, an RL paraplegic man runs a successful SL club as a paraplegic. In this video he talks about is RL, SL and identity.

Presence in 2 worlds: A mini experiment

I’ve made some friends from abroad, Germany mostly, and they’re 9 hours ahead of us. So I thought I’d hang out In World and see if they show up. In the meantime I can do other things, like read. I thought to myself so where should I go so that I can be In World but not feel compelled to interact with others. I don’t want to seem rude being in an active public space and being only partially attentive. So I went to a quiet island, and sat on a hill watching the waves roll in. That got boring. Fast.
I keep noticing that SL for me right now is about people and places. So I went to one of my hang outs and found a comfortable place to sit and watch people go by. I found a mediate object, so I meditated too. When I’ve seen people meditating, I usually don’t want to interrupt. So while my avi is meditating, I’ll be reading a book in RL (Real Life). I can easily switch my attention back and forth. When my friends come online, I get a popup and a bell. So it’s not unlike IM-ing in that my online presence is known to my friends. It’s much different though in that my avi’s presence is directly experienced by the residents surrounding me. Unless I go off on my own, I’m in a social context and feel compelled to act appropriately in it. Meditating in SL

Living Digitally–Presence

When I’m in a social setting like a club, where I don’t know anybody, it’s hard to get someone’s attention. You know people are there behind their avatars, but you don’t know how present they are necessarily until they do something. Dancing is one of those things that makes you feel like “you’re there.” Of course chatting is another way. When a resident is chatting, even if it’s not with me, I have the sense that s/he is there. Otherwise I don’t really know. Sometimes I’ll say hi to someone and get no response. That’s affected by the interface though. In the chats, everyone is talking to everyone. Unless you address someone with his/her name, s/he may not know you’re talking to them. Instant messaging is a way to avoid that because it’s a private conversation you have directly with that resident.
One day, I was standing around chatting with 2 to 3 residents. A few other folks came along, and gradually the chatting stopped. It was simply quiet. We were all standing there saying nothing. I thought it was very strange and alittle rude. A few days later I realized that some residents might have IMing each other, privately. So while their avatars were present they weren’t. It’s hard to tell what’s going sometimes because technical problems occur too.

Alone on an island in Second Life

I’m surprised and fascinated at how alone I feel in Second Life when no one is around. Someone else talked about this too, an extreme feeling of being in a deserted, lifeless place. It’s the oddest experience for someone who’s not at all uncomfortable with solitude.
I wonder what this feeling’s about. Of course if I were busied with building stuff then it might not be the same. But there’s something more, and it seems to driving my argument for exploring and experiencing In World/Out of World first and building later, if at all.
I can’t help but think of the “build orientation” as having to with colonization, a sense of material entitlement. There’s something very American about it, too, the drive to “own lots of whatever there is to own”. We don’t really see this about ourselves, how much stuff we own, just because it’s there and we can. Of course that’s only one way to look at it. I’d certainly be engrossed in building something for hours on end, like I could be creating music in Garageband.
To me, SL is a world that already has marvelous wonders to look at and experience, and along the way I’ll meet some wild people no doubt. I’m just not sure what’s so fun and interesting about being alone in my own little world, on my own little plot of land.