[iDC] Virtual Worlds, Education, & Labor

patrick lichty voyd at voyd.com
Sun Mar 4 23:12:58 EST 2007

As mentioned before, I'm not totally convinced about the whole L thing,
but it seems to be my area of research, and where I seem to be located.

And as new Columbia College island admin, I made a few decisions.

First, admissions asked if we could do a reconstruction of the campus.  

Personally, I don't understand this.  It's very odd that human
architecture remains in a space where you can fly, etc.  

My vision for the Columbia site is a place for experimentation, live
media streaming, and for information dissemination to prospective
students and existing ones. My department teaches 3D modelin and game
design, and it makes sense for us to use Sl at this time, and better to
put the fine artists in charge ;)

Therefore, no virtual representation of the physical campus.  Period.

However, I intend to have galleries for our annual festival, links to
departments and information, virtual t-shirts, departmental sandboxes,
and media servers.  Hopefully, our architecture will depend more on
small textures than geometry, like Emily Carr.  That way, we can look at
basics of form, and concentrate on function.

Makes no sense to duplicate the physical in the virtual, although a lot
of the rules are similar, many others are totally different.

Patrick Lichty
- Interactive Arts & Media
  Columbia College, Chicago
- Editor-In-Chief
  Intelligent Agent Magazine
225 288 5813
voyd at voyd.com
"It is better to die on your feet 
than to live on your knees." 

-----Original Message-----
From: idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net
[mailto:idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net] On Behalf Of Trebor Scholz
Sent: Saturday, March 03, 2007 10:28 PM
To: IDC list
Subject: [iDC] Virtual Worlds, Education, & Labor

After the OurFloatingPoint event at Emerson College, over some green
string beans and tofu, I talked with the organizers about the value of
Emerson buying an island in SecondLife
(SL) for a thousand dollars in order to build a representation of their
First Life campus. (Monthly service costs are about $250.) I still don't
quite get it.  

Emerson and Harvard replicated their First World architecture in SL. [1]
SecondLife simply becomes a novel Public Relations interface. By
re-creating our existing institutions in the
virtual world, we loose a chance to re-think these knowledge factories
untied from the restrictions of economical restrictions. Nevertheless,
Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet &
Society uses their SL campus to offer courses open to the "public" and
Emerson even experiments with 3D modeling classes and authors artworks. 

Berkman's use of its campus for long-distance learning ("courses open to
the 'public'") is not interesting for me as there are only few examples
of this kind of "e.learning" that made
sense to me. Years ago, I used to take classes into Habbo Hotel in order
for the students to get to know each other in this environment. That
worked well, but why do we need to buy
our own turf? Why do we need a replication of our own campus? Why not
rather build a Black Mountain College with a Bauhaus Annex? Why teach in
this virtual environment? Will
SecondLife become a 3D version of Wikipedia, a virtual knowledge bank
that offers a playful and fun interface to participant-generated
content? Will students simply demand such
playful access to knowledge?

Josephine Dorado's Kids Connect project nicely illustrates some
affordances of SL. [2] Avatars add a bit of social bandwidth and I
respect Josephine's argument that SL offers a sense
of connectedness that is hard to measure. Brian Holmes warns us that
many fantasy scenarios are "deeply instrumentalized, and most often in
the service of powerful agendas, put
into effect by groups which have the ability to manipulate the basic
parameters of our environments, be they 'virtual' or 'actual.'" I agree;
the biggest problem with SL is that it is a
proprietary space. 

The creative *labor* of the very very many financially benefits the very
few. Monetary value is created in many ways (mere presence à la
attention economy, creation of profiles,
production of 3D objects, import of media content). Labor, with the
Italian philosopher Paolo Virno, has become performance, the act of
being a speaker. Labor is tied to speech acts
and communication systems. [3] To paraphrase the old saying: The
greatest trick that capital ever pulled was convincing the world that
labor didn't exist. Labor, with most physical
production work (except service, of course) now moved to the global
south, becomes a "casualized," often distributed, immaterial activity
that is even mistaken as leisure or plain
"fun." It took peoplea while to realize that online architectures
reflect the political post-Fordist structures of First Life. In 1992,
for example, Digitale Stad was set up with the idea to
"design a complex, multi-layered system that operates largely on the
basis of the city metaphor." The experiment did not work out. 

Today, online architectures do not just simply mirror "First Life
Capitalism," but the absence of awareness of servitude* is radically
new. The Frankfurt School philosopher Herbert
Marcuse put it well: "All liberation depends on the consciousness of
servitude." This holds more true today than ever; many people in the US
actually think that they are "happy" and
perceive this distributed labor of the sociable web as a fun leisure
activity. "We would do it anyway." The community becomes the product. I
opened up these questions at Emerson-- 

"(Un)ethical Capitalism and Sociable Web Media" (video cast, download
m4b file, 11.4mb-- open in Quicktime, resize, duration: 40 minutes)

What do YOU think about the exploitation of labor in sociable web media
and virtual worlds in particular? Are there alternatives? Already after
a short look at the demo of Solipsis, "the
pure peer-to-peer system for a massively shared virtual world" (and
potential alternative to SL), it seemed rather disturbing in terms of
its US-centrism. [4]

I imagine SecondLife, currently in its early stages, as a useful place
for a kind of rapid prototyping also in activist contexts. On the other
hand, there is the danger that Second Life
could just become a valve for social tension that should rather be
played out in First Life, I partially agree with Charlie Gere. (A
virtual speakers corner.) SL is ecologically harmful, I
welcomed Julian Bleeker's reminder that there is no SecondLife without
the materiality/resources of First Life. Giselle Beiguelman points to
the cinematic "observation of the second
order,” with the avatar a step removed from us. This site could be a
liberating place for experimentation with identity. What SL will be,
remains to be seen; for now it requires the
same kind of skill set that other participatory cultures call for; a
toolbox that allows us to handle these environments in a way that serves
our best interests and is aligned with our
values and aspirations. 


[1] Harvard's Berkman Center in SL

[2] Kids Connect Project


[4] Solipsis

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