Monday, February 26, 2007

What's on First?

I am sad that The London Review of Books article, Jowls are Available by Jenny Diski, is dead wrong. I love the writing style of Diski, but I wish she would have explored SL to its fullest. Sadly, it appears that she, like so many critics, stood at the door to form her opinion.

The first great mistake is that Diski only sees SL as a game; "It’s called a game though there is no goal and no end point at which a clear winner emerges and takes the prize." I have accidentally called it a game, and I have stood corrected. It isn't a game; it is a MUVE, and there are incredible differences between the two. If this was her foundation, and she was looking for that final prize to win, then, certainly, she had the wrong perspective the whole time.

The second mistake is that Diski assumes that the majority of residents in SL are homebody creatures without the RL resources to have culture. She claims that "Second Life is organised and inhabited by beings from the real world who have by definition very little experience of being anywhere or any way else." Untrue, my dear. I challenge her to meet Charlie and Becca Nesson from Harvard. I challenge her to meet the residents - non-academic- speaking 4 and 5 languages. I challenge her to meet the many residents, as I have, that travel the world. I have met more persons with "breeding" than not...but perhaps it is because I was willing to step into the world and not just hang out in the newbie areas?

The third mistake is that Diski believes that 'there is no second life on Second Life, only more of the same old first and only one, but cartoon-shaped." Again, this is a short-sighted perception. Perhaps she didn't see the right places? Perhaps she didn't look? I question her methods and criteria, frankly. WHAT did she look at to form her opinion? Where did she go? There is a whole lot that is similar, but, again, only if you stand on the corner and peek through the window. If you get INTO the culture, you find much more depth.

She also claims that she couldn't find political activism - when RL organizations like the ACLU are present in SL and offer support to SL residents. Further, groups like Code Pink (Women against War) use SL as a place to spread their political messages. There are lot of RL groups spreading their messages by hosting talks, memorials, etc. But, again, I am not sure she would have seen that standing on the corner.

Her comments remind me very much of people who say they have been to France, but, in reality, have only ever been in the airport waiting for a transfer flight to somewhere else. You can't judge a culture by what they offer in the snack machine. You have to explore the land; you must find the nooks and crannies. This is true in real life, and it is true in Second Life.

It is very easy to see SL as just a copy of a FL with glitter. The better reporter is the one that figures out why sooooo many people choose to spend time and money building this alternate universe.


Harry Pence said...

I will only second what Beth said, Second Life is such a complex environment that it is impossible to really understand it after a short experience. Unfortunately, it is easier to attack something new that have become very popular than it is to try to understand WHY it has become popular. (And that kind of attack also gains more attention to the attacker, which may be what is basically involved.) SL allows me to engage in a vast conversation on every topic that can be imagined and to talk to people who have expertise in every area know to the human mind. It is an intellectual feast, and if it is a game, then it is the most creative and intellectual game I have ever encountered.

kimbowa said...

The scope of the discussion is fascinating, although I often suspect that the journalists who drop in for 5 minutes and pass judgement really do miss the point. Like many undertakings, unless you invest something of yourself in the endeavour - time, money, identity, trust, etc - there is often very little in the way of meaningful reward.

SL is still essentially an experimental platform and most of the big players, researchers and businesses are exploring the possibilities. Investment could be seen as R&D. There is going to be a major shift in the way we use the web.. SL may or may not present a window into the future… but is fairly sure to play a major role in defining the metaphors that will be used in shaping new interfaces.

While much of the rankling is ill-informed and amusing on some level, I think some of the reporting needs to rise above hearsay and conjecture and move towards a more considered analysis of the entire scope of activity within such worlds.

Intellagirl said...

What a great analysis of such a horrible report. You're right on! I suppose it's up to us, those who are not only IN the world but are also able to look around with critical eyes, to set them all straight.

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