Resistance is Not Futile

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Dusan, you did it again! We may not always agree (though there really only has been that one time; I posted my counterargument, and that was that), but one thing you never fail to do is: make me think.
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Enough of the personal messages disguised as introduction. ;) Dusan Writer posted “The Web, Drifting Into View” on his blog, based in turn on a piece by David Gelernter, “Time to Take the Internet Seriously”, published in Edge.

One aspect of virtuality in general, and Second Life in particular, about which Dusan and I have never parted company is its culture (I’m tempted to capitalize the word — Culture — because it carries that much weight). My guess is that, if you were to ask each of us what we mean, we wouldn’t answer the same way… but that doesn’t mean that we don’t grok each other. So, what do I mean by culture? Commonality: shared experience; shared symbology and language; shared worldview; shared purpose; shared philosophies of what is “right behavior”, and why, and how to coax it from people… in the case of Second Life, I’ll even borrow from archaeology and include a shared “tool kit”. The operative word, obviously, is shared.

Dusan waxes more eloquent (as is his wont):

Where else on the Web can you literally walk forward into a future that’s being crafted and created as we walk through it? And where else can you do so where other people share the space with you and may be altering it and changing it as we walk?
Second Life is nowness without uniformity. Second Life is presence without the lumbering pressure of the algorithm, of homogeneity. Nowness is spiritual and ennobling, but only when our presence in time is our presence in our own truth.
Second Life is time made visible, history made concrete. A building, a texture, my library of photos of long-forgotten sims aren’t CONTENT, they’re shared histories, and they’re organic, growing, changing, collaborated upon…

Another attitude Dusan and I share about the culture of Second Life is concern about its endangerment; how trends imposed upon it from outside — by Linden Lab itself, no less — threaten to dilute it, or wash it completely away.

The more we side bar data and Web-ify it, the more we lose the value of the prim itself, its power as an information atom, and its ability to be assembled with other atoms to create richer meaning than a Wiki, a blog, or a MySpace page.
If our nowness is presence in the uniformity of Facebook we’re only one cog in an algorithm, our domain of expression of our personal “now” is narrowed, confined, lessened.
…socially connecting me to 200 people whose names I don’t know in Avatars United doesn’t mean I’ve connected with more people, it means that rather than me drifting into view people have collected me like a baseball card, I’m a Facebook profile now, when what I prefer is to slip into the back of a dance club and listen to the conversation wander and float.

I believe the concerns are real, and they are certainly shared by (some) other Residents who write in the SLogosphere and forums. The question then arises, “What can be done to preserve and maintain this amorphous, evolving thing we call culture, without causing further harm by trying somehow to ‘enforce’ it with rigidity and the denial of its natural right to change?” The answer is elusive; the attempt to enumerate points imposes the very rigidity we are trying to avoid. Nevertheless, I don’t believe the task is as daunting as might be first thought, and there are two examples from the real world to back me up.

To set the stage: Gelernter made this his Point #31 (which Dusan also quoted):

The net will never become a mind, but can help us change our ways of thinking and change, for the better, the spirit of the age. This moment is also dangerous: virtual universities are good but virtual nations, for example, are not. Virtual nations — whose members can live anywhere, united by the Internet — threaten to shatter mankind like glass into razor-sharp fragments that draw blood. We know what virtual nations can be like: Al Qaeda is one of the first.

Mr. Gelernter is mistaken. The first “virtual nation” to make an indelible mark on history was forcibly created in 70 C.E. It exists to this day, and is commonly called the Jewish Diaspora. Despite centuries of iniquities performed against them (which I hope needn’t be enumerated here), they survived — at times, they flourished — and even picked up a few additional members along the way, myself being one.

The success of my first example in preserving their diverse, evolving culture in exile in the face of such adversity caused my second example to consult the first for advice. In 1990, His Holiness the Dalai Lama invited a cross-section of intellectual Diaspora Jewry to Dharamsala, India — the “capital” of Tibet-in-exile — precisely for that purpose. A great deal else was learned in the process; it is described as a personal experience by Rodger Kamenetz in his 1994 book The Jew in the Lotus (which I strongly recommend to Jews, Buddhists, and those “Juddhists” in between who have already discovered the striking similarities, as well as to curious goyim).

A virtual “nation” or culture is not dangerous merely because it lacks a physical homeland. Nor is a culture founded in a virtual “homeland” irrevocably endangered by adversity thrust upon it. Resistance is not futile; you may refuse to assimilate.

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10 responses to “Resistance is Not Futile

  1. So well said, thank you.
    One issue that is different though…
    While no one can take away our real world,
    Linden Research can remove our virtual world
    with the flipping of a switch, and I fear the finger is approaching the switch.

  2. Hi, Brinda… nice to see you drop in. :)

    Linden Research (dba Linden Lab) can remove their virtual world by flipping that switch. It's a Sword of Damocles we've lived beneath ever since SL opened.

    They are, however, no longer the only VW in town. I invite you to read my post “Virtual Pioneer”, and urge you to join OSGrid (or some other OpenSim grid) as, at least, a user, thereby preserving your avatar's name.

    While it's true that entering another grid amounts to a “do-over” in terms of appearance and inventory, it's also an exciting challenge. And just imagine… if your computer can host it, a Benares region in OSGrid that doesn't cost you a cent.

  3. I totally agree, Lalo, I think it has gone too far to stop now.

    If LL 'flattens' the SL experience into a weblike stupidity the diaspora will take to the life rafts (OSGrid) and a simple teleporting between them will not be far off.

    Culture can, as with your example of Tibet, grow stronger thro adversity. Imagine how, if all Tibetans were as rich as Americans and secure in their homeland, commercial media and corporations could have diluted that culture into the universally accepted garbage that we all have to endure instead of appreciating that they are the guardians of a unique worldview and history.

    I would expect that to happen with SLers too, eventually permeating the OSGrid with their shared experiences and abilities.

    Maybe, eventually, everyone will have their own grid like everyone now has a blog.

  4. Thank you…I did read “Virtual Pioneer”,
    and the PC will stand it easily -^..^-.

    Hmmm….need to find that carrot I've hidden…
    Poly won't take well to the stick!

  5. Interesting concept, Miss Emilly: A virtual culture that doesn't restrict itself to one ephemeral homeland, but many.

    And by the way, have you joined Transworlders yet? The link is just to the right —–>

    I advocate the OpenSim grids, as opposed to Blue Mars, mostly for “ease-of-use”. They are based on SL software (both server and viewer), so — if you just want to visit, and not host your own region(s) — there's no learning curve.

    BTW, I would love to see a Caledonian presence in OSGrid! I'm not a role-player, but I do enjoy visiting Caledon (and associated regions, like Winterfell) — and Guv'nah Desmond has earned my respect through his thoughtful posts at the SLUniverse forum… as you have, through your blog. :)

  6. Our talented content creators with Windows systems that are very powerful (such as many Caledonians) may find Blue Mars attractive. I am unlikely to go, even if I were to put Boot Camp and Windows 7 on my Mac, because the bar to content-creation is simply too high. If I need a grid without UGC for educational tasks, I'll just use Heritage Key.

    I'm working on a post about what OS needs to get the edu market in, but right now it's at least good enough for pioneers.

    I don't think, however, that a Web-based client will lessen immersion. If Unity permits good communication between avatars, it could be the magic client I've long sought. My students just don't find SL immersive because they want to connect–and this is the Millennial preference–on laptops, wireless, even portable devices. I'm not even sure I'll use SL next year in classes; I certainly won't use OpenSim worlds (other than Heritage Key) unless some issues such as search, maps, and more get resolved.

    If we want to change the world, as I and many fellow educators do, we need the thinking masses like the kids I teach. They are bound to become the leaders of industry, the academy, and the public sector.

    If, however, we want a ratified salon of fellow brilliant gridnauts, well, we already have that.

  7. Pingback: Re: Version | Telling: Like it Is

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