Sunday, June 23, 2013

open atmosphere, take me anywhere

(The below photographs all come from the "Passage of Time" exhibit at SL10B in Pizzazz. Part one is here.)

(from the events album; the "Passage of Time" exhibit in Pizzazz)

I was on the grid in September of 2006. I was working at the Enigma still--my first, and, in some ways, best job on the grid--when the hacks began. Between "grey goo" infestations, rezzed-out pose items spontaneously ceasing to work, and griefing objects in a dizzying and disorienting array, we also had the first major hacking strike to the SL servers themselves. It would not be the last.

(from the events album; the "Passage of Time" exhibit in Pizzazz)

I have heard distant (and unfounded) rumors that gambling may be making a comeback. I'm not putting any faith in them right now, but I do agree that when gambling services and virtual banks left the grid, the grid economy never really recovered. Granted, there were large (and occasionally, scarily corporatized) interests behind the gambling industry, but on the ground, all we saw was commerce easily flowing, rent being fairly effortless to pay, and a naïve sort of financial exuberance (with an accompanying naïveté as to exactly what was happening).

(from the events album; the "Passage of Time" exhibit in Pizzazz)

The launching of Windlight I remember most vividly by how jarringly unhappy my graphics card was with the system. At this point, three entire engines later, changing Windlight settings is as effortless as thought...but at the time, it was a terrifying, unnatural thing for me.

(from the events album; the "Passage of Time" exhibit in Pizzazz)

It's still hard to believe that five celebrations ago, the controversial "no nipples" policy of SL5B was enacted by fiat. Of course, soon after Ursula-then-Zindra rose as the new Adult continent, and we all discovered we had bigger things to worry about.

From the transcript of Mitch Kapor's closing keynote remarks from SL5B:
So the first is, in the earliest wave of pioneers in any new disruptive platform, the marginal and the dispossessed are over represented, not the sole constituents by any means but people who feel they don't fit, who have nothing left to lose or who were impelled by some kind of dream, who may be outsiders to whatever mainstream they are coming from, all come and arrive early in disproportionate numbers.

It was the way the west in the U.S. was settled. It is the way Second Life has been settled. And in fact those early pioneers find a very arduous environment. In the early days, you really have to want to be here because life in certain ways is very very difficult, in fact too difficult for most people. It is unavoidable in some sense that there will be a very high attrition rate in the early years while a platform is being built out. It doesn't stay that way of course, it can't, but the difficulties of conditions cause those who stay to really bond together, have something in common.

And that sort of arduous frontier conditions really give these environments their charm and their character, but also their challenges [...] I think the larger prospect is bringing the value of Second Life and virtual worlds to the world at large. And to do so, it has to be opened up, it has to be made easier to use [...]

So the first thing is a much more realistic looking avatar and particularly for business meetings and meetings between people who know each other, the ability to look more like yourself when you want to, would be a positively good thing. And there are some technologies that have been developed that will create an extraordinarily realistic avatar out of a single digital photograph and a lot of algorithmic magic. These are not Second Life avatars yet, but they could be at some point.
I still find it baffling, and more than a little irritating, this insistence--from Kapor and others--that all anyone wants to do in Second Life is to log in painlessly, shop in permitted areas, and wander around looking as much like their RL selves as possible.

Don't mistake me--for those people who want to resemble their RL selves, I say more power to them. I have a friend who's done everything he can to match his RL self to his SL avatar, down to changing his in-world glasses and hair when they change. How'ver, far more of us want the creativity in SL to attach to our virtual selves as well.

Perceive it this way: I communicate one message when my RL self is in front of someone. Partially, that message is out of my control, because it rests within the viewer's internal perceptions of me or people like me. I only have my personality, my words, my body language, to communicate on my side of this interchange. Everything else rests on the perceptions of that viewer.

In SL, I can substantially increase the amount of communication on my side. Because it is my choice of presentation, my choice of avatar. Good or bad in the eyes of the viewer, these are choices I can and do make on a daily basis. As odd as many of my avatars have been (and still are), I have gone to scathingly few events where my choice of virtual appearance was wholly out of my control. In SL, what I think, what I feel, what I believe can become part of my avatar identity because of how I choose to appear on the grid--from footwear to ears and everything in between. It takes "Your World, Your Imagination" and makes it "My avatar, my identity".

While there is still perceptions on the part of any viewer that I do not control, it's far less haphazard than in RL, where I cannot as easily change hairstyle, eye color, skin color, and outfit. Which doesn't even factor in entire species shifts, or as Miss Neome is frequently seen in, avatars that are less "avatar" and far more "idealization of the perceived interior".

This is not a long-winded way of deriding people who choose to match their RL selves and their SL selves; it's a valid strategy, and for many people, it helps them adapt to virtual landscapes. But just as studies have shown that imagining a thing paves the way for that thing to happen (think studies that have proven a concrete link between disabled people visualizing walking, and subsequent physical muscle changes that would help them with the right equipment walk again), so it is with avatars. What we see ourselves as being, becomes part of our mental and emotional landscape beyond the grid; something Mitch Kapor denies at his peril.

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