Archive for the ‘Society’ Tag

Caerleon Museum of Identity Explores the Question of Who We Really Are As Avatars

Botgirl Questi announced  that a new virtual art exhibit, the Caerleon Museum of Identity, will be opening on Saturday, October 2, at 12:00.  (Her press release was not specific, but I would assume that this is SLT.)  The announcement included a video clip:

You can read the full text of the press release at Botgirl’s blog.  With 18 artists represented in the exhibit, which will run through October, it promises to be a thought-provoking museum.

I say this because this exhibit goes to the point of one of the things that provokes discussion among people “living” and working in virtual worlds:  when we’re looking at an avatar, is that someone’s real identity there?  The anonymity of an avatar gives people wonderful flexibility — with this creation of bytes and pixels, we can be who we want to be, not what we really are.  For some, it’s wonderfully liberating; for others, it allows them to conceal aspects of themselves they’d prefer not to show.  But for all of us, we have to confront the question at least once:  is this what the person behind the other computer is really like?

Most of us play various roles in our RL day as it is, usually linked to our interactions with those around us.  We have one face for the customer in our store; another, a presumably looser version, for the co-workers when we’re in a private moment on the floor or in the back room.  Friends outside of work may see yet another, at a sports game or club-hopping.  Even our interaction with some family and relations, if not all of them, can be a form of role-play; we have favorite grandparents we love to visit, or abysmal aunts we wish would never stop by, and we either display our feelings, or conceal them as deeply as we can out of politeness’ sake.

But what happens when all of the cues built by society and the knowledge base of personal, direct interaction in a meeting are made invisible and irrelevant?

In Second Life, we only have what the person is showing us with words on a screen, or perhaps a voice; and, of course, the appearance they choose to build for themselves out of pixels and prims.  For all we know, the rampaging extrovert with chopped, grungy hair, greasy leather clothes and piercings in places never dreamed of, might be in RL a dramatically shy wallflower with clean, tied-back hair, an ultraconservative wardrobe, and never even piercings for earrings.  Indeed, they might not even be the sex they’re portraying themselves as.  And then,of course, there are the furries, dragons, fae and aliens teleporting all over the place.  One of my favorite avatars from my days at the Blarney Stone was a blue fox.  That surely wasn’t what the person was in real life!

You may want to check out this exhibit while it’s open.  Hang around for a while and meditate on the studies; see what these artists’ thoughts evoke in you.  I haven’t seen this yet, though I may attend the bloggers’ preview on Friday.  But my experience and training tell me that the best art make you think, opens up your senses to a new reality, or a new take on reality.  This virtual world we love and deal in is a reality in itself that needs new thoughts, new philosophers to work out its parameters.  Perhaps the Caerleon Museum may begin the walk toward such an exploration.

Teleport to the exhibit.

New Machinima by Sam Lowry

Thanks to Hamlet Au and New World Notes….

Sam Lowry, a French Resident of Second Life, did the above machinima, which I discovered at Ham Au’s article.  (There’s an excellent stream of comments going on there currently.)

Sam celebrates some of the nicer builds on the Grid, such as Omega Point.  (Again, if your interested, see  the New World Notes article for SLurls to the sites.)  However, the opening of the film contends how, over seven years, the original creativity of the Grid’s Resident founders has given way to such things as the lust for lucre and the Drama Llama.  And there is some sense in this.

New, semi-Utopian societies such as Second Life — yes, there is a degree of cultural cohesiveness to us avatars, and Philip Rosedale started the concept with a very Utopian vision of what it could be — frequently go through a progression that can be charted on a graph as a declining asymptotic curve.  In other words, the line starts out at a high peak, drops in a very steep descent as time advances, then flattens out as it approaches the base line, but never quite reaches zero.  Real World attempts at Utopia — and, by extension and Lowry’s argument, Second Life — follow this same path:  the initial converts enter with a high degree of enthusiasm.  Mighty, puissant works arise from this opening energy.  Then, as more and more people come into the society, they begin to mostly float on the surface without contribution by themselves, for whatever reason.  True Believers will still arrive periodically; but, as time wears on, they become a smaller and smaller percentage of the population.  It never quite reaches zero, but it becomes a fraction of what the society started out with.

This is what has happened in Second Life.  The initial Residents of Linden World had to be creative, because there was almost nothing there.  Those avatars are the ones that forged the Grid out of white-hot prims, fresh from the foundry and the blacksmiths’ anvils.  As time passed, however, and more people joined Second Life, the population trend skewed away from the creative side to the commercial side.  Now it’s getting gradually to the people who are just turistas, ones who don’t want to do anything besides walk about and soak it in.  They look on the Grid more as the game that many contend it is, and have no great desire to do anything creative with it.  Others may have the creative spark, but lack the time, ambition, or resources (financial or otherwise) to pursue their dreams.  This majority, incidentally, are the ones who shape the cultural norms in many ways, and do so by importing their RL sensibilities and foibles onto the Grid.  There, by the magic of computers, they get multiplied and accelerated a thousand fold (grin), and thus you have the appearance of that thespian quadruped mentioned above, as well as the search for Instant Riches from Second Life!

This is not dissimilar to the Real World, if you think of it.  Consider, just in the United States:  out of a population of over 300 million souls, what percentage are actively in any of the creative arts?  And what percentage out of that subgroup are successful at it, in terms of making a steady, reliable income at it?  Expand that out to the world population as a whole, and you’ll find similar numbers.  In any society, you’ll find the extreme minority who offer the creativity.  Some would call them an elite, especially since they are often the ones who contribute the most original and daring ideas, but I shy away from that concept.  Any road, the creatives never disappear, but they become only a fraction of the overall population as the population increases.  The majority by far are content with the status quo, and simply schlep through (for lack of a better term).

Is Second Life then doomed to descend into decadence and decay?  Is this a terrible thing?  Is the Imminent Death of the Grid Predicted?  Only time will tell for sure, but I don’t think so.  This is simply a normal progression; and, while not necessarily desirable from a creative viewpoint, is inevitable as long as avatars are not lifeforms in themselves.  On the day that avatars “wake up”…well, then we may have other things to worry about, like What Is The Matrix.

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