studies of second life (part ııı)

the third and last part of my interview with sl social anthropologist tom bukowski.

does he see any dangers with second life? “oh, of course,” bukowski answers. “there’s all the griefing that can happen. and, as many people have said, time in sl is time not in the actual world, so it can detract some people away from it.” he insists that all technologies, computers, tv, internet and cars, seem to be quite value neutral. “they can have positive or negative consequences, it’s really an issue of the human side of the equation.”

he says that when he talks about creative capitalism, he also asks the reader to think about what’s at stake in having a world like sl, that’s completely built around capitalism, around commodities, owned by a for-profit company. “you can do all kinds of non-profit and communal things in sl, but at it’s base, it’s a world built on the assumptions of a very particular form of capitalism, assuming that land can be owned, that ideas can be owned, that creativity is the source of value, and so on. which isn’t necessarily bad, but it can have negative consequences.”

so is it a vehicle for neo-liberalism? “exactly. sl completely presupposes neo-liberalism as it’s set up right now. as an anthropologist, i always want to keep away from making value judgements as long as possible, becuase the rush to pass judgement short-circuits taking the time to think through the issues. so i’m not saying that the neo-liberalist basis of sl is bad. but it’s there. and it’s definitely worth talking about.”

he says it’s possible to imagine, for example, a communist sl. “just as a thought experiment. not to say that would be better, but just to ask: how would that change the ideas of identity? community? property?”

“one problem with the whole world of blogs and comments and such is that people rush to judgement so fast they don’t engage in those kinds of thought expeiriments, or take the time to really learn what’s going on. too often there’s an assumption if you stop to ask those questions you’re saying ‘i want communism’ – which obviously isn’t the point.”

we’re about to close the conversation. i only need to ask bukowski two more questions – both of which are quite huge. the first is: how has second life changed since he started?

“one of the most obivous changes is the much larger number of people and amount of land. and connected to that: subcultures that can be quite independent, like gor, furry, but also all kinds of other communities that were small or not around early on. also, the huge growth of business and educators in sl. when i started my research, avalon island (rivers run red) was the only company in sl, really, and no offical educational activities – just a couple of college classes where students explored sl. now, the business and education stuff is huge.”

he says the development is somewhat parallel to how in the mid 1990s, the business world discovered the internet. “that didn’t ruin the internet. the other stuff kept going, just new layers were added on, which seems to be what’s happening here too. more of everything on a broad level.”

bukowski names a man called henrik bennetsen, who did research on “immersionists” versus “augmentationists” in sl – immersionists meaning people wanting to keep sl and rl separate, augmentationists seeing sl as adding to rl and connected to it. “there’s definitely more augmentation stuff now, especially with the businesses. but the immersion stuff is still here, and in fact there is more roleplay and more kinds of roleplay, for instance, than early on.”

my second question is: is second life what internet will look like in five years? will everybody have an avatar? bukowski excuses himself: “i’m not a futurist, i’m an anthropologist, so i focus on what is in the present, not speculation on the future, so i can’t speak with any authority here. but my guess would be that not everything will go 3d, or that the internet will be all like sl. but there will be much more presence of virtual worlds in people’s lives i think.

he finds it interesting how technologies sometimes replace older technologies, but sometimes things layer and transform. “the telegraph is dead. but the telephone, which is nearly as old, is stronger then ever thanks to cellphones. so i suspect it will be more of a layering thing – not that virtual worlds will replace stuff done on the current 2d internet, but that it will open up possibilities never really considered before.”

the university of california, davis, has a second life installation on schizophrenia which aims to give you a bit of the experience of what it’s like to live with the illness. bukowski mentions that as an example of something that would be hard to do on the regular web.

“phillip linden gives another example: if you are on amazon.com, looking at books; at any time of the day, there are 10,000 or 20,000 people online at the same time as you – but you have no way of knowing that, or interacting with them. so if it was a virtual world, you could chat with other people about what they were reading. get ideas for new books, even meet authors. it’s an interesting thought.”

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~ by theresecarfagno on July 31, 2007.

4 Responses to “studies of second life (part ııı)”

  1. Gosh, this is an interesting post (and the others), so much to digest, I’ll have to print them off and read at leisure (I find it hard to do that on screen).

    Thanks for posting these Therese.

  2. Thanks for reading, Caterin. I know it’s a little too much to put on a blog, but at the same time I felt it was too interesting not to be published.

    I promise my next post will be something shorter and with a funny picture :–)

  3. I love the interview, Therese. Very interesting! Thanks for posting the entries. Now, if we could get you to use capital letters in conventional places, we’re really be grooving. :D

  4. Haha, Veronique. The initial thing was to write this blog like I write in-world, but I guess it will be easier to read if I put in some capital letters here and there.

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