[iDC] Second Life and activism, etc.

Scott Kildall scott at kildall.com
Thu Feb 22 17:37:36 EST 2007

I've been using in Second Life for about 8 months now. I first became  
interested in it as one model of online relational communities with  
MySpace/Friendster/Facebook being another dominant style. Since then,  
I've been very active in it as an artist -- generating 2D prints and  
also a member of an 8-person performance art group called Second Front.

Overhyped or not, hard to tell. But, it holds promise in pushing new  
social transmission models.

Consider this: Second Life has an appeal that MySpace doesn't in that  
it breaks with the standard (including Web 2.0) style of online  
activity. These involve a passive or semi-active webspace with  
content that gets updated on an hourly, daily, weekly basis. Any sort  
of immediacy is done through IM. Old hat.

SL becomes useful in that it offers re-spatialization of activity and  
a feeling of presentness. The universe it creates is similar to ours  
in the local sense: avatars consume space; only one can be in a  
doorway at a time, etc. But, it also offers super-hero powers: you  
can fly, teleport, etc. The technology is crude and does hit huge lag  
points. But, intuitively, it resonates.

Creating a sense of space that we are familiar with, yet with  
expanded exploratory powers offers something unique. The Orca ride  
that Joshua talks about pushes ourselves into chance encounters that  
draw people into environments like Second Life.

As far as social activism, its hard to tell how this will pan out.  
Mass publicity is still best done through e-mails and websites. But,  
unique experiences that make people laugh and form deeper bonds --  
this is where Second Life can excel.

Back to social transmission. One aspect of SL that I find interesting  
is that people create their unique avatars and after a little while,  
they pretty much stick with the look of their character. They develop  
communities and friendship networks -- places to go and things to do.  
But in a world where you can change skin color, gender and even  
species, you'd think there would be more experimentation. But, not so  

The other transmission element is from the SL user to the non-user. I  
find in personal conversations that many people are fascinated by the  
descriptions I provide. I've demonstrated the Second Life in a couple  
of talks and afterwards, there are always a few who immediately sign  
up. Many more ask questions. Others remain skeptical. It certainly  
provokes a reaction.

There is something to Second Life: linked to attachment to a  
simulated-physical being in re-spatialized zones and the immediacy of  
information flow. Any sort of successful social/political activism  
will have to address the inherent characteristics of Second Life vs.  
websites, emails and more traditional forms of fundraising and  

~ Scott Kildall

website: http://www.kildall.com

Second Front blog: http://slfront.blogspot.com

On Feb 21, 2007, at 9:16 PM, Joshua Levy wrote:

> Second Life may or may not be overhyped, and may or may not be the  
> future of the web, but I thought I'd share my experiences with it  
> as I've worked on a documentary about political activism in SL.   
> I've been surprised at how much I'm starting to appreciate its  
> possibilities.
> I've taken to heart Clay Shirky's critique that SL has been overly  
> hyped by its creators, and I've been especially interested in Ethan  
> Zuckerman's criticisms of a virtual Camp Darfur, which he argued is  
> an inadequate tool for publicizing such a large scale tragedy; last  
> May he wrote, "given that roughly 100,000 people log into Second  
> Life in a given month - compared to roughly one billion using the  
> Internet as a whole - I suspect people trying to call attention to  
> global issues are better off making a website than a 3D space."
> Nevertheless, many people are finding SL useful as a space for  
> activists and organizers to model behavior and create idealized  
> versions of things that are, in reality, broken.   The folks I know  
> best that are doing this are associated with RootsCamp, a  
> progressive group/conference that emulates the open-source BarCamp  
> idea of the "unconference."
> Ruby Sinreich and Andrew Hoppin developed RootsCampSL, a weekly  
> meeting in Second Life for RootsCampers.  You might wonder why  
> people would want their avatars to meet once a week when listservs,  
> online groups, or wikis seem like suitable tools for helping us  
> collaborate (and maybe we haven't even really figured out how to  
> squeeze the best uses out of them yet).  But as Ruby explained it  
> at a RootsCamp conference in Washington, D.C late last year, Second  
> Life is different even than instant messaging or IRC or wikis in  
> that it offers embodied collaboration.  Instead of getting  
> frustrated with people talking over each other, or wondering if you  
> or someone else is being addressed, in SL you can simply turn to an  
> avatar and address them directly, or initiate a private chat, or  
> walk away from the group.
> A group called Doctors for Clark -- doctors who supported Wesley  
> Clark for president in 2004 -- meets this way.  They're spread all  
> over the country so it's impossible for them to meet in the flesh,  
> so they do the next best thing and meet in SL.
> On the day the new Congress was sworn in I attended a press  
> gathering at the Virtual Capitol Hill (it's a transparent  
> building), and before a congressman from California swooped in  
> (well, his avatar did) I chatted with people who really think that  
> SL is turning into a legitimate platform for political  
> communication and organization.  Some of them were at a war protest  
> at the same spot a few weeks later, dancing around and waving signs  
> and typing slogans of protest and peace.  It was wacky, but it was  
> sincere.
> I met a man who runs a peace and justice center at Better World  
> Island that was one of the most moving pieces of protest art I've  
> seen since the start of the Iraq war.  The center is actually a  
> semi-transparent, two-level house with images of children, deserted  
> shoes, and ruins on its walls.  When you touch these images you are  
> given notecards with emails written to and received from Iraqis  
> that the curator, Bruce Wallace, has befriended.  They tell  
> terrible stories of daily life in Baghdad, and they are personal  
> and heartfelt.  It's an art installation that moves beyond the  
> space of Second Life and resonates strongly in the real world.
> I also met a woman who runs the Center for Water Studies, also on  
> Better World Island.  The purpose of the center is to model  
> endangered habitats to call attention to their real-world  
> counterparts; it's actually quite beautiful and magical.  The  
> woman, who's avatar's name is Delia Lake, took me on a tour of the  
> place and I saw moose and small animals on the ground, birds in the  
> sky, and schools of fish in the water.  She even took me for a ride  
> on a giant Orca!  The more I describe this, the crazier it sounds;  
> I know this.  It sounds crazy to me.  But I think that this  
> platform has helped me experience a certain empathy for these  
> causes and the people behind them that I've never felt viewing  
> standard web pages.
> Although I haven't experienced it myself, I know that educators  
> have had similar kinds of breakthroughs in SL as well.  They  
> describe being able to model behavior and situations in a way that  
> lets students have a closer, truer experience than other mediated  
> teaching methods allow.
> I'm doing my best to maintain a healthy skepticism about it all.   
> Is Second Life really a social platform that could eventually rival  
> MySpace in size and outdo it in scope and influence?  Is it paving  
> the way for future apps that will change our relationships with  
> technology and our assumptions about social media?  Right now only  
> about 40 avatars can be in any one place at any time or else the  
> whole things crashes.  Most people are there for sex or to dress up  
> like gothic tigers or whatever.  All of this serious stuff happens  
> on the periphery and may be a passing fad.  But what if it isn't?
> I would love to hear about your experiences with SL -- your  
> triumphs, failures, or complaints.
> -Josh Levy
> -- 
> www.personaldemocracy.com
> www.techpresident.com
> www.levjoy.com
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