[iDC] Virtual Worlds, Education, & Labor

Simon Biggs s.biggs at eca.ac.uk
Mon Mar 5 08:10:33 EST 2007

A very short contribution to what is a very complex issue.

It seems to me that in its very conception SL is a replication of the
dominant socio-economic mode of our time, the late-capitalist model
developed primarily (although not entirely) in the USA and its satelites. SL
has developed from and within the apparatus of globalised capital. That the
ethical systems that underpin such an ideology are then found to be those
that determine how SL develops should not be surprising. That money even
exists in SL provides sufficient evidence of this.

SL is a misnomer. It is not a second life but simply a kind of first life,
as constructed by a dominant elite, represented in such a manner that it
will function to further inculcate and embed its associated ideology on a
global scale. It will sustain the fundamental ethic of consumerism...that we
are all potential suckers or grifters (often both) and that nobody is
responsible for what happens to anybody else. In short, it is another rip
off culture.



On 4/3/07 04:28, "Trebor Scholz" <trebor at thing.net> wrote:

> After the OurFloatingPoint event at Emerson College, over some green string
> beans and tofu, I talked with the organizers about the value of Emerson buying
> an island in SecondLife
> (SL) for a thousand dollars in order to build a representation of their First
> Life campus. (Monthly service costs are about $250.) I still don't quite get
> it.  
> Emerson and Harvard replicated their First World architecture in SL. [1]
> SecondLife simply becomes a novel Public Relations interface. By re-creating
> our existing institutions in the
> virtual world, we loose a chance to re-think these knowledge factories untied
> from the restrictions of economical restrictions. Nevertheless, Harvard's
> Berkman Center for Internet &
> Society uses their SL campus to offer courses open to the "public" and Emerson
> even experiments with 3D modeling classes and authors artworks.
> Berkman's use of its campus for long-distance learning ("courses open to the
> 'public'") is not interesting for me as there are only few examples of this
> kind of "e.learning" that made
> sense to me. Years ago, I used to take classes into Habbo Hotel in order for
> the students to get to know each other in this environment. That worked well,
> but why do we need to buy
> our own turf? Why do we need a replication of our own campus? Why not rather
> build a Black Mountain College with a Bauhaus Annex? Why teach in this virtual
> environment? Will
> SecondLife become a 3D version of Wikipedia, a virtual knowledge bank that
> offers a playful and fun interface to participant-generated content? Will
> students simply demand such
> playful access to knowledge?
> Josephine Dorado's Kids Connect project nicely illustrates some affordances of
> SL. [2] Avatars add a bit of social bandwidth and I respect Josephine's
> argument that SL offers a sense
> of connectedness that is hard to measure. Brian Holmes warns us that many
> fantasy scenarios are "deeply instrumentalized, and most often in the service
> of powerful agendas, put
> into effect by groups which have the ability to manipulate the basic
> parameters of our environments, be they 'virtual' or 'actual.'" I agree; the
> biggest problem with SL is that it is a
> proprietary space.
> The creative *labor* of the very very many financially benefits the very few.
> Monetary value is created in many ways (mere presence à la attention economy,
> creation of profiles,
> production of 3D objects, import of media content). Labor, with the Italian
> philosopher Paolo Virno, has become performance, the act of being a speaker.
> Labor is tied to speech acts
> and communication systems. [3] To paraphrase the old saying: The greatest
> trick that capital ever pulled was convincing the world that labor didn't
> exist. Labor, with most physical
> production work (except service, of course) now moved to the global south,
> becomes a "casualized," often distributed, immaterial activity that is even
> mistaken as leisure or plain
> "fun." It took peoplea while to realize that online architectures reflect the
> political post-Fordist structures of First Life. In 1992, for example,
> Digitale Stad was set up with the idea to
> "design a complex, multi-layered system that operates largely on the basis of
> the city metaphor." The experiment did not work out.
> Today, online architectures do not just simply mirror "First Life Capitalism,"
> but the absence of awareness of servitude* is radically new. The Frankfurt
> School philosopher Herbert
> Marcuse put it well: "All liberation depends on the consciousness of
> servitude." This holds more true today than ever; many people in the US
> actually think that they are "happy" and
> perceive this distributed labor of the sociable web as a fun leisure activity.
> "We would do it anyway." The community becomes the product. I opened up these
> questions at Emerson--
> "(Un)ethical Capitalism and Sociable Web Media" (video cast, download m4b
> file, 11.4mb-- open in Quicktime, resize, duration: 40 minutes)
> http://www.molodiez.org/podcasts/episode_20070301_203115-0500.m4b
> What do YOU think about the exploitation of labor in sociable web media and
> virtual worlds in particular? Are there alternatives? Already after a short
> look at the demo of Solipsis, "the
> pure peer-to-peer system for a massively shared virtual world" (and potential
> alternative to SL), it seemed rather disturbing in terms of its US-centrism.
> [4]
> I imagine SecondLife, currently in its early stages, as a useful place for a
> kind of rapid prototyping also in activist contexts. On the other hand, there
> is the danger that Second Life
> could just become a valve for social tension that should rather be played out
> in First Life, I partially agree with Charlie Gere. (A virtual speakers
> corner.) SL is ecologically harmful, I
> welcomed Julian Bleeker's reminder that there is no SecondLife without the
> materiality/resources of First Life. Giselle Beiguelman points to the
> cinematic "observation of the second
> order,² with the avatar a step removed from us. This site could be a
> liberating place for experimentation with identity. What SL will be, remains
> to be seen; for now it requires the
> same kind of skill set that other participatory cultures call for; a toolbox
> that allows us to handle these environments in a way that serves our best
> interests and is aligned with our
> values and aspirations.
> TS    
> [1] Harvard's Berkman Center in SL
> http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonz/238309925/
> [2] Kids Connect Project
> http://flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?id=198239256&context=set-72157594204191164&si
> ze=l
> [3]
> http://www.generation-online.org/p/pvirno.htm
> [4] Solipsis
> http://solipsis.netofpeers.net/wiki2/index.php/Main_Page
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Simon Biggs
simon at littlepig.org.uk
AIM: simonbiggsuk
Research Professor in Art, Edinburgh College of Art
s.biggs at eca.ac.uk

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