Take a walk around this idea: SL9B – Community in 3D

2SPS Gallery: Second Life SL9B
2SPS Gallery by Soul Yheng and Sandralee Palianta: SL9B (Second Life 9th Birthday)

Beau Hindman of massively.com has been exploring Second Life for eight years now, he observes  in his post “Free for All: Second Life, the little 75 million-dollar engine that could” that the virtual world was a ‘social medium before social media’ 

If I look back eight years ago, when I first joined Second Life, it’s neat to think just how ahead of its time it was. While the insiders of Second Life were participating in a smaller, self-contained social medium, the way they shared and collaborated was much the same as how we participate in worldwide social media now. (Beau Hindman)

Future Communities by noke yuitza
Future Communities by noke yuitza: SL9B

Beau makes the observation that Second Life pioneered various tools to assist communication amongst its users; his favorite is the SLurl (a hyperlink that allows you to land at a precise location in the virtual world. SLurls to this blog’s images at end of post below).

While I enjoy clicking on a friend’s Twitter link and checking out a picture of her favorite dog, I can click on an SLurl and instead find artwork inspired by her furry best friend or a virtual dog that I can interact with. Before Google made easy collaboration in documents, Linden Lab created the ability to create almost anything with your friends, chat via voice while doing so, and even possibly sell the creation for real life cash. (Beau Hindman)

Second Life's slurl locator
Above: Second Life’s SLurl locator.

Beau Hindman says of the SLurl “It’s one of the very few instances I can think of that allow someone to follow a link to visit a literal, three-dimensional idea — a thought in the form of an explorable piece of content.” That is pretty exciting to strongly visual types with a science fiction bent like myself. It opens up whole new realms of travel for the mind. Ah, but then entrepreneurs like Anders Gronstedt have also found that the men in dark gray suits (who pride themselves on being very solid and sensible) also find three dimensional meeting spaces useful for training and business purposes. (See: Immersive 3-D Worlds: Avatars at Work.)

Tree of Faces by Cherry Manga
Tree of Faces by Cherry Manga: SL9B

Second Life is a moldable, social experiment that can do things Twitter or Facebook cannot. Granted, its saddled with the performance issues that come with a world of streaming, three-dimensional material, but Linden Lab has already experimented with embedded players that shine light on a possible browser-based future. As PCs become cheaper and the magical tubes that carry our internet become fatter and more affordable, Second Life will benefit by becoming much more accessible. (Beau Hindman)

This particular social experiment is currently celebrating its ninth birthday. Now, for some (dark gray suit reason) Linden Labs decided not to celebrate the event as it has in past years. Previously the Labs provided land and resources for Second Life users and encouraged them to fire up their imaginations to celebrate with fabulous 3D creations. This year the Labs suggested that the various communities within Second Life should take the theme of community and simply celebrate amongst themselves. (Perhaps the Labs should consult Anders Gronstedt regarding the cut of their suits?) Recognizing that this would mean losing the sense of the greater community, a small group of Second Lifers set about organizing the giant birthday bash known as SL9B without Labs support.

Birthday cake stage by Mikati Slade
Birthday Cake Stage by Mikati Slade: SL9B

Within five weeks they found sponsors; trained volunteers; handed donated land over to builders; enrolled the help of code scripters; set up exhibit spaces for shop keepers, community groups and artists; they then promoted the whole shebang with the help of Second Life bloggers. The result is visible this week across 20 sims displaying 300 diverse exhibits and includes stages for musicians performing live music. Many different communities use the virtual world and with the help of hundreds of volunteers plus in-world social networking tools (as well as external social media) this amazing feat has been pulled off. Intriguing to consider that the virtual world is the perfect place to render the concept of community in three dimensions. The event ends on June 27th, 2012. Take a walk around the idea soon!

SLurls to locations featured in this post:
2SPS Gallery by Soul Yheng and Sandralee Palianta http://slurl.com/secondlife/FruitIslands%20SL9B%20Fun/29/189/21/ 

Future Communities by noke yuitza
http://slurl.com/secondlife/Dreamseeker%20SL9B%20Nove/49/57/22/ 

Tree of Faces by Cherry Manga
http://slurl.com/secondlife/SL9B%20By%20Us2%20/86/164/21/ 

Birthday Cake Stage by Mikati Slade
http://slurl.com/secondlife/Dreamseeker%20SL9B%20Tisa/234/250/22/ 

Fear of the ‘Stopping Point’

Head in water by Rose Borchovski
Head in water by Rose Borchovski

There is an awful lot to know. According to my old copy of the Shorter Oxford Dictionary the word ‘know’ made its first appearance in the English language in 1592: “The act of knowing; knowledge”. The very earliest reference to ‘knowledge’ in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary dates back to 1477 when it was used to describe “The fact or condition of being instructed; information acquired by study; learning.” I wonder, when ‘know’ initially appeared was it viewed as a bit of slang used by trendy young Elizabethans?

Fear of Sleeping by Rose Borchovski
Fear of Sleeping by Rose Borchovski

My father inherited a small library and his study was lined with books organized in tall dark bookcases that scraped the ceiling with their pointed gothic trim. Most of these books caused me to feel quite faint with the stunning dullness of their long winded (picture-less) yet at one time (at least) solidly knowledgeable texts. Hidden amongst these musty books there were some gems; one was Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary which contained words that have long since fallen out of use. Interesting to consider that the eventual standardization of the English language actually caused words to vanish. The classifications of Johnson’s Dictionary trumped earlier dictionaries and 173 years later the Oxford English Dictionary trumped Johnson’s. It is a funny thought that we lost words as we tried to organize and standardize their spelling and meaning.

These dictionary knowledge-games sprang to mind recently when I heard a NY Tech Council talk given by David Weinberger author of the book Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the RoomWeinberger observes that we have conjured up some successful strategies for managing the infinitely unknown amount of things we may one day need to know. We have developed these strategies because, as he says, the world is way bigger than our skulls and our skulls simply don’t scale; in truth, as we learn more and more, we do indeed find our skulls don’t get bigger. (In fact, they have got smaller when compared to Cro Magnon‘s skull.)

As Weinberger says, we manage the infinite amount of things that there are ‘to know’ by breaking off brain sized chunks of the world, we get to know this chunk, master it, and in due course become expert. If we need to find answers to certain questions (beyond our ken) we can go off and find someone who knows the answers (because of their particular chunk of expertise) and see if they can resolve our questions.

The Smaller Spectacles by Rose Borchovski
The Smaller Spectacles by Rose Borchovski

Now (suggests Weinberger) this is a very effective system, it gives us a mechanism where ‘experts’ know what we don’t know so we can stop asking the questions! This is what Weinberger calls a ‘stopping point’. He also suggests that this idea of containing knowledge is not natural; knowledge finds itself stored in libraries, folded within dictionaries and other learned tomes where it might end up laced through 8pt font footnotes. The result is that knowledge is rationed out, compartmentalized, freeze dried and re-packaged. Knowledge is manipulated through good intentions and attempts are made, by generally well meaning people, to carefully control it. (I am not including overt manifestations of political censorship here just actions done with the kindest of intentions.) The result is that experts, libraries, dictionaries, books and footnotes turn into stopping points for ideas and imagination. Education itself, the honorable dispensary of knowledge is a stopping point. Schools and universities and libraries are stopping points, good ideas themselves can be stopping points! All quite alarming when you stop to think about it…

Rather Puzzled by Rose Borchovski
Rather Puzzled by Rose Borchovski

Knowledge found at a stopping point is:

  • Settled
  • Scarce
  • Orderly
  • Clean
  • Perfect in its organization.

On those occasions when we avoid, or fail to contain knowledge i.e. when knowledge has not been forced into a stopping point it is characteristically :

  • Unbounded
  • Overwhelming
  • Unsettled
  • Messy to its core
  • Disorganized
Why by Rose Borchovski

Weinberger observes that knowledge ‘unbounded’ shares the same characteristics as the Internet and (perhaps more profoundly) also shares the same characteristics of what it means to be human. He rounds out his talk by identifying some new methods of knowledge management and education via our messy Internet. He gives an example of how education in the future might avoid stopping points when he describes how software developers act as if education is a public act. I think he is referring to the open source community where software developers ask their questions in online forums, and help each other out by posting code for all to use. Through this process they communicate the very act of learning across their networks and reap rich results by developing rapid learning environments tailor made to meet their needs.

Perhaps online educational experiments such as CCK MOOCs demonstrate another avenue for the open sourcing of knowledge? I am also wondering whether online dictionaries of slang might allow knowledge (and the words we use to describe it) to expand into infinity and beyond?

Eyeball and butterfly net by Rose Borchovski
Eyeball and butterfly net by Rose Borchovski

Images of the work of virtual world artist Rose Borchovski taken in Second Life at her exhibition The Susa Bubble Story located at http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Cariacou/97/113/22

Article about Rose Borchovski (aka) Saskia Boddeke.

Joining up the dots with Connectivism…

I have signed up to participate in the MOOC titled “Connectivism, Networked Learning, and Connective Knowledge, 2012”  with George Siemens and Stephen Downes acting in the roles of instructors.

I have been a fan of Connectivism for quite a while without even knowing it. It is intriguing to be given a name for something that previously had no name. A name is rather like a diagnosis i.e. we often hear how someone who is unwell experiences a sense of relief when they discover that the thing that is making them ill has a name. A name gives power, it propels us into the world with intention. A name can also cause problems, perhaps it is not the name so much as the qualities we attach to the name; the traits and characteristics that we pour upon a name. That is, a name can quickly turn into something dangerously vulnerable to judgmental and limiting thought. The most damaging outcome of such examination is dismissal, reaching a quick conclusion before running off saying it is all quite worthless and there are better things to do with our time,

Oberon Onmura Wave Fields
Oberon Onmura: Wave Fields. Art installation in Second Life

As we in the MOOC address the thorny issue of “What is Connectivism” we have been pointed towards a range of reading materials and taped interviews that address “Connectivism”. I get the sense that if it was at all humanly possible Connectivism would avoid being named at all. For once it was named it was pigeon holed and then pecked to pieces by a thousand questions. However, (rather nicely) Connectivism survives being cut into a million pieces. In fact, it invites such activities and even thrives upon the process. (It is called Connectivism after-all!)

As a blogger (however erratic I might be in this art) I was fascinated when George Siemens stated in an interview with Rick Schier that he (George) had been an active blogger since 2000 and had established his blog elearnspace in 2002. George explained that he recognized that blogging presented a completely different type of learning, a learning that was fundamentally connected in nature. Blogging provided him with the ability to share resources with others, to find one individual and use that individual as the node to find more individuals who were addressing particular subjects. The individual’s blog became the starting point of George’s learning, a connection, the golden thread that lead him into the maze of the web and guided him to the treasure of new knowledge. The process of blogging formed the connections that in turn opened doors to his new learning.

Oberon Onmura: Wave Fields (View 2)
Oberon Onmura: Wave Fields. A rare moment of stillness amongst the moving cubes.

Anyone who has blogged for a while recognizes this process of joining up the dots to create a picture. The connections we make in blogging act on two levels. One is on the internal level, where we write and discover through writing that writing itself is a form of thinking. By writing and thinking we discover connections in our thoughts that we did not know were there lurking (un-named) in our heads. We then move to the external level where we are out in the space beyond ourselves, in the space we share with everything in existence (it is a conveniently vast and limitless space that accommodates all that we know and all that we don’t know).

Blogging allows us as bloggers to literally embed connections (web links) in our writing and these links draw us out of the introspective space of writing and pull us into the external space shared with other writers. We can then in turn communicate with each other and build up layers of understanding through the connections we either simply find or that we consciously create. The act of embedding links gives us the power to connect to targeted locations out in cyberspace. Links allow our writing to take on a new dimension, embedded urls plumb our thoughts and take our readers directly to thought touch points.

Oberon Onmura Wave Fields 3
Oberon Onmura: Wave Fields. The sea of cubes is in perpetual motion. Creating then breaking patterns.

By recognizing the multi-dimensional space of the web and seeing how we can creatively connect with nodes across the web we are drawing in space. (Connecting the dots.) These drawings render new understandings and the process of recognizing these new understandings show us the amazing commonalities underlying human thought, action and creation. At this point I see Connectivism standing up to be counted as a theory that can help us to see and then (once seen) navigate the new galaxy of knowledge brought to our awareness via today’s technology.

Oberon Onmura: Wave Fields 4
Oberon Onmura: Wave Fields. A passage through the cubes is starting to shift and change.

Images in this post: Second Life Art installation created by Oberon Onmura: Wave Fields (This exhibit closes on January 31st, 2012)

Oberon Onmura’s “Wave Fields” – an ever-changing landscape of cubes that create undulating waves of visual movement as they form, activate, and disintegrate.

Log Rolling Avatars and Virtual Identities

I think of avatars as vehicles, a means of travel within virtual worlds. They are frozen fragments of our kaleidoscopic self-image(s). Avatars as vehicles cost a lot less than a car and are capable of taking us to outer space one minute and far beneath the ocean in the next. Mosaic pieces of self spinning through the electric hum of cyberspace.

Log Rolling at Armageddon
A log rolling self portrait ? Lady Fog avatar on the island of Cocoon.

Visitors to different virtual world locations often adapt their avatars to blend in and belong. (Avatars tend to be rather conformist, but don’t tell them that.) Creators of both whimsical and educational locations in virtual 3D worlds encourage tourists to kit out their avatars according to the relevant theme. By encouraging visitors to ‘dress’ appropriately they can become more fully immersed in the experience of their visit. For example, if you visit the *1920s Berlin Project in Second Life it is suggested that you wear the (free) 1920s clothing provided. This helps avoid the faux pas of wandering around pre-war Berlin dressed as a medieval knight or a Nasa astronaut (basic considerations for experienced time travelers).

Treehouse and balloon
Treehouse and balloon on Cocoon Island (designed by rikku Yalin)

To my mind, this shows how we wear the places we visit in online 3D worlds (just as in our physical apparentlymorerealworld). With this in mind, I have recently been entertained by the idea of donning a Second Life avatar and then giving myself the task of seeing what place the avatar might wear… Hence the post where Lady Fog is liberated from a framed picture in the Meta_Body exhibition and carried away by mechanical flying boat to the island of Cocoon.

Queen of the crows
Animated avatar & possible Queen of the Crows ('Fog' avatar courtesy of Meilo Minotaur and CapCat Ragu)

Avatars are playing an ever greater role in our online lives. You do not have to visit virtual worlds to have one. Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and a multitude of other social networking sites use avatars nowadays. In fact, at Gravatar.com  you are encouraged to zip up your ‘Globally Recognized Avatar‘  and prepare it for travel across the internet where it can be used on (as they say) a ‘kajillion websites’.  These gravatars are colorful cubes that we can stick in the comments box on sites (strangely parallel to sending letters with a postage stamp on an envelope). WordPress provides free patterned squares of color to those who lack a gravatar thus enabling them to leave a little decorative stamp of individuality in the comments area below posts. (Try it and see, you will be given a colorful cube with a geometric design (that looks surprisingly like a quilting pattern) should you decide to leave a comment below this post… Theoretically, once you have experienced a Gravar first hand you will be so stirred with the hunger to establish your own virtual identity you too will set out to establish your very own cube of portable social presence.

Peaceful view with distant ruins
Peaceful view with distant ruins (Cocoon)

In a way, a gravatar is our digital portrait. The poor person’s land grab in the digital void. The rich and famous commission paintings of themselves; these are highly controlled portrayals designed for posterity, destined to be the lasting record of their lives, forever posed in a good light. Well, whether you use the term avatar or gravatar, these pictorial signatures are cost cutting self-portraits and part of their economical use derives from the fact that they acquire significance from their surroundings. That is, you are saying something about yourself not only from how you depict yourself in your image cube but also in where you place your avatar/gravatar. The location soaks into your little avatar stamp and flavors it with peripheral information about your tastes and sensitivities.

Flying elephant
Cyberloom dressed as in Meta_Body's 'Fog' avatar seated upon a flying elephant.

This seems a good place to finish this post with an important statement about myself. I leave you with a picture of Cyberloom wearing borrowed avatar clothing, traveling through digital space seated upon a comfy cushion on a flying elephant. It really does say a lot about me.

Happy Space Traveling.

Post notes & credits:

*1920s Berlin Project in Second Life is actually a role playing sim in Second Life. This means site-seers are welcome but it is important that they wear the clothing of that period and allow those who are actually role-playing (i.e. imagining themselves in Berlin at this time and exploring their stories) are not interrupted. See the interesting article about this sim written by Jo Yardley, make sure that you check out the comments section as there is additional information posted there as well.

The Petrified Gallery: Meta_Body Exhibit created by Meilo Minotaur and CapCat Ragu.
Slurl: 
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Porto/126/113/703 (Please visit the gallery to see more of the avatar creations of Meilo Minotaur and CapCat Ragu.

Cocoon at slurl: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Strand/143/125/39/ created by rikku Yalin

The Black Mirror

The computer could be described as a ‘Black Mirror’.

The black mirror is a device apparently used by sorcerers and made famous by the witch in Snow White when she chants ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?’ When the witch was asking her question of her (black) mirror she was ‘scrying’:

Scrying (also called seeing or peeping) is a magic practice that involves seeing things psychically in a medium, usually for purposes of obtaining spiritual visions and less often for purposes of divination or fortune-telling. The most common media used are reflective, translucent, or luminescent substances such as crystals, stones, glass, mirrors, water, fire, or smoke. Scrying has been used in many cultures as a means of divining the past, present, or future. Depending on the culture and practice, the visions that come when one stares into the media are thought to come from God, spirits, the psychic mind, the devil, or the subconscious.

Wikipedia

In the case of the computer maybe we are scrying when we use Google?

The Black Mirror by Failed Inventor
The Black Mirror (above) by Failed Inventor - This photo was taken in Second Life in August but I am sad to say the mysterious space known as 'E.O.C. - Eye of Calm' has evaporated. As Failed Inventor himself wrote about the passing of his exhibit: "Once a surrealistic immersion into the serene eye of a hurricane.Now but a breeze on the ocean..."

Is your Facebook account like a forgotten pair of socks (that fell behind the washing machine?)

My 12 year old son has just set himself up on Facebook and nabbed 20 friends in 20 hours to add to his all important (especially when you are 12 years old) Friend’s List.  He is delighted and keeps walking off with my new iPad to send messages to his buddies. Personally I have problems with Facebook but my criticisms are far from original so I won’t bore you with them here.

Have you noticed that Facebook generates a strange energy? For instance, if someone mentions it in any kind of meeting, however great or small, they better forget what they planned to discuss because the gathering will degenerate into a ‘how do you manage your Facebook account?’ anarchic free-for-all. A small number of FB aficionados find themselves coaching the large number  who feel completely frustrated by it. This makes me wonder: Out of the reported 750 million worldwide Facebook users how many really use it versus how many signed up and then left it gathering dust like a forgotten pair of socks that fell behind the washing machine?

Virtual washing machines
Virtual washing machines designed by Jasmine Digital at the Designers Edge Furniture Store in Second Life

Perhaps the world is gradually dividing into two social network factions? Extroverts will head for Facebook to externalize their experiences and use the application to know they are having these experiences. Introverts are destined to head over to Google+ because that app has some sweet tools that will filter the digital noise caused by gathering all our friends and acquaintances into one big online contact list. I am quite certain that 12 year olds will have a blast pulling faces and giggling at each other whether it is in Facebook’s Skype video chat or on Google’s Hangouts.

That said, if you by any chance missed the Google+ announcements take a look at the following posts:

The Google+ Demo page – Google’s soothing solution for those of us who go loopy when we hear the word facebook… looks good… love the ‘Circles’.

What is Google+ ? – Libby Plummer on Pocket Lint. If you can’t fathom out what is going on with that cool Google+ demo page this might help you.

An Introduction to Google+ – Joel Falconer on SitePoint.

If you want to read up on the latest Facebook/Skype/Microsoft video feature check out:

Why Facebook’s ‘awesome’ Skype announcement is terrible – Alexandra Petri on The Washington Post. This is a hilarious rant accusing Facebook of betrayal (because video conferencing will force people to speak to each other, really be social and have to interact with each other and worst of all they will have to be dressed to go online).

Finally, after reading all that plus your Facebook page you may find this last article helpful for your ensuing headache?

How Do I Prevent Eyestrain at My Computer – Alan Henry on LifeHacker

For avatars with dirty clothes head over to: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Furniture%20land/203/37/516/ This is the Designers Edge Furniture store which houses Jasmine Digital’s washing machine.

Love Dot

Love Dot by Rob Barber
Love Dot by Rob Barber on show at PAD (Pop Art Display) Solaris Island, Second Life

‘Love Dot’ by Rob Barber / Rob Steenhorst strikes me as being a humorous homage to the pixel. All those dots! Perfect for viewing in the Pop Art Display gallery on Solaris Island in Second Life.

'Sporting Life' : SL exhibition
‘Sporting Life’ : SL exhibition

The creator of ‘Love Dot’ (and many other fine works) is known as Rob Steenhorst in the physical world (a.k.a. ‘Real Life’) and Rob Barber in the virtual world of Second Life. It is intriguing to think of the artist exploring Second Life, the thought of the real and virtual Bobs looking into, and out of, the 3D digital space sets up an intriguing image of a corridor of mirrors reflecting into infinity. I like to say to those who have no idea what a virtual world is like that it will appeal to them if they are of a visual disposition (as it is so like walking into a painting.) Those of us who spend time exploring this numerical space of bits and bytes of shared imagination eventually find our perception of what is ‘real’ shifting like a set of loose tectonic plates; rearranging our awareness and perception of just what might really qualify as reality. The surprise is that the human brain can so swiftly learn to tolerate not one but a multitude of realities, grasping and accommodating them quickly, organizing them into suits like shuffled playing cards. The exhibition ‘Sporting Life’ provides us with a glimpse of what Bob Steenhorst/Barber sees when he looks into, and out of, his various worlds and realities.

Straattonee/ Streetscene by Rob Barber
Straattonee/ Streetscene by Rob Barber

Poet Karina Hoisan has set herself the challenge of writing four poems based upon Rob Steenhorst’s images (he selects the images and she then composes her poems around the particular selection). Visit her blog Digital Rabbit Hole to see the first two of these poems My Beloved Moth’s Burning Flame (based on the image Straattonee/ Streetscene above) and Sand Pit (a sorry tale about a kingly pig in a tub). This collaboration illustrates nicely how an art piece can reach beyond its original inspiration. Incidentally, the silvery thin spider’s thread that linked Karina in Costa Rica with Rob in the Nederlands was a virtual art gallery created in the pixel space called PAD – the Pop Art Display, Solaris Island in Second Life.

Zeegang / Sea swell
Zeegang / Sea swell

Zeegang / Sea swell (above) illustrates how each Bob Barber/Steenhorst image precariously balances humor with anxiety, these emotions roll around inside our heads like tennis balls careening around a drinks tray. We are drawn into the images by the beautiful technique of the artist, we feel this hint of a joke and the gnaw of anxiety bumping into and reacting against each other. The balancing act presses unknown stories upon us with their untold outcomes.

Visit Rob Barber / Bob Steenhorst at PAD – Pop Art Display, Solaris Island to see more of his images.

Updates to this blog post

Poem number 3:

See Karina Hoisan’s poem Sea Swell over on the Digital Rabbit Hole and read her poetic interpretation of Zeegang/Sea Swell (above).

Poem number 4:

Love Tease is Karina’s final poem and was published on June 21st, 2011. (Stay tuned to Karina’s blog to see what she decides to write about next.)