“Down the Rabbit Hole” day

Cory Doctorow points out that today is Down the Rabbit Hole day, so here is something i drafted recently that normally i would never post.

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Culture in virtual worlds? Critiquing the complexities and our assumptions

Jeremy Hunsinger

Granted this model of culture makes things more complex and clouded than many current ideological strands of the cultural sciences and humanities might prefer, but in virtual worlds, where the environment is constructed either through fixed programmed interfaces or the through the results of genetic algorithms, the construction of subjects and objects as different in any knowable sense is speculative at best. The assumption that many cultural scientists, and humanities scholars make that if it seems to talk and act like a subject or like them’ then it is a subject very much depends on the environment. People have been simulating conversation in virtual worlds for years, and simulating actions just as long, beyond that people have been designing these virtual world for cultural effects that frequently do not come to fruition.

Consider the possibility of a virtual world developed to support natural and cultural sciences. In this world, the humans interface with the world is intended to simulate nature, such as pseudorandom distribution of wind or water flows over abradable media such as sandstone, or the bifurcations of tree roots as they interact with the soil. The purpose of such a world would be to see to what extent artifacts found in nature are likely man-made or man-influenced or not. In this game, individual actions add up to a part of the simulation, thus an ‘avatar’ would be the combination of forces over time as mixed with the forces and the fun would be had by influencing and changing the additive and multiplicative efforts of many people over time. The actions ‘avatar’, as a natural forces, is a combination of many possible people’s influences over time where time is one of the variables that consensus can effect and the interface can model, so that some people may slow down to a bacteriological time, or speed up to human time onward to the geological times of redwoods, and onto that of mountains. One possible sub-game may be to produce objects that might be confused with archeological artifacts, such as the Sphinx. Another sub-game that would surely arise is the design and or defacement of areas of the world for artistic or other purposes. We can see from such a game, that the ‘avatar’, or that which acts on cultural objects in the world may in fact be plural, and may produce things that are not considered artifacts as much as terrain. This possibility, the dissociation of the avatar from the individual and the dissociation of the products of the avatar from the culture is an extreme example of the reality of what people already do in virtual worlds today.

This dissociation of cultural subject and cultural production problematizes much of the scholarship being done in virtual worlds which depends on the assumptions that subject/s create or exist in relation to objects, but in the messiness of programmable systems, the mixing of subjects/objects into quasi-subjects, quasi-objects, and the pluralization of the relationship between a persons interface and their ‘avatar’, causes one to be immediately skeptical of the reported experiences of people acting through their interfaces in the virtual world. Even their reports should be colored by the researcher’s inability to discern the authenticity of the persons reporting given that the world they experienced through their screens, speakers, and haptic devices could be entirely different from that world experienced by a person using different devices, having different proficiencies, or living in different cultures. This is not to say that we cannot make assumptions about world, subjects, and objects, but it is to say that the assumptions that we rely on in the f2f world that ground our research may not be, and frequently are not valid assumptions. In short, when exploring culture in virtual worlds, we need to take care in our methodological choices and their assumptions for even the most basic assumptions such as, “my student in my virtual classroom had the same experience as my other students” is likely to be false in ways that are profoundly different than the ways it may be false in a f2f classroom. Similarly, our assumptions about the causes of behavior, social, economic, and cultural, must account for the new forms of re/mediation in their models, else they will likely end up describing less a model of subjects in a virtual world, then describing the base assumptions of their observations or experiments yet again.

Citations

Delanda, M. (2006). A new philosophy of society: Assemblage theory And social complexity. Continuum.

Guattari, F. (2000). The three ecologies (G. Genosko, Trans.). London: Athlone Press.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social : An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford University Press, USA.

Latour, B. (1993). We have never been modern. Harvard Univ Pr.

Latour, B., & Porter, C. (2004). Politics of nature: How to bring the sciences into democracy. Harvard Univ Pr.

Law, J. (2004). After method: Mess in social science research. Routledge.

Maltzahn, K. E. V. (1994). Nature as landscape: Dwelling and uderstanding. McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Suarez, D. (2009). Daemon. Dutton Adult.

Veblen, T. (1990). The evolution of the scientific point of view. In The Place of science in modern civilization. Transaction Publishers.

The technology can only do so much, nutrition is worth thinking about

Jamie’s Ministry of Food, the celebrity chef’s new TV series, is a powerful portrait of the socially excluded. It also reveals an enduring truth, says Felicity Lawrence: our diet today is as much about class as it always has been – and it will take more than a one-man mission to change that

[From Felicity Lawrence on Jamie Oliver’s TV series Jamie’s Ministry of Food | Life and style | The Guardian ]

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worth the read and consideration

bail-out be gone

I have to say, that if you vote for the bail-out, I am not voting for you anymore. This bail-out benefits the wealthy in the short term and supposedly supports the rest of us long term, but that’s a fiction. This is Enron 2.0. We can support the rest of use in the long term by letting these behemoth companies fail, and for the wealthy to take the losses. The people who were invested in these companies can have basic pensions guaranteed through the government should they be in significant need. Otherwise, we have to let things fail. Go read the economist’s blogosphere.

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eeep….. this was post 5000 in the current blogging system.

When’s an OER not an OER? « Learn Online

In my books, CC By is the only free license.

[From When’s an OER not an OER? « Learn Online]

In my books…. CC is just another copyright regime. Public domain is the only free content. If you don’t put it into the public domain, all you are saying is ‘restricted’. CC just says, under the terms of copyright, you can do x. Public Domain says, you can do x and whatever else you want. I also like artistic license of Perl, though it is a copyright license.

on another note, the post above has some really great content linked from it.

Fellowship and Conference

Since Tuesday I have been in Milwaukee visiting SOIS and CIPR as part of my Information Ethics fellowship. I attended a discussion about a possible future conference on translating intercultural information ethics across the situated understandings that term implies across a plurality of contexts. That seems like a great project, I’m happy to help out there. For the rest of the time, I attended the conference Thinking Critically:Alternative Perspectives and Methods in Information Studies. It was an excellent conference and I met many interesting people in the field of information studies, most of which are leaders in their field or soon to be so. I also attended the 2008 Samore Lecture: “Interpreting the Digital Human,” by Professor Rafael Capurro, at the Allis Museum, which provided an excellent end to the conference. I had excellent dinners and conversation with colleagues that I’ve not seen for some time, and with new friends and colleagues. I suspect that I’ll be seeing many of these people again over the years. It was a great experience all around, though I did not get enough writing done on a promised paper that is overdue. It really looks like the CIPR and SOIS are up to some great things and I’m happy to be affiliated with them as an Ethics Fellow for another year.

Unrelated to the conference and my fellowship, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Thomas Malaby who has a book forthcoming on Linden Lab. We spoke at length about problems of research, computer game studies, his work with Linden Lab and his related work. It was a fantastic conversation and I hope to have similar conversations in relation to my work in Second Life in the future.

All in all the problem of alternative methods and the communities that support them is an important issue in my career. I have been affiliated with many groups on this topic from Phil Graham’s old NewMediaResearch, heterodox economics, and the political science perestroika movement list, to my current work with InterpretationandMethods and Theory, Policy and Society, not to mention my work with the Association of Internet Researchers. The work that I perform is primarily interpretive methods, from ethnography to textual analysis, though I’ve been known to use quantitative when it adds to the argument. The key to me though is to come to notion of understanding and being able to communicate what actually leads to certain understandings of the world. It concerns me that there are so many people with so many of the same issues across so many different disciplines and there is so little conversations amongst them. Though there are broad interdisciplinary efforts and efforts toward inclusion.

Privacy Work-Around


So, how did the librarian get the word out? By regularly reporting to the library board that no NSL had been issued to any of the city’s 10 branches, which was perfectly legal. Everyone knew that if the chief librarian failed to report that nothing had happened, then indeed an NSL had been served.
[From Privacy Work-Around]

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Sometimes the brilliance of the common sense of librarians is amazing. Given tight legal restrictions, they read the law, and found a solution that was compatible and in the end worked for their library

The Cape Town Open Education Declaration

The Cape Town Open Education Declaration:
Cape Town Open Education Declaration:
Unlocking the promise of open educational resources
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I think most people should support open education, if not in this form, then in some reasonable form that admits that knowledge cannot be owned, though it is frequently proprietized into a commodity, that commodity-form, i argue, is not knowledge anymore, it is an object, whereas knowledge only exists inside subjects, which is something objects tend not to do.

7 theses to save the world

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A new cosmopolitanism is in the air
Globalisation is anonymous control

A new perspective for a different approach to action

Only capital is permitted to break the rules

We, the consumers, constitute the counter-power

Sacrifice autonomy, gain sovereignty

A state towards which the nation is indifferent

Convert walls into bridges!

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This is indicative of the move toward a cosmopolitan political economy.