[iDC] The -L- Word


Laboring + Learning in Second Life

[left: Trebor Scholz presenting at OurFloatingPoints on Emerson Island, SL; screenshot by John Craig Freeman, February 28, 2007.]

Trebor Scholz wrote: After the OurFloatingPoints 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 Second Life (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] Second Life 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 Second Life 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 a 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 people a 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)

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 Second Life, 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 Second Life without the materiality/resources of First Life. Giselle Beiguelman points to the cinematic “observation of the second order,” 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.


[1] Harvard’s Berkman Center in SL

[2] Kids Connect Project


[4] Solipsis

Eric Gordon wrote:

As one of the organizers of OurFloatingPoints at Emerson and as one of the people behind designing our Second Life campus, I have to say a few things about our intentions, and more broadly speaking, about the possibilities of SL for education. First, I find it difficult to speak of Second Life as if it possessed some innate qualities. That’s like saying the Web “fosters community” or “collapses geography.” Blanket statements about a platform are necessarily limited to stereotypical characteristics and leave little room for technological adaptation to social formations. That said, Second Life is neither the next big thing or dangerous for our educational goals — however, it is a novel platform through which we can explore questions of presence, place, community, and exhibition.

Emerson College is an urban campus that hugs the southeast corner of the Boston Common. The geography of Boston is important to the experience of being on campus. Therefore, our decision to reproduce the architectural layout of campus and to recreate the Boston Common was deliberately made to correspond with our understanding of the platform’s possibilities. We see Second Life as a way of creatively re-imagining the space. While, we’re not able to screen student work in the physical Boston Common, it will be possible to do so in Second Life. While it is not possible to hold a meeting outside in January, it will be possible in Second Life. The virtual campus is not a fantastical space, but an enhanced space that can dialogue with the physical space. I don’t see Second Life as a replacement for the classroom, the live event, the campus, or even the heart of Boston, but as an addendum to our existing arsenal of lived experiences. One of the most interesting aspects of the SL platform is how people identify with places and create a sense of the familiar. Whether this is through representations of institutions, geography, or products, familiarity and co-presence are potential qualities of the platform that deserve attention. Our efforts are not, as Trebor suggests, a marketing tactic for the school. While the administration’s support for our efforts are certainly driven by those considerations, they understand that this is a faculty and student research project intended to investigate the possibilities and limitations of the environment.

The first element of our build is the theater wherein we hold live events. The question of how to orchestrate a live event in Second Life has been the topic of much internal debate. Primarily, can the Second LIfe audience, projected onto the screen during the event enhance the experience of those physically present? What can the corresponding audience of avatars (composed of proximate and non-proximate users) offer to the live audience? Is there a method of interaction between the two audience sets that would best activate
the audience? Can we use the platform to change the relationship between speaker and audience? Can we use the platform to alter the format of speech followed by questions? Again, we don’t know the answer to these things, nor do we assume that Second Life supplies the answers. But we’re excited to place a virtual scaffolding around what has become normalized academic practice in order to replace, repair or simply protect what we already know.


Ana Valdez wrote:

That’s really interesting and I really wish more researchers could be engaged in the studio of Second Life’s conditions and behaviours. A world without democracy, where the individual is constricted to “mature contempt” islands, where the discussion made in official forums is controlled by the omnipotent and omniscent Linden Lab. I read the headlines from last week’s turbulence in SL. “terrorist attack in Second Life”, “cyberterrorism”. What is virtual terrorism? It reminds me about Julian Dibbell’s excellent book “My tiny life”, where a virtual rape was discussed and put on trial. And about precariety and workers rights we should discuss Anshe Chung, the real estate broker avatar for Ailin Graef, is known to use workers from her nativev China to make virtual wares in places similar to sweatshops. Virtual sweatshops are also used for games as Everquest or Ultima Online, where macros can be used to generate or reproduce objects who can be sold or traded in the games or outside the games. The virtual sweatshops (or more clear, the real sweatshops) are in the real life and populates av real workers, they make virtual wares but they are treated as all other precarious workers: they work day and night in dangerous conditions, exposed to datasmog and radiation of the screens. Many of them are in the maquila zone between Mexico and the US, Graafs are in China.


Michel Bauwens wrote:

Hi Trebor,

For years, the left has complained about the stranglehold of mass media, and how they were dumbing us down, preventing autonomy and sharing etc…

Now we have an extraordinary techno-social development which creates a multitude of micromedia, some of which, most of which?, probably are mediated by an existing political economy and specifically in concrete cases by proprietary platforms.

But the first thing is to recognize the joy that people are feeling when they are enabled/empowered to express themselves, share, and form communities. On that basis, they will learn the impediments that mediation is forcing on them, and learn to yearn for more pure forms of autonomy.

However, if peer production is non-reciprocal, as I argue, then it makes no sense to argue about exploitation through derivative services.

Rather, I would argue that in most cases, there is a very well understood social contract. You provide us with a participatory platform, we understand that needs funding, and therefore, the provider has a business strategy. Conflicts will arise out of the balance between participation and profit-taking, but not on the very principle of profit taking ,since this is the very condition for the participatory platform to be sustainable. If the participation breaks down because of the profit taking, as seems the case in MySpace, then people start to leave, and eventually, the social conditions for the creation of totally autonomous platforms will arise.

I understand that in academia, being critical is the life-blood for recognition and that there is a competition towards hyper-criticality. But I think that the conclusion that most people have suddently become ‘dumb’, because they do not recognize the exploitation, is unwarranted. They do know this, and they mostly recognize it as a fact of life, but they also have their own interests at heart.

If you criticize that the benefits of the labor of the many go to the few, does that then imply that you favour revenue-sharing? But in that case, you kill passionate production, it becomes a for-market activity, the quality of contributions plummets. Is that what is preferable? Or rather, should we find ways so that the generated revenue goes back to the community in such a way that the peer production process is not undermined by direct payments?

I say we need strategies which work with the passion of the peer producers, that take them seriously (does not assume they are dumb and unaware of exploitation).


Patrick Lichty wrote:

As mentioned before, I’m not totally convinced about the whole L thing, but it seems to be my area of research, and where I seem to be located.

And as new Columbia College island admin, I made a few decisions.

First, admissions asked if we could do a reconstruction of the campus.

Personally, I don’t understand this. It’s very odd that human architecture remains in a space where you can fly, etc.

My vision for the Columbia site is a place for experimentation, live media streaming, and for information dissemination to prospective students and existing ones. My department teaches 3D modelin and game design, and it makes sense for us to use Sl at this time, and better to put the fine artists in charge ;)

Therefore, no virtual representation of the physical campus. Period.

However, I intend to have galleries for our annual festival, links to departments and information, virtual t-shirts, departmental sandboxes, and media servers. Hopefully, our architecture will depend more on small textures than geometry, like Emily Carr. That way, we can look at basics of form, and concentrate on function.

Makes no sense to duplicate the physical in the virtual, although a lot of the rules are similar, many others are totally different.


Trebor Scholz wrote:


The dynamics of labor are complex. It’s complicated; participants in sociable web media surely get something out of their time spent and labor invested. (I really appreciated the link that Ana Valdes established between virtual and “real life world” exploitation.) But when you say that people are aware that they are unfairly treated, I suggest to geographically situate this argument. Speaking about far stretches of Europe, I agree with you that such awareness is prevalent. Within the context of the United States, however, I can assure you that it is not some kind of opportunistic ivory tower assertion to propose that the consciousness of the very real exploitation of labor is dismal among the youth. Talk to most of the 18 or 25 year-olds here and you will find very little of the awareness that you are taking for granted. Au Contraire! I noticed a naturalized identification with corporate interests that seem to be closer to their hearts than their own. This is not their “fault,” it’s not the wrong kind of youth — it is simply the way they were socialized, –yes– by the mass media and basically by everything that surrounds them since day 1. Many of them see exploitation as a phenomenon that transcends history and is part of human nature. Sure, it is costly to provide the kind of service that MySpace or YouTube provide (granted that these are extreme examples). However, there is an undeniable imbalance between the profit gained through the performance and speech acts of the very many participants and their payback (micro-fame, affect, a sense of belonging, …). And, there is nothing natural about that.


Joshua Levy wrote:

In the push-pull between the market and expression, many people here and elsewhere in academia tend to take sides against the market as if the market is in itself exploitative, and entrepreneurship should be discouraged, and anything that smells of profit is suspect. I’m not so ready to make those conclusions about SL or other for-profit environments since, as Michel argues, most users comprehend and accept the plain fact that the principle of profit-taking is “the very condition for the participatory platform to be sustainable.” Is this a perfect model for free expression? Maybe or maybe not. But how else are we going to fund a platform like SL that takes real human sweat (alas, maybe produced in virtual sweatshops) to stay afloat and innovate. We can dream about a full open source SL, and that may happen some day, but there’s no crime in Linden Labs’ profit motives alone.

Our entire electronic life involves this contract: Google and all of its services are free to us because of the advertising Google rakes in; this may not be “pure” but it works — Google is at the top of its field and the geeks prefer it. We watch television for free in return for watching inane commercials, etc. Is this system perfect? No. But that doesn’t mean it’s exploitative. As Michel says, if a company like MySpace overreaches is authority, we can leave and set up camp somewhere else.


Simon Biggs wrote:

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.


Andreas Schiffler wrote:

Michel Bauwens wrote:

> I say we need strategies which work with the passion of the peer
> producers, that take them seriously (does not assume they are dumb and
> unaware of exploitation).

In response to this very good analysis, I want to throw in an comment about the technology dependence of these strategies (aka, I am a technologist and can respond best in those categories).

What has arguably worked best in the past are systems that require a minimum of technology for the individual participant – allowing them to “plug in” easily. A good example is Wikipedia. Wikipedia allowed people to contribute with “just a browser” – even the text based “lynx” browser works. What’s more, the interface was designed so that one didn’t even have the hurdle of “logging in” – just click the [Edit] button and type. The servers and software that run Wikipedia were similarly “minimal” at the onset and only needed to be expanded when traffic grew due to the popularitly (see and

Going back to the strategy argument: the simple fact that a system such as “Wikipedia” can run with these relatively modest hardware requirements helps greatly to keep the system operational through individual support and donations only – thus keeping it a relatively “corporate and ad-free” zone. Currently the Wikipedia system is run on about 100+ machines which are mostly caches. Now if we compare that to the 4000+ machines of SecondLife mentioned on previous threads – about 20 times more – it is easy to see why a system like SL is only viable in a “for-profit” scenario.

One conclusion that one can draw from this observation, is that systems operating at the high-end of technological capability such as SL are not very viable to be open (although that can change over time, as technology becomes better). This is similar to and extends the arguments about our digital divide: access to the Internet requires a certain amount of $ leaving behind the part of the world that has only 2cents. Access to a Virtual World requires requires even more $$$ further skewing the economics of “free and participatory”.

Getting back to a strategy: What has to happen to facilitate a truly open virtual world? I think is likely best done as a massively connected distributed-computing system – a fragmented amorphous “Matrix” with minimal central server requirements similar to some of the P2P networks in existence today.

I could envision an open collaborative effort where participants contribute not just give their “labor” and their presence but also some bits and bytes form their harddrive, the idle CPU cycles of their screensavers and some connectivity to provide the resources that make up the VR in the first place. Thus what would be needed is a software that allows participants to contribute “Micro-Matrices” to the whole pool. I could see this being build out of existing OpenSource software; Linux as the base to get the hardware to go, building on networking technologies such as BitTorrent and Tor (, enabling grid computing similar to, adding creative tools such as Gimp and Blender, supporting existing document technologies via OpenOffice like apps, providing communications via HTML, JXTA (, H.264 and Jabber protocols.

Such a software might actually challenge the “Operating System + Deskop” metaphor sold by Microsoft and Apple. What if operating a PC means actually “plugging into a virtual world” in an equally give-and-take manner. If this would take hold, it might help free the Internet from the stranglehold of the “Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line” (ADSL) economy: the A means that most current broadband connections are too slow for uploads, disallowing individuals to operate servers effectively from home, hence inhibiting technologies such as the ones described above.

While at this point in time such a software or developments are more Fiction than Science, keep in mind that Nintendo is probably working on it. ;-)


Trebor wrote:

Howard Rheingold on on Education in SL:

“I’ve lectured in Second Life, complete with slides, and remarked that I didn’t really see the advantage of doing it in SL. Members of the audience pointed out that it enabled people from all over the world to participate and to chat with each other while listening to my voice and watching my slides; again, you don’t need an immersive graphical simulation world to do that.

I think the real proof of SL as an educational medium with unique affordances would come into play if an architecture class was able to hold sessions within scale models of the buildings they are studying, if a biochemistry class could manipulate realistic scale-model simulations of protein molecules, or if any kind of lesson involving 3D objects or environments could effectively simulate the behaviors of those objects or the visual-auditory experience of navigating those environments. Just as the techniques of teleoperation that emerged from the first days of VR ended up as valuable components of laparascopic surgery, we might see some surprise spinoffs in the educational arena. A problem there, of course, is that education systems suffer from a great deal more than a lack of immersive environments. I’m not ready to write off the educational potential of SL, although, as noted, the importance of that potential should be seen in context. In this regard, we’re still in the early days of the medium, similar to cinema in the days when filmmakers nailed a camera tripod to a stage and filmed a play; SL needs D.W. Griffiths to come along and invent the equivalent of close-ups, montage, etc.

The one difficult to surmount obstacle is the learning curve. One figure I’d like to see is the number of people who create objects and environments in SL. That population is where the innovations are likely to emerge.

I think the SL hype deserves debunking, but let’s not set that debunking up as an eternal straw man. Who, exactly, is predicting that any percentage of the population will really live in SL? (Someone who has lost a loved one to WOW?) To me, the point has long since ceased to be whether or not this is going to be as popular as solitaire, but whether some truly useful innovation is going to emerge.”

Alan Clinton wrote:

I find Trebor’s concepts of “unpaid labor” and his seeming desire to convert every act into “labor” somewhat problematic. I am also concerned about the philosophical ramifications of saying that people who think they are having fun are not really having fun or experiencing pleasure.

I’m not sure that seeking out all the unpaid labor in the virtual world is the most productive critique of capitalism.

Is the greatest trick of capitalism really convincing people that labor doesn’t exist? I would say that its greatest trick would be convincing people that the violence of human exploitation doesn’t exist. At the risk of revising Marcuse, couldn’t we say that consciousness of servitude is not really the problem so much as providing strategies for political agency? People who are laboring know that they are laboring. People (and let’s not dismiss the global south so quickly) who are suffering the violence of capitalism know they are suffering the violence of servitude. They may lack awareness of ways to name this violence or attack it, but they are not unaware of their suffering.

It’s hard for me to shed any real tears for socioeconomically stable people giving up their virtual labor (or false consciousness fun) to companies that profit from it. However, it is criminal if sociable media agents/interfaces sap these individuals, as embodied beings, of the time, energy, and knowledge required for political agency (not primarily for themselves but for the brutally exploited)–having their political agency diminished or extinguished by their lack of awareness of their participation in the violent capitalism of which they are, for the most part, beneficiaries.

Perhaps the surplus value that needs to be spoken of in this context is the time, resources, and knowledge that is diverted from potential actions against global capitalism and its violence.

Alan Clinton

Tobias van Veen wrote:

Thanks Charlie for your wonderful critical blasts of SL scholarship.

However I do find it intriguing, this constant parallel with masturbation, insofar as it is part of a long, funny history in philosophy of guilt and denial and apology and moralism over masturbation (pinpointed with such acuity and humour in Derrida’s analysis of auto-affection and “that dangerous supplement” in Rousseau, Of Grammatology).

The point being that masturbation, aka simulacra of sex, is as REAL as “real sex”, it is not derived from real sex and thus a derivation or perversion, it is just sex with one’s other-hand, it already entails alterity — there is no need to debase it, is there? Thus to charge SL, even as polemic, with “cultural pornography” in this case I think is to offend pornography, not SL. Why degrade pornography and masturbation? Condemning sexual activities online is yet another facet of the “Bush administration” as you put it, and I think one of the more complex analyses yet to be grasped is the complex relation all online realms hold between sexuality, affect (aka masturbation) and alterity. It’s what them younger kids are up too.

As for SL, Upgrade International has just launched a node there. So has Dorkbot from what I hear. Our current debate (I curate UpgradeMTL) is trying to find where to put it on our Google worldMap. Some suggest in the North Pole or middle of the Pacific; others, a random location to be loaded each time; others, where the servers are located.

I find this intriguing, the concept of a media arts meeting online, once a month, like the other Upgrade flesh gatherings, each based in its own city, in the sense that our avatars can get together in some virtual space and watch media clips of someone’s media art, txt chat about it, ask questions, and that this might flit over all those nation-state barriers, save for that odd one concerning the curvature of the planetoid and that time thing. But it is interesting in the way that television can be interesting, maybe up a notch to some kind of participatory level, through the screen, always bounded by this screen. It might even be that such meetings are really the “proper” place of such media art, and not in the flesh, this nonplace, nonproper, properly speaking. Perhaps the rest of us city-based nodes are hanging on to some outdated mode of the f2f — many of us struggling to make it work on a regular basis, the perennial question, “where is the community?” — while SL demonstrates where media art finds its chez moi. Toward nonmedia, uncanny nonplace of the screen medium, technics hyperdrive on affect overload. I’m not sure if this is where my body wants to go though… which is really nowhere, just my chair, the same one I’ve been at all day. Now if Upgrade-I started having SL orgies, perhaps this would up the interest meter a notch, it would keep one hand busy at least, maybe even two… and if my partner were involved, would this classify as real sex, a partial threesome, the third the screen / webcam interface? Hmm.

Keep the fire comin’.



Charlie Gere wrote:


Thanks for your thoughts and believe me I am the last person to condemn masturbation, and therefore I take your point about denigrating pornography etc… I fear my polemical zeal and weakness for a beguiling metaphor overcame my capacity to present a fully reasoned argument. My point was about the dangers of conflating two different things, the experience of a virtual space such as SL on the one hand, and that of RL communities on the other. It’s not really a question of embodiment; after all, as Benedict Anderson pointed out all those years ago, most of our communities are imagined and don’t involve experience of all the other bodies of which they are comprised. But I do think it is a question of what actual effects actions have in different realms, such as SL and RL, and what kinds of responsibilities they bring with them.

I teach my Cultural Studies undergraduate students a couple of texts that relate to these issues, ‘The Cross-Dressing Psychiatrist’ by Allucquere Rosanne Stone and ‘A Rape in Cyberspace’ by Julian Dibble. Though both predate SL by quite a few years, the questions they raise remain pertinent, particularly the Dibble piece. My students and I have long discussions about whether the virtual textual ‘rape’ enacted on an avatar in LamdaMoo is in any sense equivalent to rape as the term is used in the material world. (Interesting that, as Tobias may well point out, that rape as an example confirms the ‘complex relation all online realms hold between sexuality, affect… and alterity’). My strong sense is that there is pretty much no comparison and to conflate the two uses of the term is dangerous and even offensive. As a thought experience, imagine a rape victim’s possible reaction to hearing someone describe some experience in SL as ‘rape’. By the same token this could be said of many other terms used in both SL and RL, and of the experiences and structures to which they refer. Again imagine the reaction of someone who has been involved in attempting to build and sustain communities in, for example, Iraq or Palestine, listening to someone describe the problems of community building in SL. I think grasping and holding onto this distinction is incredibly important.


Josh Levy wrote:

I had a minor breakthrough last night. Some of the more experienced SL folks here are going to laugh at me for this — but I realized that you can do so many more things with the camera than I realized (the camera is your POV in Second Life). It can be manipulated as you go about your business there, panning left to right, moving up and down, and zooming in and out. Previously I’d only zoomed in and out, struggling to focus in on other avatars’ faces, or — because I’m recording this for a short film — to position my own avatar in visually interesting ways, including actually looking at my own face. Anyway, I felt a bit schmucky about it because I realized I should have known how to do this all along.

After I finished flogging myself I investigated Camp Darfur in SL. It’s changed a lot since I’ve last been there, though the lack of other avatars is the same. Before it was pretty empty, with information scattered here and there and a few banners publichzing the atrocity. Now, there are flames leaping out at you as you arrive, posters describing the tragedy and images of refugees all over the place, and ominous-looking, giant blue helmets (the UN, get it?) strewn about. It’s a pretty chaotic place, though this chaos doesn’t suggest man-made terror as much as a lack of design and forethought.

I was struck by the same incongruities that got me interested in SL in the first place, the simple problem of confronting real issues in an unreal space. It sounds mundane and obvious when describing it, yet the feelings evoked by seeing my avatar — or being my avatar — standing in front of a large image of a Darfurian child, dirty and alone and crying, were complex and new. The child in the image was approximately the same size as my avatar. The two images existed in the same space, and were both representations of real people, yet my avatar was a digitized version of myself, and the image of the child was simply an image of the child. There were no other avatars around so I couldn’t experience the thrill of social life in SL, and this fact heightened the starkness of the image. As I walked around I inadvertently created more of these tableaus. In one, my avatar looked at a poster with mostly words on it. As the camera panned around to the left side of the avatar its profile took up the foreground of the shot. In the background appeared an image of a woman from Darfur. In the distance were virtual huts with more information inside them and other tiny images. The image privileged my virtual face and relegated someone’s real, distraught face to the background.

Gazing upon this image made me think of what many people on this list have referred to, that Second Life is the province of an educated elite and as such is given a disproportionate amount of importance with many tragic aspects of real life taking a back seat. More than anything else, it felt perverted that I should be in Second Life looking at those images taken of real women and children while my avatar and I practiced camera moves.

Yet there was something else going on; I was moved to stop and think about these things rather than see an image like that and pass it by without noticing, which is more typical. In her book Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag takes a sort of potshot at her earlier self, arguing that images in themselves might not have the power to evoke universal empathy and action; an image of a dead Palestinian boy evokes one reaction for a militant Palestinian and quite another for a militant Israeli. It’s partly about the context in which we view these images. Nevertheless, while viewing these images of Darfurian refuges taken quite profoundly out of context I was able to see the awfulness like never before, and with my new agility with the camera I was able to create even starker images.

I realized after a bit that for me, the crux of the SL problem is its evocation of and relationship to real life, it’s place within real life, and it’s role, for better or for worse, as a reflection of real life (witness the recent vandalism that plagued John Edwards’ space and various corporate outlets). Has anyone else been to Camp Darfur or a similar space, and how did you react?

Joshua Levy

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1 3-D activist aesthetics agency algorithmic animation app architecture archive ARG art + science artificial asynchronous audio audio/visual augmented/mixed reality avatar bioart biopolitics biotechnology body calls + opps censorship chance cinema city code collaboration collective community conference convergence conversation copyright culture cyberreality dance data distributed DIY DJ/VJ e-literature ecology education emergence environment event exhibition fabbing festival film forking free/libre software games generative gesture gift economy glitch global/ization hacktivism history hybrid hypermedia identity im/material image immersive installation interactive interdisciplinary interface intermedia intervention interview labor language lecture light live live cinema livestage locative media machinima mapping mashup media mobile motion tracking multimedia music narrative nature net art networked new media news nonlinear object open source p2p participatory perception performance physical place place-specific platform play political presence public public/private pyschogeography radio reblog recycle reenactment relational remix research responsive robotic second life semantic web simulation site-specific social social choreography social networks software sound space streaming surveillance synesthesia synthetic systems tactical tag tangible technology telematic text theater theory tool touch transdisciplinary tv ubiquitous unconference upgrade! urban video virtual visualization voice wearable web 2.0 webcam webcast wireless workshop writings



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Turbulence Works

These are some of the latest works commissioned by's net art commission program.
[ openspace ] wilderness [] A More Subtle Perplex A Temporary Memorial Project for Jobbers' Canyon Built with ConAgra Products A Travel Guide A.B.S.M.L. Ars Virtua Artist-in-Residence (AVAIR) (2007) Awkward_NYC besides, Bonding Energy Bronx Rhymes Cell Tagging Channel TWo: NY Condition:Used Constellation Over Playas Data Diaries Domain of Mount GreylockVideo Portal Eclipse Empire State Endgame: A Cold War Love Story Flight Lines From the Valley of the Deer FUJI spaces and other places Global Direct Google Variations Gothamberg Grafik Dynamo Grow Old Handheld Histories as Hyper-Monuments html_butoh I am unable to tell you I'm Not Stalking You; I'm Socializing iLib Shakespeare (the perturbed sonnet project) INTERP Invisible Influenced iPak - 10,000 songs, 10,000 images, 10,000 abuses iSkyTV Journal of Journal Performance Studies Killbox L-Carrier Les Belles Infidles look art Lumens My Beating Blog MYPOCKET No Time Machine Nothing Happens: a performance in three acts Nothing You Have Done Deserves Such Praise Oil Standard Panemoticon Peripheral n2: KEYBOARD Playing Duchamp Plazaville Psychographics: Consumer Survey Recollecting Adams School of Perpetual Training Searching for Michelle/SFM Self-Portrait Shadow Play: Tales of Urbanization of China ShiftSpace Commissions Program Social Relay Mail Space Video Spectral Quartet Superfund365, A Site-A-Day text_ocean The Xanadu Hijack This and that thought. Touching Gravity 2/Tilt Tumbarumba Tweet 4 Action Urban Attractors and Private Distractors We Ping Good Things To Life Wikireuse Without A Trace WoodEar Word Market You Don't Know Me
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