Activism + Social Transmission
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.
Networks and Social Change
The third of MillsÂ� criteria specified the necessity to transform opinions into action even against, if necessary, the prevailing system of authority. Although a thorough examination of the relationship between technology, agency, power and social change is beyond the scope of this study, I would like to make some general observations regarding the potential for using networks to promote social change. This attempt is relevant because if, as Mills (1956) suggests, a mass cannot really claim the agency to contest the prevailing authority, then to the extent that networked ICTÂ�s are said to transform publics into masses, they can be said to stand in the way of authentic social change.
At the center of this issue are the ways in which networks in capitalist societies commodify social participation. Borgmann (2004), for instance, rightly points out that commodification is the distinguishing feature of the online social interactions that networks make possible. "To commodify something economically is to pull something that is outside of the market into the market" (p. 64), or in other words, to transform things with no monetary value into things with monetary value Â�or commoditiesÂ� through their subordination to the logic of capitalism. Borgmann suggests that the commodification of the social happens when a social practice is taken out of its localized context and offered in a re-packaged format online. Thus, chatting becomes online chatting, dating become online dating, etc. Borgmann attempts to establish that networked sociality robs communities of their original meaning and commodify the cultural production of social space:
The Internet is culturally commodifying by its nature. It frees us from the limitations of space and time... What happens in fact is that commodification reduces ourselves and those we encounter on the Internet to glamorous and attractive personae. Commodification becomes ...
This semester I will publish selected lectures for my Sociable Media course. Podcasting is great but it is also a bit petrifying to hear my Germano-British accent. Listening to it, I had to confront my occasional generalization but it's a rich pesentation that, I think, will be worth your while. You can subscribe to this podcast series of lectures. If you listen to it in Itunes or Jukebox you'll miss the presentation slides). Alternatively, you can download the video of the first lecture here (34 MB, 45 mins, m4B file opens in Quicktime or VLC).
When i asked her what she does or drink to have so much energy and creativity Cati Vaucelle simply told me that she is spending the nights playing World of Warcraft. Well, i'm sorry Cati, it doesn't work for us mere mortals! Hanging around with druids and having a stroll through Dun Morogh on the back of a tiger doesn't usually results in projects that i'd want to blog. And if Cati's avatar kills monsters and completes quests as fast as she engineers new projects then she might be one of the most formidable players around. One day she's working on a touch-sensitive dress for sensory therapy, the day after she announces that she's just finished collaborating with Hayes Raffle on a rubber stamp that children can press onto the page to record sounds into their drawings.