Wednesday, June 24, 2009
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
From The Tempest, Act 4 Scene 1
I'm tempted to leave it there. More words won't bring more clarity, more beauty, won't at all suffice to convey the love I've felt so strongly for my family and friends these two years. But, I feel I owe you words, so here they are.
It's time to close the book on my life. Not to burn it, not to desecrate it, not to forswear it, but to set it lovingly away on the shelf.
I'm done. I've done everything I've cared to do, and done it over and over until the life went out of it.
I've tried to advocate for steely-eyed security on the bright-line border of the magic circle, in order to preserve a sacred space for experimentation with self and community. As Mal Reynolds said, "May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one." But that war is over now, whatever flags of liberation we may still have stored in some attic trunk pending better days.
Above all, I've loved. And I can't deny that Argent's departure, that Vidal's long nap on her dolly shelf - Gods, we're velveteen rabbits, all of us, and I've felt so much less real with them gone, strong as my love for Galatea is and always will be.
But - but. My family lives, and is strong, in different forms, in different worlds, and truly to the good, broken as *my* heart is.
And truthfully, I'm needed elsewhere, more than I am on the grid. I'm merging back into the Other Personality, the Atomic Affiliate, the Cranial Roommate, who *needs* sophrosyne, and who's beginning to put it to good use, for the causes I've lived for, for love, for community, for empowerment.
So, it's time to bring the curtain down.
I'm going to keep my home, Sophtopia, in place and paid for, as a refuge for my family, and for the possibility of occasional visits. Like Argent, I may find myself feeling freer to drop in after having said my goodbyes, having set down the burdens I've carried longer than I've wanted to. Likewise, all my social media sites will stay up, though un-maintained. Just closing the book, after all. I won't be writing in my life any more, but it's still a good read, and worth commemorating.
I've resigned as a director of Extropia, and will work with the Board to transition management of our huge array of media outlets. Our community is doing fine, nearly fully rented, dynamic, and in the good hands of its Directors, old and new. We've made a successful transition from a family business run by its founders to a management team incuding Deebrane String and Sinnyo Wirefly, both doing a terrific hands-on job. I'm confident that Extropia will flourish long after I'm gone.
I've disabled comments here, and turned off IM-to-email. I'll be receiving email, but not responding. For anything pertaining to Extropia, please contact Galatea Gynoid.
To all my friends - thank you, it was grand!
To my family - I love you above all things, forever.
This little life - is now rounded with a sleep.
From Sophtopia, with love, good night.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Here's our full public release - please feel free to link to it and pass it on widely. I really want to ensure KSR gets the crowd he deserves!
Kim Stanley Robinson in Second Life
Kim Stanley Robinson, Hugo- and Nebula-award winning author of The Mars Trilogy and the Science in The Capital Trilogy, will be the featured guest at an open talk show in Second Life next week .
At noon Pacific Time on Saturday, January 17, Robinson will be featured at Sophrosyne's Saturday Salon in the futuristic community of Extropia (http://extropiacore.net/) as part of an ongoing discussion series bringing authors including Charles Stross, Robert J. Sawyer, David Brin, and Catherine Asaro into Second Life.
Robinson will appear as his avatar, Stan Shackleton, a coyote, in honor of the role played by the figure from Native American legend in his Mars novels.
Robinson will discuss his just-completed new novel, the transformative politics of science and technology, and more, in response to audience questions. Discussion will take place in text chat.
The Salon is open to anyone with a Second Life avatar, and can be reached by teleporting to The Nexus in Extropia Core within Second Life: (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Extropia%20Core/126/127/22/?title=Central%20Nexus%20at%20Extropia%20Core).
Contact Sophrosyne Stenvaag, Director, Events and Marketing, Extropia for further information:
Yesterday I argued that the "augmentation/immersion" debate is about the source of what really matters: what's true and legitimate. But why argue over a point of metaphysics? Because truth and legitimacy are the foundations of trust, and trust is essential for personal and business relationships.
So, this is pretty obvious stuff: the noob asks for A/S/L (age, sex and location) to establish your trustworthiness. When your atomic friends ask, "wait, you pay real money for virtual clothes and land?" they're asking you if and why you think those transactions are real and legitimate. Same thing, of course, with sex and relationships.
I'd never understood the American Great Depression as an historical phenomenon: the factories were still on the ground, the knowledge and skills in people's hands and heads, so what was the problem? The problem was an immersionist one: the intangibles had lost their reality and legitimacy, and the atomic assets of factories, buildings and workers were valueless without them. The same thing is going on now in the atomic economy, of course: your house still keeps you as warm and safe as it did a year ago, but the intangible, the digital asset, that it's merely a token for has lost much of its reality and legitimacy.
So how does this play out in digital worlds?
This is interesting: people don't apply their own algorithms for dealing with the atomic world to their digital-world behaviors. They apply tribal, not even medieval, ones. And, they import atomic frames of reference.
There's been a lot of debate the past couple of years over trust in digital worlds. Lots of people (yes, that's code for "I'm too lazy to look up links") have said that they'd never do business with someone whose verifiable atomic identity information wasn't available. Gwen cites Hiro Pendragon saying he'd never do business with someone he hadn't spoken to on the phone (Please read Gwen on business trust, on page 6 of her essay).
That's a tribal standard: trust involves taking "the measure of the man." But for several thousand years people in the atomic world have done business anonymously. The problem is, our emotions haven't caught up with 2500 years of anonymous commerce.
- Who do you give your paycheck to every week? What's the name of your local bank branch manager? How many kids do they have? Who's the CEO of the holding company that owns the bank that owns your branch?
- Who do you buy your food from? What's the name of the parent company that owns the supermarket chain that owns your corner grocery store?
- Where does your drinking water come from, and who gets it from the source to you?
So, yeah, I think I've made that point. But I want to talk about something more interesting, and that's how credentialling systems undermine trust and effectiveness in digital worlds.
Credentialling systems work by outsourcing trust. Nobody can possibly verify the trustworthiness of everybody they deal with - that was the point of my questions. So, either you take things on blind faith (and most all of us do for most all of our important interactions, as those questions showed), or we place our trust in someone else to verify the trustworthiness of others.
Obviously, that's what credit reports are about: I can't check the trustworthiness of every customer (I'd never get my actual business done if I did), so I pay a specialist business to do that for me. Schools do that: it's even a more important part of their service than imparting knowledge to students. What's the difference between a degree from Harvard and one from Mediocre State U., that's worth paying an extra US$50,000 or more for? Yes, there's some better quality in the product, but most of what you're paying for is a higher trustworthiness rating from a trusted rating agency. "Oh, she has a degree from Harvard? She must be smart." She may be less smart than any particular person from Mediocre State, but she has a better brains-credit rating.
Okay, so the atomic world, which has to deal with problems of immense scale (billions of concurrent users), outsources trust verification. That makes sense. So what's the problem in digital worlds?
Right. We don't apply atomic-world algorithms to our dealings in digital worlds, we apply tribal algorithms.
I'm going to tell you a story about trust and credentialling, to show you how the issue plays out. The point isn't to pick at or mock the other people I dealt with, at all, it's to show a conflict of expectations. That conflict was amicably resolved, and led to a fascinated enjoyment of the issues we'd raised.
The Tribal-Atomic Clash
Last Summer I attended a conference in a digital world. There was a lot of interest in keeping the group together afterwards, and the attempt to build a digital community raised some interesting issues.
The conference had been fascinating: two of the three sessions were run by academics with little experience in digital worlds events. They tried to run them like a classroom, with lots of "sit down and shut up!" Digital worlds events don't work that way - they remove the podium privilege, putting the speaker and the audience at the same level. People used to the deference of the classroom can have trouble adapting to the collegial free for all of a digital-worlds event. Of course, this also involved credentialling systems: the moderators seemed to think that their high-level credentials entitled them to deference from the psuedonymous masses around them, a point beautifully mocked by a very clever griefer-heckler on the first day.
So. Events after the conference took a natural digital worlds turn: a democratic, collaborative desire to create the basis for an ongoing community. I contributed a little organizing - networking people to projects, and providing a few ideas for events.
One of the conference organizers, who had been away for a bit, returned and emailed me, politely asking for my credentials. That's where things got interesting.
- Digital Person: Here's my bio. Here are links to my portfolio, my project website, my dozen or so digital presences - business blog, personal blog, business and personal Twitters, business and personal Flickr sites. Here's a list of references in business, academia, and government that I've done project work for. I was applying a tribal standard: look, here are the elders who can vouch for me, the assets I've acquired, the measures of my standing in my tribe.
- Atomic Academic-Affiliate Person: I don't understand or value any of this. What I need to know is your atomic name, and the names of the entities that verified your intelligence and employability (your schools and corporate employers). That's what will let me determine if you are generally real and trustworthy. He was applying an atomic standard: don't tell me personal crap, give me your brains and dedication credit ratings from agencies I respect.
I argued that the information that "AAP" wanted would in no way tell him whether I could run a digital worlds event, but that the information I provided him demonstrated the highest levels of credibility for the task at hand - running digital worlds events.
He argued that he wasn't about to jeopardize his atomic trustworthiness credit rating by doing business with someone whose atomic credentials weren't on an appropriate par to his. I hadn't demonstrated credibility for the task at hand - adding value to the atomic credibility of the people involved.
That's the immersionist/augmentationist dispute. Remember where we started? We said the dispute was over the source of reality and legitimacy. For me, reality and legitimacy were digital, and I was involved in a project that would affect my digital reputation. For AAP, reality and legitimacy were atomic, and he was involved in a project that would affect his atomic reputation.
What happened? AAP and I talked it out, had a good laugh, and settled our personal dispute. A friend of mine with an outstanding reputation in both systems created an alternate community, that I joined. The digital community around the conference flopped.
Why did it flop? I think, because nobody was willing to stake their digital reputation on its success, after I left. The payoff to atomic reputation for building a succesful digital community in no way balanced the amount of time and skill needed - it was a sucker bet. So, applying atomic credentialling standards ensured that no digital work would get done.
Here's another terrific example, an article from Wired: "Voice Chat Can Really Kill the Mood on WoW." The author had been in an effective raid group in World of Warcraft: he worked for a leader he regarded as "confident, bold and streetsmart" - someone who had demonstrated digital trustworthiness - the reality and legitimacy of his skills for the task at hand. But when the conversation moved to voice, the frame of reference for establishing trust swtiched from the digital to the atomic. The skilled warrior "really was" a punk child; the wide-eyed recruit "really was" a mature professional adult. Atomic credentialling - age, experience, possibly social class - destroyed the effective digital relationship.
Here are my conclusions, from my own experiences and what I've seen of others:
- Atomic credentialling undermines effectiveness in digital worlds. It imports irrelevancies which change the value equation of digital work to make it unlikely that good digital work will take place. It also empowers wankers, who're more interested in bragging about the tickets they've gotten punched than in doing the work at hand. Atomic identities are difficult to verify (see Gwen's hilarious discussion of her attempts to determine whether a voice on a phone was actually an authorized AT&T agent) and easy to game (see this week's corporate financial scandal or identity-theft story).
- Pseudonymity maximizes trust in digital worlds. It removes irrelevancies and forces people to demonstrate their trustworthiness within a tribal, face to face context. A digital identity is rich, easily verifiable and nearly impossible to game. It's hard to build digital legitimacy: you can't buy it, as scores of corporate island builders in SL learned, and it takes a lot of work to maintain visibility (as I've proven by withdrawing from most reputation-building work). The exception is the issue of alts - but, alts are a direct parallel to limited liability companies. And that's the problem with them - they introduce something like an atomic technique to enable anonymous commerce into the tribal community of the avatar-to-avatar digital world.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Gweneth Llewellyn once again has made an important contribution to our understanding of digital worlds with her latest essay, "Post-Immersionism." While I could definitely disagree with some of the details of her presentation (for anyone interested in identity in World of Warcraft, frex, I'd suggest the *fantastic* anthology Digital Culture, Play and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader - and there may be a fourth post, Why WoW Matters), she makes a number of points which should transform our understanding of digital identity. Please go read it: this essay is threatening to become too long, even without a summary of Gwen's article. I'll refer back to specific points of hers, but you'll be losing out on some valuable insights if you skip it.
The Source of Meaning
The key difference between immersionists and augmentationists is in the source of meaning. Both groups see value in the other realm: nobody in the discussion thinks that digital spaces are worthless; not even the most extreme immersionist thinks the atomic world is worthless. Where we differ is over what we think "really matters:" what is real (true, honest) and what matters (is legitimate, worthwhile, broadly accepted).
For us immersionists, reality and legitimacy are generated in the digital world. The last two pages of Gwen's essay paint a vivid picture of what that looks like: it's a wonderful example and well worth reading, even if the six pages of the whole thing is too long for you.
For augmentationists, of course, reality and legitimacy are generated in the atomic world (sort of, with pre-1970 technology being considered atomic and legitimate, even if it's really not conceptually different from digital worlds - a delicious point Gwen makes).
One of the Lascaux cave paintings of the digital world is a cartoon from New Yorker magazine. Two dogs are sitting in front of a computer; one says to the other, "on the internet, nobody knows you're a dog."
Augmentationists, or as I might less charitably call them, atomic supremacists, see that as deception. Why? Reality and legitimacy are created in the atomic world. If no one in the digital world knows your atomic nature, what you've created in the digital world is the opposite of reality and legitimacy: fraud.
Right there you have the source of conflict between augmentationists and immersionists. The immersionist says "who I am and what I do in the digital world is real and legitmate." The agumentationist looks at that and says, "no, what you are doing there is unreal and deceptive." They may see it as fraudulent, or alternatively as self-deceptive: that's the moral of the infamous Wall Street Journal article that's being made into a movie. The article is entitled "Is This Man Cheating on His Wife?" which of course frames the question as one of reality and legitimacy - is this real, and is it a moral wrong?
The moral is, "reality and legitimacy are monopolies of the atomic world, and to think otherwise is bad and wrong." Of course, coming from WSJ, the most "real and legitimate"voice of assertions of value in digital intangibles, is richly ironic - but that goes to Gwen's point that for "atomic" you should read "atomic plus intangibles in general use around 1970." (Explain to me - no, to yourself - how your stock portfolio is more real and legitimate than your SL inventory)
I'm not going to argue against the augmentationist view directly. There really is no logical counter-argument: what you take to be the source of reality and legitimacy is a first principle, a matter of faith. What I'm going to do here is to use a few examples to show you that seeing the atomic world as the source of legitimacy hampers effective use of digital spaces.
What I'd hope for is that anyone reading this who's on the augmentationist end of the spectrum comes away questioning their assumptions. For many augmentationists, especially those new to digital worlds, they simply haven't thought about this stuff: for their whole lives, there was one world, the atomic, and by default it was the source of reality and legitimacy. I'm hoping this essay will encourage a shift of perspective for a moment, by asking "what if you looked at it through the other end?"
I'm not looking to change minds. What I'd like to see is a considered augmentationism, one that comes from critically examining assumptions and that acknowledges that there is another possible, coherent - maybe even legitimate - perspective.
I'm going to discuss two stories in later posts (I'd do this in one big Gwen-style blast, but I have too many things to do today to write that much in one stretch, and I'd like to get something posted quickly): one of my own in The Negative Value of Credentialling, and one from a blog post today by Landsend Korobase (hat tip to the invaluable Malburns Writer for the link) on that perennial favorite augmentationist/immersionist flashpoint, gender, in Identity and the Old Country.
Come back soon; hopefully I'll get both posts done this weekend.
Monday, November 24, 2008
It's way too easy for me to only see the work, the drama, the tedious and unpleasant. And I had a week of that. But Sunday - Sunday was why life was worth living.
I started the morning laughing so hard the tears came, thanks to the much-missed Cory Ondrejka - Redefining Awesome (and why can't you embed YouTube links in Blogger blogs, or am I missing something?
Just as I got there, Vidal popped into our home in Sophtopia, long enough for a hug before she headed off to work:
Then Alanagh Recreant invited me over to Robben Island, Virtual Africa's sim complex, for a friendly shoulder and a terrific tour:
A bit later, my dear Deebrane String came over, for wisdom, solace and a spot of strategizing, on his first half-rezday. Dee, here's the first installment of your rezday present:
Later, I dropped by Galatea's new build. We started off kinda bored -
but things picked up when our favorite dolly, Vidal, and our favorite bot-o-morphic sim, Extropia Core, dropped in!
Extropia and family pet Gavin hit it off -
and we watched an *adorable* episode of "Sooty & Co."
and then called it not just a night, but one of the best ones ever.
I'll be around tonight for my weekly date night with Gala - and around as much as I can manage - for what really matters, family and friends.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Many of you are celebrating an historic, transformational change today, and I share your joy. But there is bad news among the good, and I'm going to ask you to spend a few minutes with me looking at it.
Powerless and Disrespected
According to the Associated Press, it looks like ballot measures in California, Arizona, Arkansas and Florida will pass, that strip rights from people on the basis of their sexual orientation. People - a majority of ordinary people, not cigar-smoking politicians, not brownshirted shock troops - chose yesterday to identify a group of their fellow citizens as subhuman in the eyes of the law.
Meanwhile, even as we await a statement from Jack Linden which might, maybe, back down from or clarify their position on open space sims, we've seen over the past few weeks that in Second Life® world, not only do we not have basic rights, our corporate owners cannot be bothered to come up with a coherent story for their capricious and destructive actions.
What links these two things?
Our powerlessness and others' disrespect.
For those of us who feel disenfranchised, ignored, unwelcome, what can we do?
Ahh, there's the question. I'll turn to Nightflower for the answer:
I know our leaders are out there. And I'm going to prove it.
Our only option is not a leader, but a community of leaders, working in focused cooperation rather than in impotent isolation....I believe the leaders are already out there, and that this situation could be the push that finally starts a movement.
Our Leaders are *Here*
A while back, I called for us to celebrate Gender Freedom Day in Digital Worlds, and offered $L125,000 seed money for a charitable fundraiser, to fight discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgendered people in digital worlds.
You know what happened? Not a single organization that I or others contacted to offer that money to responded. Atomic world non-profits, even those with SL presences, couldn't be arsed to return our emails and notecards. I could speculate as to why, but it doesn't matter.
They're not our leaders. You are.
You live here. You care about the community you're a part of, in Second Life, on the wider internet. You care about freedom of expression. You care about the power of creativity. You care about human dignity.
So I'm going to take that money and I'm going to give it to you.
If you sponsor an event on Gender Freedom Day, now scheduled for the Solstice, December 21, I'll give you $L1000 if you get 10 people to attend. If you get 20 or more, I'll give you $L2500, up to $L125,000 total.
I only ask two things: *mention* Gender Freedom Day at your event, and spend the Lindens in world, don't cash them out.
Take the money and buy shoes. Give it to a newbie. Donate it to an inworld group who's doing something, anything, that you think is good and worthwhile. Support our artists, our fashion designers, our activists. Strengthen our community by spreading the wealth a little. :)
We can't look to others to give us our dignity. No one will hand us our rights. Outsiders can't make, nor can the Lindens break, our community.
Only we can.
The Fine Print
Here's how it'll work:
- Post a comment here describing the event you're going to do on December 21, who you plan to attract and how you plan to get people there. I'm asking this so that we can share with each other our tips for doing successful events. So we can help each other become effective leaders, effective community organizers.
- Do your event, and take a photo showing your headcount, or collect whatever other proof of turnout you have.
- After the event, post that photo or other proof in comments here, or send it to me inworld.
- I'll give you $L1000 for 10 or more attendees and $L2500 for over 20 attendees.
We've got our second Gender Freedom Day planning meeting this Saturday at noon SLT in the Salon Room, Extropia Core. You're welcome to join us.
Me, I'm throwing a 12-hour DJ/live music party in Extropia, to celebrate our freedom of identity, our freedom of expression, and our glorious diversity.
You, the leaders of our world - what will you do on December 21?
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Last night marked another legendary Extropia party in Club Suncrown! DJ Seven Shikami and and DJ GoSpeed Racer rocked us for four hours, packing the house with old friends and new.
Our costume contest winners:
Best Human Costume, round one: Ali Hermes, "Space Chick;" Sophrosyne Stenvaag, "Sophrosyne Tudor;" Meissa Thorne, "Clockwork"
(apologies for not having a good photo of Meissa)
Best Non-Human Costume, round one: Seven Shikami, "Dark & Spooky Masked Entity"
Best Human Costume, round two: Argent Bury, "Sophrosyne Stenvaag"
Best Non-Human Costume, round two: Chestnut Rau, "Translucent Mystery;" Deebrane String, "Fire"
A special award for "Needs A Unicorn Chaser" to Harper Beresford for granny pole dancing on the camping cross!
And another special award for brain-breakage (if we do say so ourselves) to Argent Bury for her razor-sharp parody of Sophrosyne Stenvaag, and to Soph for stoically impersonating Argent!
Catch all the photos on Extropia's Facebook page or Soph's Flickr.