I've struggled to organize my thoughts about Gwyn's post, and it took replying to a good hard challenge on the avatar realism issue to pull it together (Thanks, Jen!).
So, a New World Notes post discussed "realistic" avatar shapes, as a follow-up to earlier posts about the politics of female forms in Second Life, and Gwyn discussed legislative and judicial efforts. Both of these seem to be discussing atomic-world statements: people bringing into the digital world something from the atomic, as a solution to some problem.
(Let's pause here. Not everybody with a realistic avatar does so *as a political statement.* Commenters have come up with several good and non-political reasons for having that sort of avatar. I'm not, and never was, talking about those avatars or reasons. I'm talking about the people in the NWN posts and in other posts (Kate's got a good roundup here), who have used their avatar's appearance *in order to make a social or cultural statement.* If your avatar is realistic because it pleases you aesthetically, or because you're using your avatar as an icon or trademark for your business, or because you just rezzed yesterday and don't really know what's possible yet, that's great. But I'm not talking about you.)
(And, I've got to add, that's why my saying "but I'm not talking about you!" to some people wasn't the racist "but some of my best friends are..." that it sounded like to at least one person. I really wasn't talking about Jen, or Giulio, or ahuva - though I what I said might apply to Kedawen, something I could have been clearer on)
OK, you've just hit the news because you're Making A Statement with something imported from the atomic world. I'm going to ask you two questions (let's all pause here for the Monty Python flashback - and my favorite color's blue - no, gray!).
First: Is this a solution to an *atomic world* problem or a digital worlds problem?
I think that the "realistic avatar" is an example of the former. There are real issues of discrimination in the atomic world, over skin color, over body shape and size. These are problems, and they need solutions. But they need solutions *in the atomic world.* You're not going to solve racism in the digital world. You're not going to solve the glorification of anorexia - a *physical* issue - in the digital world. So, I'm going to argue that your efforts are being spent in the wrong place. If you have an atomic problem, solve it in the atomic.
(Now, I've heard a lot of discussion of racial and body-shape prejudice being expressed in SL. Standing up against *that* is important. Where's the line? Honestly, I don't know.)
Some astute commenters have noted that this is the ghastly old immersion/augmentation issue all over again. Yeah, it is. If you see SL, or any digital world, as its own place, importing a social problem or a political issue is downright rude: it's like going on vacation to a foreign country and arguing the benefits of your political candidate or party back home. It's rude, and it's imperialistic - it's implicitly saying that your community's politics are more important than those of the ones you're visiting.
But, if you see digital worlds as just another communications medium, and that there's only one world, one culture - yours in the atomic - then there's no good reason not to use that medium to push your views on cultural issues.
So, yes, I'm arguing the immersionist view, and if you reject that view, we'll mostly be talking past each other. But as so many people have pointed out, there aren't that many people who're reflexive extremists on one end or the other. For most all of us, we're sorting our way as we go, and we think through our positions issue by issue. That's why I'm writing - to sort through my own thoughts, and to lean on all of you for help on the way!
Second, if it *is* a digital worlds problem, do you really have the best solution?
I think the governance initiatives fall under this question. Yes, there are real issues with digital-worlds identity and management - this isn't atomic politicking. But, for the people who advocate legislatures and courts, I have to ask - are those the best solutions for the digital-worlds problem, or are you grabbing for the tool that's familiar rather than the tool that's best?
It seems to me that legislatures, courts and electoral politics are technologies, tools like any other. Legislatures and courts in particular are (in part) information-processing technologies. They were developed around the 17th Century in their modern forms as solutions to contemporary information-proceessing problems (among other problems). Electoral politics developed in the 19th Century in response to changed information-processing problems (and other things).
Does SL face the same problems as a large territorial nation in the early stages of industrialization and mass communications? Even if so (and I've got to think the answer's no), have we developed no better tools in the past couple centuries?
If you're going to argue that we should use centuries-old tools in the digital world, you're going to have to really convincingly claim that the problem is the same as the centuries-old problem that spawned those tools, and that there's no better solution.
I really don't think the governance advocates have done either.
This could flow-chart nicely, if I could draw (where's Botgirl when I need her?!):
- Is the problem located in the digital world or the atomic?
- If it's in the atomic, please try to solve it there, tyvm.
- If it's in the digital,
- Is the problem the same problem that generated the atomic solution you're proposing? If not, please try again.
- If it is the same problem, is there no better solution?
- the problem is digital,
- the digital problem is the same as the problem solved by the atomic technology, and
- no better solution is available.
This is why, though I love Kate's "everythingness" and Myg's "live your god damn dream," I can't stop there. Our world is in flux. It could become its own thing, or it could be just another part of the atomic world order. Every choice we make tilts the balance some little bit. I'd like to see us put our thumbs down on the side of creative freedom and exploration. So, not all choices are the same...