Posts Tagged ‘Community’

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Class 7: Online Communities and Relationships

March 28, 2019

Attendance was disappointing this week but we continued with our visit to Virtual Ability Island (VAI) nevertheless. We all teleported to the Cabana Classrooms where Gentle Heron, founder of the Virtual Ability community, introduced her colleagues Eme Capalini, Stepinwolf Darkstone and Carla Broek. Eme is Vice President of Development for Virtual Ability. SL gives her a creative work outlet and a place to make friends. She says that logging in is like coming home. Stepin has been in SL since 2007 and joined the group that eventually became Virtual Ability where he now manages a virtual apartment complex on a voluntary basis. Carla is from Belgium and just celebrated her 12th rez day (as SL birthdays are known). She was drawn to SL by the opportunity to explore creative work like photography and community. She has created her own world inspired by the English countryside where people can relax and enjoy the peace and quiet. Gentle explained that she had been an educational researcher before being medically retired by multiple sclerosis.

Student Rebekah Majesty with Eme Capalini, Gentle Heron, Stepinwolf Darkstone and Carla Broek at Virtual Ability.

Speaking and using text (as is the custom in VAI to support those who are deaf) she describes VAI as an international cross-disability peer support community with over 1,000 members. ‘Cross-disability’ means that members who have disabilities may have a physical, a mental or emotional or developmental disability, or a sensory disability. Many have multiple disabilities. The community offers peer-to-peer understanding, support and education because sometimes it is important to communicate with people who are most likely to understand the issues, concerns and point of view. But the community is not exclusively disabled. About one-quarter of the members do not (yet!) have disabilities. They are known as TABs, Temporarily Able Bodied. They may be a parent, spouse, child or friend of a person with a disability; a professional or non-professional caregiver; an academic researcher; medical professional or an educator. The community has been in Second Life for over 11 years – and won the first Linden Prize in 2009 for a project that had a tangible impact on the real world. It is also one of the original Community Gateways into SL, authorised by Linden Lab, so is recognised well beyond its own community.

VAI is supported by Virtual Ability Inc, a US nonprofit corporation. The community assists people with all kinds of of disabilities to enter and thrive in virtual worlds like SL. It also offers various education and entertainment activities daily, encouraging members to explore all that virtual worlds have available. On this island the community provides educational exhibits and displays, health information, information on research opportunities and details of over 120 disability peer support communities identified in SL so far. The community also hosts the Cape Able Art Gallery and Cape Serenity Library.

The population with disabilities is the largest minority in the world and is the most varied. VAI members are neither geographically proximate nor culturally similar. In fact they embrace diversity. This requires a group value of respect and accommodation. The other important value is an emphasis on Ability and not DISability.

The students joined the discussion with some interesting questions. Hummish opened by asking about protecting oneself from cyber bullying, online theft and so on. Gentle replied that there is little help from SL itself but the community provides help as it can by banning griefers. Carla told us that there is a reporting tool provided by Linden Lab but it is not a direct support. John told of the retired Miami Dade police officer who headed up security in Virtual Dublin and kept the community safe and peaceful.

Coldteosies asked about anonymity and whether virtual friends met IRL. Gentle said that people may retain as much anonymity as they wish. For instance she had met all three colleagues IRL and they were exactly the same as the people she knew from SL! Stepin added that he was glad to find that Gentle was very much Gentle IRL. John added that he had many many friends in SL, some of whom he eventually met IRL and some not.

Aestheticant asked if people who are differently abled need extra digital protections, within the broader sense of digital citizenship. Gentle explained that while VAI did not have a constitution it has an informal set of principles that are enforced, along with the SL Terms of Service. Stepin added that on Cape Heron they have a covenant and a Rental Agreement which spell out a lot of expectations.

This led on to some interesting observations about how we might identify with our avatars (which also emerged during Class 6 last week) and how that can affect behaviour. Some of us have avatars that look like ourselves IRL but Rebakah said hers doesn’t look anything like her. Gentle suggested that the sense of embodiment takes a while to develop and explained the concept of mirror neurons – the same parts of your brain fire when you see an avatar doing something as if you were doing with your physical body. We also learned that some people on the autism spectrum find SL a comfortable place to meet others because they can retain control of their interactions. Some of them don’t use human avatars but use, furry animals, fruit, or even a simple metal sphere.

Eme shared some links to VAI’s projects:

Gentle offered explanatory notecards to us, giving more details about VAI and the community and invited everyone to visit again anytime we wished. John thanked Gentle, Eme, Stepin and Carla for hosting us and being so generous with their time, knowledge and experience.

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Class 9: Walking away…?

November 29, 2018

Ursula K Le Guin, author of The Ones Who Walked Away From Omelas, 1973. Photograph by Benjamin Reed in 2008 from the obituary by Margaret Atwood in the Guardian 24 January 2018.

 

Glenn Loughran, lecturer in Fine Art and Programme Chair of the BA in Visual Art on Sherkin Island joined us this week. He took us through Ursula K Le Guin’s short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas in a way that gradually revealed the rich ideas contained in the story. Glenn suggested that there are many questions to work through in the text but began by asking for  reflections on the first part of the story and the sense of the world presented by Le Guin. What is the atmosphere, the underlying theory presented? It was agreed that it is a happy and peaceful world; it feels like a fairytale and has an old-fashioned quality. The community lives a simple life but could have technology if it wanted to – it seems to have consciously rejected that option. Did anything in the description give a sense that it is too good to be true? What is the philosophy of the community? Glenn suggested that it could be seen as an expression of Utilitarianism described by 18th Century English philosopher Jeremy Bentham and developed in the 19th Century by John Stuart Mill.

The relationship between the narrator and the text in the story is not fixed, with the narrator seeming to slip in and out of the story. This literary technique keeps the timeframe ambiguous: it could be past, present or future while also not revealing who the narrator is. It even sets up an ambiguity about who the reader might be. Why does the narrator say that the people are happy but also sophisticated? They are not banal but complex human beings living in a highly-developed society. Some of you felt that Omelas is a fake perfect world because it is one-dimensional but it was agreed that it is a society that has determined its own way of being.

Then Glenn asked what the turning point of the story is, suggesting that the community is conditioned by something. It took a while to arrive at the conclusion that the introduction of The Child turned the utopia into a dystopia. The child is kept in a degraded way and its situation never changes. Most importantly, everyone in Omelas is aware of the child’s existence. This is the condition on which the perfect society is founded. While everyone is shocked initially they eventually come to accept the condition. Why do they accept it? The Deal.

The moral dilemma at the heart of the text is how the community resolves the condition of the child on which its comfort is based. If we review this element of the story as an analogy to the world in which we live today the child becomes, for example, the slave labour that produces the commodities we use daily. They are frequently manufactured in conditions of oppression and dejection by what Marx described as alienated labour.

Are we aware of this? Do we know? Should we know?

On another level the analogy may be read as the dominance of one country over another or one continent over another – the Western World over Africa, for instance.

In conclusion, is it wrong to walk away? Many of you felt it is wrong and suggested it is refusing to take responsibility. The story makes you ask yourself if you would stay or walk away. It is not an easy decision. Nor is is easy to consider the consequences of either action.

Returning to the opening question of the text – can we escape technology? Again, many of you felt we are too used to it and would be reluctant to give it up. But, you did go on the demonstrate an awareness the impact of digital technology and, indeed, are taking action to limit your engagement. You talked of taking deliberate breaks from your phones, closing down computers so that you can read undisturbed and free from distraction, and you spoke of being aware of the influence of technology over your emotional state.

Glenn explained that many digital devices have inattentiveness built in. They are designed for a certain kind of hyper-attention which is why they can be difficult to turn them off. He referred to Stiegler (who we met in class 4) and his proposition that technology is both a poison and a cure, describing it as a pharmakon. The point is that technology is inherently neither positive or negative: we negotiate this position on an ongoing basis through our choices on when to engage and disengage.

After thanking Glenn for leading a very stimulating discussion and complimenting you all for engaging so thoroughly John suggested that it would help inform your preparation for the project. There were some questions about how the project might be presented. It is entirely your own choice. You may have your avatars present verbally, as we do in class; or through a written text; you may take us all to any other location in SL or use the classroom; you can direct us to a slideshare webpage or even produce a YouTube video. It is also possible to bring images into SL to support your presentation. It was agreed that we will devote next week’s class to discussing your options and describing how to achieve some of the effects you might want to try out.

THINGS TO DO BEFORE THE NEXT CLASS:

  1. Read: the summary of last year’s class discussion on this story and some insightful analysis by Mook Wheeler.
  2. Work: on the presentation for your Group Project.
  3. Write the eighth post: to your blog describing your final plans and preparations.

ADDITIONAL READING:

  1. For some context on Karl Marx’s theory of alienated labour read Anatomy of an AI System, by Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler. Their essay uses the Amazon Echo to describe an anatomical map of human labour, data and planetary resources [accessed on 29/11/18].
  2. To read more on the effect on attention by digital devices see Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Divide in Cognitive Modes by N. Catherine Hayles in 2007 [accessed on 29/11/18].
  3. Relational Ecology and the Digital Pharmakon, 2012, by Bernard Stiegler is a good introduction to the author’s ideas.
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Class 6: Opacity

November 15, 2017

We don’t often see class participants on horseback at DIT…

 

Following on from last week’s discussion about the project Glenn introduced one of the text‘s from the reading list. Édouard Glissant is a poet from Martinique, a small island in the Caribbean, who in the late 20th Century formulated a demand for the right to opacity – ‘We clamour for the right to opacity for everyone’. He was writing from the context of a small island community where residents’ privacy is often violated – a perspective that will resonate with the Visual Arts participants from Sherkin Island. In addition, Martinique is a former French colony and Glissant is acutely aware of the post-colonial discourse. However, his thoughts are finding a new audience with the rise of social media and its implicit demand for transparency. Glissant suggests that the process of ‘understanding’ people from the perspective of Western thought is based on the requirement for transparency. Of course, total transparency is not possible and, according to Glissant, not even desirable. Difference must be recognised and opacity acknowledged. The opaque is not the obscure though, it is that which cannot be reduced.

This apparent conflict between transparency and opacity is also explored in the TEDx talk by Tranberg and the film by Krotoski also.

This led to a very lively debate with a range of views expressed and many concerns about the quantity and nature of data gathering by social media corporations such as Facebook, Google, YouTube among others.  We talked about how easily we gave away our rights in exchange for the convenience of using online apps, frequently without even reading the terms and conditions before ticking the box. We need to be careful because if something appears to be free then it generally means we are the product.

Glenn referred to a symposium After the Future…of Work and a presentation by his colleague Conor McGarrigle in which he explores how we are training our own AI (artificial intelligence) replacements in the workplace by using digital applications.

We also touched on the generational difference in response to these issues; the notion of data in a ‘cloud’ whereas in reality it is stored in very grounded physical locations; the range of legislative jurisdictions versus the ubiquitous internet and the impact on governance and oversight; the use of anonymised big data versus data on specific individuals.

THINGS TO DO BEFORE THE NEXT CLASS:

  1. Read: Digital Identity Development is a Process. [Accessed 17 November 2017.]
  2. Read: Syrian lesbian blogger is revealed conclusively to be a married man. [Accessed 17 November 2017.]
  3. Read: Your Employee Is an Online Celebrity. Now What Do You Do? a Wall Street Journal article about employees developing their personal brand and implications for their employer. [Accessed 17 November 2017.]
  4. Look at: the infographic Personal Branding: 10 Steps to a New Professional You. [Accessed 17 November 2017.]
  5. Write the fourth post: to your blog describing your contribution to bringing the group project team together.
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Digital Utopia: the show

May 17, 2017
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The class photo, with everyone in their finery!

The joint show between DIT students and artists from Virtual Ability Island was a great success. There was so much work exhibited that it burst outside the gallery walls to the surrounding spaces. Turnout for the opening was also great with many friends from VAI coming along to see the work and party afterwards.

As part of their final assessment for the module the DIT student groups spoke about their collaborative artworks, introducing them to the assembled guests with confidence.

John and Glenn thanked you all for your enthusiastic engagement and hard work over the course of the semester. We also thanked Gentle Heron and everyone at Virtual Ability Island for their support.

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Students presenting their work.

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DIT individual student work is on show also. The exhibition continues throughout May.

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The evening ended with a party and dancing.

 

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Class 9: Assessment

April 5, 2017

Glenn and John took the class through the requirements for assessment, which is divided into two parts. Firstly, the group project and secondly, the individual blogs.

Firstly, each participant will be producing a series of digital paintings as part of their main module. For the SL module you will produce a large-scale group canvas (in the groups given in week 3). We are asking you to collaborate on a canvas to give you the experience of working on an online collaborative project. You will bring the finished canvas into SL for a group crit and exhibition.

The exhibition will take place in Cape Able Gallery on Virtual Ability Island in May (provisional dates are 17 or 24 May). A team from the class (burnsygirl, freddymcfreddy and whatyamacallit) will coordinate the exhibition with the curator of the gallery and will also invite residents of Virtual Ability Island to take part.  Part of your learning in this module is figuring out how to work virtually with people you have never met in RL.

Each group will give a short talk to present their work and discuss the experience of working in a team, virtually, collaboratively. This will be followed by a crit.

There will be a dry-run in DIT on 26 April. You will show your work in progress more to get a feel for exhibiting in SL than anything else. John suggested that you should review the module website to see how past student groups have presented their work.

Secondly, you will be assessed individually on your blogs. You need to ensure that you have made the five mandatory posts as described in the ‘Things to do before next class’ section of each class summary. Following that you should have at least five more posts describing your engagement in the group project.

Finally, 50% of the marks for this module go on the group project and 50% go on the individual blogs. For full details see page 6 module assessment.

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Class 7: Akron Island

March 22, 2017

The class visited the University of Akron island in Second Life this week. We were hosted by Prof Dudley Turner (aka Dudley Dreamscape) who took the module some years ago and then co-taught it with DIT for a number of years. Many of you also met Dudley at the seminar for National Digital Week in the West Cork Arts Centre last November. Unfortunately the problems with voice in SL have persisted so the class was conducted in nearby chat text.

Dudley described the origin of the island. When it was planned the faculty wanted to make sure there were a variety of areas for small group gatherings. These are scattered around the island. Originally there weren’t any big classroom spaces but Dudley built the larger lecture hall type space for larger meetings as the requirement grew. The learning spaces include a tree house and a glen with its own waterfall. Glenn noted that the rural design was reminiscent of the hedge schools that sprang up around Ireland under the Penal Laws.

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Akron Island with the life-size pie chart maker in the foreground.

We moved to the life-sized pie chart maker for a discussion on virtual identity. As we were forced to chat through text this was a useful to device to encourage debate. The facilitator (me, in this case) asks a question. Participant avatars then move to the appropriate section: Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree and a pic chart is built in the centre. We worked with the following questions:

  1. Do you think you share too much online?
  2. Do you know who is watching you online?
  3. I would be happier not to have social media apps
  4. I keep my business and personal stuff separate online.

The second question resulted in discussion around free apps and the ‘price’ we may unwittingly pay. Chip Van reminded us that if it is free we are the product. In response to John’s question if people feel in control of their online information Inchydoney suggested we tend to throw caution to the wind for the sake of convenience. However, there was an acknowledgement that different age groups are behaving in different ways online.

The discussion around social apps resulted in many comments about ‘addiction’ to the buzz from them. Yet everyone agreed they were useful for keeping in touch when physical distance is an issue. Once people have met in RL the online engagement can be more satisfactory.

The class meeting finished with thanks to Dudley for hosting us at Akron Island and an invitation for him to join us in Dublin anytime.

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Class 6: Discussion

March 15, 2017

Following on from last week the group discussed the visit to Virtual Ability Island. It seems that this experience had a deeply affective impact on most of the group and for whom the second life environment has taken on a whole new meaning. There was a lot of discussion about the benefits of the virtual world for individuals with disabilities, how the community has created a social space that supports engagement with others, conversations, showing art, providing information and to move about freely. Whilst many in the group felt that Virtual Ability Island was like a utopia for the community that engage with it, it was also suggested that it could be seen as sad that the participants needed to create an alternative social life due to the limitations in real life. Another way to think about this issue might be that instead of feeling sorry for themselves or complaining about their limitations or lack of access the community has been affirmative and residents get on with their lives creatively and constructively in SL as opposed to accepting limitations. In many ways, this might be one of the most therapeutic aspects of Virtual Ability Island, that it is an active creative space, a space of human subjectivity and agency against the odds.

Within this discussion, the group touched briefly on the possibility that the aesthetic dimension of SL might also have a complex sensorial value for the Virtual Ability community, and it was on the back of this conversation that the group proposed a brief exhibition of their Digital Skies work in the Gallery in Virtual Ability Island. John has agreed to discuss this possibility with Gentle Heron and it would be a great event to share with that community. Burnsygirl, freddymcfreddy and whatyamacallit volunteered to liaise with the community and see if artists from Virtual Ability would like to take part also.

Finally, the group briefly discussed Richard Noble’s Lecture: The Politics of Utopia. Some of the key discussion points revolved around the tensions in utopia artistic practices between autonomy and instrumentalisation, which provoked questions concerning the use of art as a social-political form and the function of art and aesthetics as political in and of itself.

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