Posts Tagged ‘identity’

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Class 12: Virtual identities

May 3, 2017

Sitearm Madonna visited DIT in Second Life this week to talk about the origin and development of his online persona. An engineer in the US oil industry in RL and manager of Virtual Dublin in SL Sitearm is glamorous female avatar who happens to be male in RL.

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The glamorous Sitearm Madonna discusses the evolution of his avatar.

A resident of SL almost since its inception in the early 2000s Site elected to inhabit the virtual world in the form of a female avatar from the start. Attracted to the classical Greek myth of Artemis, goddess of the hunt, wild animals, childbirth and virginity but finding the name already proliferating in SL he settled on the anagram. He muses on this decision wondering how it might have been influenced by his working single mother’s life experience, or a simple curiosity. He soon discovered that not only was there a greater choice of clothing available for female avatars but, male associates were prone to bestowing gifts of jewellery.

In the early days of SL communication was via text chat – voice chat did not became available until late 2009 – so there was little to give away the fact that a female avatar might be directed by an RL male. It was only as Site became more engaged with the virtual world in RL, attending conferences and developing a consultancy practice for companies trying to move into SL that his identity became an issue. This led to some colleagues variously being surprised, irritated, embarrassed or unaffected by the revelation.

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Sitearm, left, introduces one of his alternative avatars.

However, men using female avatars and women using male avatars turns out not to be unusual in SL. Women sometimes refer to unwelcome attention from male avatars as the reason for their choice and, indeed, Site also spoke of this. Locks Aichi also spoke of her decision to use a male avatar saying that she grew up as a tomboy and felt comfortable that way in SL having tried female and male avatars. She does have a female avatar in traditional Nigerian costume which she reserves for special occasions.

We also remembered a past student, Box of Chocolates, who photographed herself in RL with a cardboard box over her head and face, sporting hand drawn features, which then influenced her avatar for the semester.

Virtual worlds such as SL, and social media in general, allow us to explore our identities in new ways. This can be an interesting and revealing experience. In Asian Genders in Tourism Rokhshad Tavakoli reflects on how virtual tourism could be used to overcome barriers to travel for Iranian women. But, one needs to be mindful of the impact this may have on others. There are numerous examples of how it can go terribly wrong from the Syrian lesbian blogger who was revealed to be a married man in 2011 to the outing of a white woman who posed as a black civil rights leader in 2015. They were both seen as behaving fraudulently despite their own insistence that they were presenting an inner integrity.

Somehow, the discussion segued into the subject of robots and cyborgs with special reference to Donna Haraway’s seminal feminist text: A Cyborg Manifesto (1984) which challenges traditional theories of the performativity of gender, proposing the confusion of gender roles against the essentializing of them. For Haraway the Cyborg represents the space to move beyond binary codes into more a fluid and dynamic understanding of identity, she writes;

Cyborgs might consider more seriously the partial, fluid, sometimes aspect of sex and sexual embodiment. Gender might not be global identity after all, even if it has profound historical breadth and depth. (P.108)

Within this conversation Site told us about the Museum of Robots in SL and promptly his avatar become a yellow robot, reminiscent of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No 2.

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Tasrill Sieyes, an SL Resident who made Duchamp’s legendary painting come alive.

This constant merging and morphing of identities throughout the presentation was resonant with practices in the field of Queer Pedagogy which seeks to use pedagogical techniques to disturb and trouble the way social norms are constructed and affirmed through traditional educational frameworks. In Site’s performance, the ‘Dragging’ of identity expressed a creative space between socially assigned norms ie ‘Male/Female’, Drag being the in-between (/). Such performative pedagogies also subvert the traditional role of mastery assigned to the teacher in education, allowing for more constructivist horizontal approaches reminiscent of Joseph Jacotot’s radical conception of Universal Education discussed in the first session.

As an extension of this discussion and as a way to both engage with the ‘making’ potential of SL and to interrogate and question the formation of identity in SL, Glenn suggested we build a robot for our next project. However, given that this is the last class of the module before the exhibitions and presentations on the 17th May, this ambitious undertaking will have to be postponed until a future point.

This last class has really been the wildest of them all and certainly opened up new questions and new possibilities within Second life. The students have been on a creative and somewhat disconcerting pedagogical journey through this project, one which has been challenging and bonding in equal measure. It has broadened our understanding of what constitutes a world in the contemporary sense and how we might act in worlds that are still too new to be fully comprehended, but which might at the very least give us a glimpse of what is to come. Class ended with Site offering a guided shopping tour in SL. This was received with much interest and we closed a most interesting discussion.

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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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Class 5: Virtual ability

March 8, 2017
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Gentle Heron introduced the class to Virtual Ability Island.

This week the class was hosted by Gentle Heron in Virtual Ability Island. Comprising three islands, the community (of over 1,000 people from six continents in RL, and growing all the time) supports and enables people with a wide range of physical and mental abilities to thrive in online virtual worlds. For many, SL has become integrated with their RL. Gentle introduced us to some members of the community who spoke of this experience, Mook Wheeler, camaro and Eme Capalini. Although disability may be less apparent in SL where, for example avatars can walk even though their human counterparts may need a wheelchair, those with visual or hearing impairment require particular consideration.

The principles of universal design and access for all underpin the development of the environment so that colour schemes, landscaping, materials and access all promote integration – there is no segregation between the able and the disabled. You won’t find any stairs here, only ramps, colour schemes are soothing to promote calm stress-free engagement and support those with visual disability, while speech is accompanied by text in local chat so those with hearing impairment are not disadvantaged. The Virtual Ability website is worth a visit if you would like to read about the history and development.

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There are many activities, supports and exhibitions in Virtual Ability Island.

Mook, a former academic with a doctorate in a social science field, has Aspergers and manages clinical depression and anxiety. Mook described ‘being an autistic social scientist as somewhat of a paradox: trying to understand the production/politics of subjectivity without being able to negotiate it in a personal or practical sense, for the most part.’

Eme and Mook told us that in SL they can leave the ‘difficult’ parts of their lives behind in RL. In fact, Mook’s avatar has evolved away from human form to become a sphere with various attachments and bubbles because ‘being human brought too much of RL’s physical difficulties and memories into SL.’ In fact, a lot of people in SL are not aware of Mook’s autism whereas they would be fully aware of it in RL.

We had a fascinating and enlightening discussion exploring and comparing experiences. Gentle commented that people with disabilities often experience a lack of respect in RL and asked if it also happened in SL. Burnsygirl told us of her experiences as a teacher with a disability organisation in RL and how people would pat her students on the head as if they were pets.

Acknowledging the theme of the module Mook said that ‘SL is perfect for me, as close to a social and communication utopia as any medium can be for me, because I can talk (in type) to people without having to deal with their physical presence or eye contact … I can adjust all of SL’s settings, avatars, environments, visuals and sounds to accommodate my sensory needs. SL is a space of pleasure, interaction and comfort to me which RL cannot duplicate.’

Mook also shared her insightful and searing analysis of Le Guin’s short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas which is well worth reading!

We all appreciated the generosity of Gentle, Mook, Eme and camaro for taking the time to welcome us to their community and share their experiences. It really exemplified the possibilities and opportunities offered by this technology. Gentle said we were welcome back anytime – the islands are open to the public. Many of us remained after class to explore and chat.

THINGS TO DO BEFORE THE NEXT CLASS:

  1. View: The Politics of Utopia by Richard Noble, professor and lecturer in Fine Art at Goldsmiths. From Utopia Revisited conference at ARKEN Museum of Modern Art, 2011.
  2. Write the fifth post: to your blog reflecting on our visit to Virtual Ability Island and the notion of a virtual Utopia.
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Class 2: Art and Utopia

February 15, 2017
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Exploring the changing light from the balcony of the DIT campus in SL.

This week we met three times! On Tuesday Glenn did a technical support session to resolve access to SL, activating voice for everyone and generally getting used to residing in SL. John followed this up on Wednesday to ensure everyone had joined the module group. We looked at changing the orientation of the sun for capturing dramatic photos and tried out flying. We also agreed to use the Sherkin Class 2016 private group for communication outside class time.

Only a few participants had checked the post from last week’s class so much of the activities were not completed. Please read them carefully and get them done for next week. It is particularly important that you start your individual blogs immediately so you can reflect on the issues that arise in class. If you wish to retain a sense of anonymity set up the blog with your avatar’s identity: there is no obligation to reveal your true self online!

We also spoke a little about how conventions in SL differ from Real Life (RL). For instance, it is perfectly acceptable to approach complete strangers in SL and initiate a conversation in a way that would be unthinkable in RL. More often than not, other residents are happy to engage. Sometimes they may ignore you or, indeed, may have stepped away for their pc – known as ‘away from keyboard’ or AFK – leaving their avatar abandoned and unable to respond! It is not possible to tell whether or not an avatar is inhabited merely by looking at it. Similarly, we don’t receive the subliminal confirmation that somebody has heard and understood what we have said because the RL facial gestures and expressions are missing. So, remember to provide deliberate cues during class discussion to confirm you are still in attendance and understand what is being spoken of. Type a comment in ‘Nearby Chat’ or even just a simple ‘y’ to indicate agreement. Better yet, type a question. Typos and poor spelling are perfectly acceptable in SL, as are txt words and acronyms – it is poor etiquette to correct another’s spelling or grammar! Familiarity with all this will develop as you  spend more time in SL.

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Class 2. Continued…

Good start to the second session this week. We have most of the technical issues worked out at this stage, everyone is on the Facebook page and it seems that almost everyone has a voice and can hear when others speak. The room was arranged into a more informal setting to allow for the second part of the module, which will be based around the close reading of key texts on Utopia and Art. This week Glenn gave a broad introduction and overview of Thomas More’s Utopia text. The group was asked to read the introduction to Stephen Duncomb’s text: Open Utopia. This introduction is quite lengthy and quite dense, however, it provides two important ways of thinking about More’s Utopia. Firstly it addresses the idea of Utopia in the present and after a century of failed and violent attempts that led to Fascism and Communism. As a result of these attempts, the concept of Utopia has become a difficult somewhat closed or static concept. However, referring to Francis Fukuyama’s thesis on the ‘end of history’, Duncombe also suggests that while we may be at the end of large-scale social projects, the status quo is very far from perfect for most of the populace. It is within this context that the concept of Utopia is being considered anew, as a way to begin to look forward to the future in a way that has been somewhat barred since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. At a more technical level, Duncombe makes some interesting arguments about the relationship between criticism and utopia, suggesting that criticism is utopias antithesis. This argument is made in a more general sense and then in a way that is much more particular to More’s Utopia, and it was quite illuminating to read Duncombe’s interpretation of the book as a critique of the function of criticism. This critique leads Duncombe to assert the role of the artist in mediating the present-ness of criticism and the future orientation of Utopian projection. This articulation of the artist as the proposer of alternative modes of social formation will be picked up in the next session. The rest of the session looked at other examples of utopian literary exposition such as François Rabelais (1483– 1553) Abbey of Thelema from his novel Gargantua.  Finally, we looked at a couple of concrete experiments such as  André Godin’s  Familistère complex in 1859 and the Worgl Experiment in Austria in 1932.

THINGS TO DO BEFORE THE NEXT CLASS:

  1. Explore: SL with some colleagues from the class. Visit at least 3 different locations that are new to you. Find them in search or ask other residents for recommendations, or simply select places at random.
  2. Write the second post: to your blog reviewing the locations you visited. Describe the places and include photos, if you can. Explain what you liked and disliked about the locations and describe any interaction you might have had – relate this to the concept of a Utopian place.
  3. Read: the very short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. Ursula K Le Guin. 1973.
  4. Pose one question about the text to the group.
  5. Read: 5 steps to build a productive and tight knit remote team
  6. Read: 10 Rules of Professional Etiquette for the Digital Workplace
  7. Supplementary reading about SL and virtual worlds:
    in Virtual Worlds Magazine, Virtual Anthropology and the Prometheus myth.
    Interview with Rod Humble, former CEO of Linden Labs, owners of Second Life, Forget Playing Games. Meet the Man Who Wants to Empower You to Make Games.
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Class 8: Content creation

November 17, 2016

John started this week by discussing the student blogs. He recommended that you have a look at each others blogs for reference. Compare them with your own blog for insights into how you could improve. You have until 8.00 pm next Thursday to bring your blog up to date before the week 8 assessment. One or two of you need to complete your bios in the ‘About’ section. In response to a question John did not recommend revising old posts but rather, put any effort into your future writing – this will give a better opportunity for improving your mark as it will demonstrate improvement and that you are learning. If any of you would like direct feedback on your progress speak to John after the class and we can discuss then or make any appropriate arrangement.

From now on your blog posts should report and reflect on the group project. Discuss how your team is functioning, how roles are filled, meetings are organised and conducted, decisions are made, work schedule agreed etc. Look at your own contribution in a critical light and describe what you discover about working in an online team: what makes it difficult and what supports it. Remember, you don’t need to use SL – any online tool or application that works for your team is good.

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Does this qualify as a diverse range of class participants…?

We went on to discuss the project in a little more detail after that. Some of you have been meeting in your teams while others are just getting started. Some of you have begun researching your own and your team mates digital footprints using Google searches. This is a good way into the project and should be a feature of each team’s approach. However, be sensitive to each other’s right to privacy and don’t go so far as to cause discomfort to your colleagues. This is a class project not a private investigation! Back away if it starts to become personally uncomfortable for anyone. The final presentation should describe your methodology (how you researched the project), a summary of what the team discovered about the members online presence, a reflection on your reaction (were you surprised by anything discovered?) and a possible scenario where the information could be exploited by others.

On a daily basis most of us are generating ‘content’ online and broadcasting it to the world. Whether anyone is interested in it, or even aware of it, is a different matter. Before the internet facilitated such easy access to broadcasting there were gatekeepers in the form of newspaper and book editors, financial controllers etc. This provided some form of quality control. Now, much of what is published on the web is worthless making the issue of ‘value’ more important.

THINGS TO DO BEFORE THE NEXT CLASS:

  1. Look up: the infographic Things that can and can’t be copyrighted.
  2. Read: this thoughtful blog post Content and licensing in virtual worlds about the legal issues around protecting ‘things’ you create in SL and online in general. Read the comments also.
  3. Write the ninth post: to your blog reflecting on the progress being made on the group project.
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Class 7: Communities and identity

November 10, 2016
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Online identity versus ‘real’ identity.

This week we had a lively discussion that was informed by our visit to Virtual Ability Island in the previous class. The differences between real and virtual spaces became apparent when we considered the limitations of  Second Life. For example, avatars can have difficulty negotiating stairs, particularly spiral staircases, but this has not led to their replacement: experience of Real Life building has shaped our approach to building in virtual worlds for the same reason that early motor cars resembled horse-drawn carriages.

An understanding of what helps us to feel comfortable in a virtual space is very important in the development and support of online communities not just in SL but in general. The rules of engagement need to be clearly defined as do the conventions around acceptable behaviour. Regulations, conventions and etiquette help to define a community and support the feeling of belonging to a group and participating. Joining a community requires patience and a certain amount of commitment – while the rules may be published, conventions and etiquette are less clear. It take time to observe and learn them as you gradually become engaged.

This is also an important aspect of team building. Even in Real Life teams can be difficult to manage and tend to be successful when the social glue that holds them together is given attention. This is even more important for online teams that  meet only virtually. For success you must consider how to support social interaction before you get down to the ‘real work’.

Another important criteria for successful group work and team building is trust. This fundamental human condition can be delicate in Real Life so how much more so is it in virtual environments? Building an online identity is really a matter of building trust. The example of the Syrian lesbian blogger demonstrates how easy it can be to build a persona and how devastating it can be if it emerges that the persona does not match Real Life.

John gave some feedback on your blogs reminding everyone to ensure you are writing on the required topic. Generally, the descriptive writing is good and posts are well illustrated. Now it is time to become more reflective. Write about your own response to your learning, how you might apply it and where you are finding it difficult.

THINGS TO DO BEFORE THE NEXT CLASS:

  1. Write the eighth post: to your blog describing how your team has approached planning your project, dividing the work and addressing conflict.
  2. Lecture: watch From Prosumer to Produser: Understanding User-Led Content Creation by Prof Axel Bruns (Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland Institute of Technology) who explains his theory of user-led collaborative content creation.
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Class 6: Online communities

October 27, 2016
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Gentle Heron welcomes the class to Virtual Ability Island.

Gentle Heron hosted our visit to Virtual Ability Island this week. We gathered in the auditorium where she told us of the origin and development of the island. It was opened in 2007 to support a community enabling people with a wide range of disabilities to thrive in online virtual worlds like SL. Now, with a population of over 1,000 individuals from six continents (in Real Life) of varying abilities (not all are disabled) the community is vibrant and active. Although disability may be less apparent in SL where, for example avatars can walk even though their human counterparts may need a wheelchair, those with visual or hearing impairment require particular consideration.

The principles of universal design and access for all underpin the development of the environment so that colour schemes, landscaping, materials and access all promote integration – there is no segregation between the able and the disabled. You won’t find any stairs here, only ramps, colour schemes are soothing to promote calm stress-free engagement and support those with visual disability, while speech is accompanied by text in local chat so those with hearing impairment are not disadvantaged. The Virtual Ability website is worth a visit if you would like to read about the history and development.

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Some participants enjoying virtual refreshment during the visit to Virtual Ability Island.

Gentle spoke of the importance of community support in SL, in particular for people who may not be able to leave their homes in Real Life. Online communities may well provide their only means of socialising, getting informed, engaging with the wider world and influencing issues outside their immediate physical environment.

We then teleported to Cape Able to visit the art gallery. It hosts work by artists working in both RL and SL. We saw work by SL photographer Slatan Dryke. Next door is the virtual presence of the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, with a Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition downstairs and pieces from its famed Masterpieces of American Indian Art upstairs.

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Imagine Magazine, an SL periodical, published a profile on Gentle Heron in the November 2010 edition.

The final location we visited was Cape Serenity which hosts a library and poetry garden. The library has a selection of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and drama that can be read directly in SL, or in the form of notecards, or provide links to free downloads and websites. It features publications by residents writing about their direct experiences of disability and engagement. The poetry garden was the highlight of the evening. A beautifully serene place with birdsong, a pond, rabbits and birds wandering through panels displaying poems.

THINGS TO DO BEFORE THE NEXT CLASS:

  1. Write the sixth post: to your blog discussing the importance of regulation, convention and etiquette in online communities.
  2. Write the seventh post: to your blog describing how you have contributed to the theme of your group’s project and describing the group meetings held so far.
  3. Read: Digital identity development is a process, by Eric Stoller.
  4. Read: Syrian lesbian blogger is revealed conclusively to be a married man in the Guardian newspaper 2011.

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