If you follow me on Twitter, you may know that I already watched the BTS film Burn the Stage on the day it opened.Â But I read a review that said, as a non-fan, it felt like a film made for existing fans instead of being a good introduction for newcomers, so this post is for my mom and sister who are going to go see it with me later this week.Â It will be my second viewing, but their first.Â I figured I’d write a few quick FAQs and then include some videos to watch so they can skim quickly to get up to speed.
Ladies, this post is your homework before the movie so you will hopefully enjoy it more!
I don’t want to re-write the whole BTS Wikipedia page, but from what I’ve gathered, the idea when they formed was to create a group that would be a “shield” for young people from the “bullets” (criticisms) of the older generation.Â They later said it also can mean “Beyond the Scene” in English, but most fans I know hate that anglicized name.
All things considered, they do a pretty good job of living up to the boyscouts image, at least publicly.
Q: Why are BTS fans called ARMY?
ARMY stands for Adorable Representative MC for Youth.Â The band’s leader has said to think of it as the ARMY of young people behind them.Â The most important thing to know is that the plural of ARMY is ARMYs (no apostrophe!), and it is (maybe?) the largest fandom in the world.Â Certainly the largest active fandom on social media, and truly global in scope.
Q: What is Burn the Stage about?
Burn the Stage is a documentary film of behind the scenes footage from their 2017 Wings global tour, interspersed with some clips and footage from various TV programs and award shows they’ve been on.Â 2017 was arguably the year they truly scaled to a global level, and they broke a lot of records, so the film gives you a look at what it was really like to be in that intense spotlight.
Q: Who are the Members?
There’s 7 of them, and they have stage names in addition to their Korean names, and that can be a little confusing at first.Â Also, don’t try to learn who they are by their hair color, because they change that every other day and twice on Sundays.
Why to Love BTS
The obvious answer is their music.Â I’ve listed some of their hit songs below so you can skim through those, but the maybe less obvious reason is because of theirÂ ethos.Â Â
As the members have matured, and their global influence has increased, they’ve taken on the role of being unofficial ambassadors for Korea, and official ambassadors for UNICEF’s campaign to #ENDVIOLENCE.Â They make charitable donations, they speak out about issues that are absolutely taboo in Korea like mental health, depression, LGBTQ issues, and more.Â They aren’t saints, and they’ve done dumb stuff in the past, but generally speaking, they are a bunch of young guys trying to learn how to live meaningful, good lives while making good music.Â What’s not to love?
And maybe more importantly to me, to be a member of ARMY means embracing BTS -AND- their global fandom.Â It’s the opposite of Trump’s horrible nationalism to engage in dialogue with fans from every continent and every language and every ethnicity about a shared love of “our boys”.Â It’s still hard to describe how awesome it is to be a part of a TRULY diverse audience of thousands of people and feel 100% welcomed.
BTS is a boy band from Korea, so I guess you could classify them with the generic K-pop label, but I think they defy genre labels because musically they are all over the map.Â They have a lot of hit songs that are 100% pure pop, but their more recent albums are full of non-pop sounding stuff.
You don’t have to listen to/watch all these videos, just skim through and listen to the ones that sound interesting.
I couldn’t figure out how else to do this other than to go chronologically through their biggest hits, but if you want to skip ahead, I have a section of my favorites, even if they aren’t as popular.
Also, most of their music is in Korean, with some English phrases, so I suggest that you turn on Closed Captions on YouTube and set to English for mostly reasonable translations. If it isn’t captioned in English, don’t bother with the auto-caption translation, it’s terrible.
Their first few albums could be summed up as “school sucks” and “boy-loves-girl” type stuff, although to be fair, they were pretty young (15-22 yrs old I think). And the Korean school system is apparently WAY intense compared to American schools.Â I guess it’s common for parents to send their kids to cram schools after regular school, so kids might be in school until 8 or 9PM or something crazy like that.Â Here are a few representative songs.
NO is about the rigid educational system that makes kids like robots cramming information in their brains but having no joy and no dreams in their childhood.
War of Hormone makes me laugh, it could only be written by lusty teen-age boys. They’ve since apologized for not being more sensitive to women in some of their earlier songs. They’re in their mid- to late- 20s now, so they’ve grown up a lot since then, but I include it anyway as an example of an early work.
Dope came a couple years later, and talks about how they are busting their ass working in the studio and dance practice room while all their friends are out clubbing and having fun. This is the second BTS song I came across and Jimin’s dancing (the one with red hair in this video) is what made me Google them to find out who the heck they were. I love the choreography in this one.
The Songs that Started to Make Them Famous
They started to gain real traction in 2016-17. Blood, Sweat, & Tears is pure art, IMO.Â It’s full of visual literary references about temptation, overindulgence, and evil.
Spring Day is one of my favorites and I think one of their most beloved songs the world over, it’s about missing someone you love dearly and waiting for that spring day when you’ll be together again. I’ve read that it was written after the South KoreanÂ Sewol Ferry tragedy in 2014, where over 300 people died when the ferry sank, many of them students.Â It’s a sad story.Â 🙁
Save Me is the first BTS song I heard that hooked me.Â I listened to it on repeat for like a week or something.
The Big Radio Hits
Their biggest hits are mostly EDM (electronic dance music, madre), these are songs you might even hear on American radio stations.
First up is Mic Drop, inspired by President Obama’s famous mic drop.Â It’s a response to their “haters” who said they sucked and would never make it big.
Fire is straight up club music to jump up and down and dance to.Â I like it for house cleaning music.
Next up is DNA, a pure pop dance song about that trippy crazy magical phase of being in love.Â It’s from the Love Yourself: Her album, which is part of a three-part cycle of albums, sort of like a rock opera.Â Love Yourself: Her is part 1, the falling in love/being in love part of the story.
Fake Love is next, it’s from the second album in the cycle, Love Yourself: Tear, which is the falling out of love/breaking up/realizing love isn’t like the fairytale part of the story.
And last is Idol, from the third album in the cycle, Love Yourself: Answer, which has the theme of knowing yourself/you must learn to love yourself before you can love anyone else.Â The video is crazy, Mother probably won’t like it visually because it’s too meme-like, but musically it’s very interesting because it has a lot of traditional Korean elements and borrows some African rhythms too.
My Other Favorites
Baepsae is one of their more political songs (so of course I like it) criticizing the wealthy older generation who don’t appreciate how hard it is to make it as a young person these days. Baepsae translates to “crow tit” in English, a small bird. It’s a reference in Korean that’s sort of the opposite of being born with a silver spoon. So a baepsae might be someone born poor trying too hard to make it. Yeah, something like that.
So far I’ve only included official music videos, but I love this video of their dance practice, because the choreography is fun and they get a little silly at the end. 🙂
Lie is one of my favorite solos.Â This is a fan-made video showing a split screen of Jimin dancing to his solo song, on the left is a performance from a concert, and on the right is filming the short film for the song’s official release.Â The music, the singing, and the dancing are all just beautiful, and Jimin is my favorite.
It doesn’t have captions, but this is the translation of the chorus, for reference:
Caught in a lie
Find me when I was pure
I canâ€™t be free from this lie
Give me back my smile
Caught in a lie
Pull me from this hell
I canâ€™t be free from this pain
Save me, I am being punished
(Also at times the screen goes black, stay with it..)
I have a bunch more favorite songs, but I’ve run out of time to work on this post so I’m just gonna post it.Â No worries if you don’t have time to watch/read the whole thing, but hopefully it helps a little so you can enjoy the documentary more!
Looking forward to our movie night, thanks for going with me!Â xoxoxo
About to enter Citi Field stadium, at the front of the line chatting with some awesome fans.
I try to talk about my introvert nature at work a lot, especially with the students on my team, because if they are also struggling with it, I want them to know it isn’t a curse.Â I like to say that I’m an introvert who has learned to fake it because people sometimes don’t believe me, but it’s true.Â Some people are energized by social interactions, but for me, anything more than a one-on-one conversation can be draining, and the larger the group, the faster my battery runs out.Â Â If I don’t get periods of solitude to recharge, it can be so exhausting that I get physically sick.
This basic fact about my personality has caused me so much angst and unhappiness.Â Especially because I also paradoxically feel the need to make useful contributions, whatever the conversation or interaction may be, so there is forever a battle going on with part of me wanting to conserve energy and stay on the side, and part of me wanting to be in the center of the room participating in what’s happening.Â It has taken a very long time to find a good balance.
I mention my introversion by way of introduction to this third and last post in my #BTSxCitifield series (read Part 1 and Part 2 here) for two reasons.
First and most obviously because the theme of BTS’s Love Yourself: World TourÂ is about learning to love yourself, andÂ learning to love my introversion instead of hating it has been one of the hardest things for me to do.Â It was only after I stopped fighting it and gave myself permission to be that way that I learned how to balance my life’s social flow in a way that feels sustainable and good.Â Ten years ago, flying to New York City and attending a stadium-sized concert like #BTSxCitifield by myself would have been unthinkable.Â That I was able to not only go to the concert, but truly enjoy the experience – in partÂ because of the huge crowd – is a personal triumph that seems worth celebrating.
Enjoying the show with 40,000 (!!) other fans.
And second,Â because I am such an introvert myself, I’ve often wondered how the artists, creators, and professionals I admire deal with the pressure of fame and the sometimes crazy emotional demands of their fans.Â Fame is such a double-edged sword. Attracting passionate fans is a source of success, but losing anonymity, especially today when everyone everywhere has a camera in their pocket, seems to mean losing the ability to just be in the world.
And when does being a passionate fan tip over into being a crazy fan?Â
Is it “crazy fan” territory to buy tickets this expensive?
It may be weird to worry about what it means to be a “good fan” but I think Stephen King’s novelÂ Misery must have made a big impression on me when I was young because I’ve always thought the most respectful way to honor an artist is to support their work from afar.Â Pay for their work and share/evangelize their stuff to others, but don’tÂ bug them.Â .Â There is a natural desire to express appreciation and gratitude when someone’s work has made a positive and meaningful difference in your life, but that should never come at the expense of respecting the boundaries of the real person behind the fame.
I thought about that a lot when BTS released a series of provocative concept photos for their S version of theÂ Love Yourself: Answer album.Â Â It turns out there’s a Korean word specifically to describe obsessive, stalker fan behavior,Â ì‚¬ìƒíŒ¬ orÂ saseang fan , and they have obviously experienced that.
What a beautiful but desperate representation of the flip side of fame. They all look so contorted to avoid the constant cameras, prying eyes, and clutching hands. Yikes. @BTS_twtpic.twitter.com/Yv21ZcK9CN
It makes you wonder how they are really doing.Â Not their stage personas, but the real 20-something year old guys behind the scene (see what I did there?).Â Is this insane hype-train of record breaking achievements actually good for them?Â Are they being exploited?Â How are they handling the intense glare of the spotlight, and is my participation in ARMY fan culture hurting or helping them?Â The introvert me would have withered and died from that kind of intense pressure in my 20s, as so many of my favorite childhood actors actually did die.
River Phoenix and Corey Haim, two of my earliest fan-crushes.
I want to hope that the real people in BTS are doing ok, that they have each other and their families, and that they are still young and resilient enough to enjoy the wild ride that they are on.Â I have to hope they, and the people who love them, will know when to get off the crazy train when (if?) the time comes.
In my last post, I described how my interest in BTS began and deepened enough to call myself an ARMYÂ and there was a moment, a series of moments, before I clicked the buttons that sucked a ridiculous amount of money out of my bank account, when I wondered if it was crazy-fan territory to sit for an hour in a virtual queue to buy expensive concert tickets, and an expensive plane ticket, and an expensive hotel reservation, just to see a bunch of 20-something boys from Korea for just a couple of hours.
Sitting in a ridiculous virtual line to buy tickets, only to be unceremoniously dumped out to this error message.
Ultimately, I decided that I enjoyed their music and appreciated their art so much that I wanted to be counted among their fans for their first stadium-sized concert and their last show in the US.Â It wasn’t just about attending the concert, although I was of course excited to see them perform live, butÂ symbolically, I think every fan who came to Citi Field was there to show them and the world just how much their work inspires us.Â We wanted to give them another win, another trophy for their bag.Â That super-fun feeling of winning together, ARMY+BTS synergy, is what tipped the scales enough for me to actually purchase the tickets. 
The Night Before the Show
I flew out of Cincinnati on the Friday evening before the concert, with just enough time to land at LaGuardia and get settled into the hotel for a good night’s sleep before the show.Â Hilariously, the first ARMY I met in the wild once I got to New York was another person from Cincinnati!Â Queue that old joke about flying a thousand miles to meet your neighbor.Â Our hotels were in opposite directions so we split up shortly after meeting, but we followed each other on Twitter and re-connected after we got home – and now we’re set to watch Burn the Stage together when it comes out in a couple weeks!
That chance encounter with a friendly ARMY was the first of many happy meetings.Â I saw groups of ARMYs everywhere I went as BTS fans descended on New York from all over the US, and really all over the world. It’s hard to describe the feeling of meeting strangers who don’t quite feel like strangers because you already share a common interest, the instant smiles when we recognized each other, the excitement that everyone felt about arriving for the show.Â Â I really didn’t know what to expect the next day, and after agonizing over what to stuff in my no-larger than 16 inches backpack to comply with the venue rules , I managed to sleep like a rock.
I had no idea what it would be like at the venue, so I didn’t really have a plan, but part of the reason I made the trip was to experience the ARMY fan culture, so I took a cab from the hotel around 6:30 AM and got dropped off right at the stadium.
The first picture I snapped after arriving at Citi Field, ~6:45 AM.
The first thing I noticed as I walked across the parking lot was the merch line (the line to buy official merchandise from the band like the t-shirts, bags, etc.), and it didn’t seem crazy long yet, so without even looking around at anything else, I headed for the back of the line.
That big group of people on the right side is the merch line, which hadn’t started moving yet, ~ 6:45 AM.
At that moment, as I approached the back of the merch line barriers, I felt .. nervous.Â I’d met a couple of fans at the airport and at the hotel, who were all super nice and friendly, but I wasn’t sure what it would be like in the REAL ARMY crowd.Â Would there be crazy sasaengs?Â Would it be weird that I was by myself?Â Was I even a big enough fan to deserve to be there when so many fans couldn’t get tickets?Â My introvert nature and all the anxiety that comes with it suddenly popped out and I felt.. shy.
I needn’t have worried.Â I got in line and spent the next couple hours chatting with the fans around me, gawking at all the hand-made signs, watching the merch line grow and grow and grow..
Can you tell how diverse the crowd is?Â Young, old, men, women, every ethnicity..Â
JOON FOR PRESIDENT!
It turned out that the whole day before the show was a series of waiting in one line or another, and universally, the crowd was friendly and cheerful and happy to chat about BTS endlessly.Â It was terrific!
The “Village” is what they called the cordoned off area where you could buy the “merch” and visit a bunch of different booths to pair your bluetooth-enabled light stick, take a picture with a hologram of your favorite BTS member, donate to their UNICEF LOVE YOURSELF campaign, etc.
Once the merch line started to move when they opened the Village, everyone ran in to.. get in yet another line for whichever specific area or booth you wanted to visit.Â I stuck with the merch line, and got handed an order form to fill out while waiting with a new group of ARMYs.
I can’t remember how long we stood in that line, but it seemed to move pretty quickly.Â I was super disappointed that the official concert t-shirts sold out within the first 15 minutes, since that was the main thing I wanted to get, but there were plenty of other (way overpriced!) things to buy to commemorate the experience.
An example of available merch and the crazy prices.Â There were like 6 or 7 pages of things you could buy.
I ended up with t-shirt version 1.Â No one around me wanted to buy version 2 because it said “Beyond the Scene”.Â The lady behind me reeeeealllly wanted a hoodie and was afraid they would sell out before she got to the counter.Â I think she was successful in her quest but I’m not sure, I lost track of her in the crowd.
With my merch in hand and my wallet further emptied, I wandered around for a bit trying to decide which booth to visit.Â Suddenly I remembered that I had won an express “skip the line” ticket from Big Hit to visit the “BTS Studio” booth where you could take a picture of yourself with a hologram of your favorite member, so I headed over in that direction.. and got in the express ticket line. (Which was only like 10 people long, but still, another line!Â lol)
While I was waiting to get my picture taken, I noticed an ARMY who had just come from the merch line struggling to juggle all of her purchases. Because the “shopping bag” merch item was the cheapest thing on the menu at $5, I bought 3 of them, which was the maximum allowed, so I stepped over and asked her if she wanted a bag to hold all of her stuff. I was glad to have an extra to share! We snapped a picture together once she got her stuff all sorted out.
Then suddenly it was my turn to enter the little BTS Studio tent!Â I have to say, the “hologram” technology they used to make it seem like your favorite BTS member is walking up and sitting down with you to take a picture was pretty freaking cool.Â I was so flustered trying to sort out my bags and all the stuff I was carrying that I didn’t get a video of that (that’s one time when I really wished I hadn’t come alone), but it was fun all the same and sort of made your heart beat a little faster even knowing it wasn’t real.Â I also had a little panic trying to pick which member because at this point, I really do love them all (OT7!), but my original favorite won in the end.
Quick, pick your favorite BTS member!
A picture snapped with my phone of the slightly blurry picture I got in the BTS Studio booth. Me and Jimin!
After that I wondered around the Village a lot taking pictures and videos and just enjoying the scene and the freedom of not being in a line for the first time since I arrived.
Fans dancing in the Village..
Another dancing fan… You can see the merch booths in the background.
Tour staff would watch your bags and take a picture of you with your phone at the various sign boards and photo backdrops..
Making a donation to the UNICEF #BTSLoveMyself campaign to end violence against children..
I’m not sure what time it was, but by that point, my feet were starting to hurt a little and I was ready to take a rest.Â See my note below about the awesomeness ofÂ theÂ Trekology YIZI Go Portable Camping ChairÂ – which I promptly pulled out and set up to rest my weary bones and have a drink and a snack.
Having a rest and filming people entering the Village area..
I thought it was pretty irresponsible of the lady yelling at people to run to the lightstick tent because they were selling out, they didn’t sell out the whole day as far as I know.
Lots of people started to sit down and eat things they had brought at that point.
There seemed to be no food or drink vendors anywhere, which I thought was nuts.
A short video I intended to send to my sister but for some reason it wouldn’t upload so I never sent it..
Finding my Gate and Observing the Front of the Hard Core “General Admissions” Line
Shortly after filming that clip, I left the Village area thinking I should at least figure out what gate I would be entering and where the line (surely there was another line!) would be for that.Â I didn’t realize it at the time, but it turned out that the private box seat ticket holders would be using a gate in the same vicinity as where they were letting the General Admissions line form up to actually enter the stadium.
Now keep in mind that some of the General Admissions folks had been camping out for over a week to get closest to the stage, so as I approached them, I had a feeling like the General Admissions line were the “real” ARMY and the rest of us were just baby ARMYs.Â We still had hours to go before the show started, so I set up my awesome little camping chair again and watched all the hoopla at the front of the GA line.
Periodically you would see fans who had stepped out of line to get merch or something come running up frantically worried that they had missed their spot, so I started posting short video clips and tweeting them out in the hopes that it would help keep things calm.Â There were definitely a couple of moments there where it seemed like the crowd might get shovey and pushy, but for the most part, it stayed orderly and calm.Â After watching them deal with one situation after another, I thought the security staff did a great job of being kind yet firm to keep everyone safe.
Somewhere in the midst of the GA line drama, I started to feel really hungry and decided to go off in search of food.Â I walked and walked and walked and finally came upon what may have been the only food cart out there, a Nathan’s Hot Dog cart.Â I hate hot dogs, but boy if you’re hungry enough, even a hot dog can taste delicious.Â In fact, I had two!Â The Twitter timestamp says I posted this at 3:04 PM, and the stadium opened at 4, so this was shortly before they let us go in to get our seats!
Phew, I feel like I’ve been writing this blog post for eons, and we’re just now getting into the stadium!Â Picking up from the last section, once they let all the GA folks through, they finally called for our gate and I managed to be like the 10th person in line for that.Â It was definitely a very buzzy excited feeling getting ready to go into the venue.Â After months and weeks of planning and then waiting in lines all day, everyone was ready to get inside.
Of course there was one more line to go after they opened the big fence – the security line.Â I apparently didn’t take any pictures during that period, but they had big K-9 dogs, and a seriously armed police presence at the concert.Â We saw groups of officers in full riot gear, and some with what looked like long range rifles.Â It was pretty intense, but given the death threats against members of the band and all the recent public shootings, everyone in line with me agreed that we’d rather have more security than less.
The security check was pretty intense, too.Â They really did search every single compartment of every single bag I had.Â I can’t remember if they physically patted us down, but I did have to remove my jacket and sweatshirt and fanny pack, and they definitely wanded us in addition to going through metal detectors.Â It felt as thorough as any airport screening I’ve been through recently.
And then suddenly we were inside!Â I must have gotten so excited to actually get to our seats that I forgot I had a camera for a while, because I have no photos of the super posh Porche suite at all.
GA folks getting in place around the stage, before the music videos started.
I did take a few snaps of the GA folks still streaming in around the stage though, and shortly after that they started playing BTS videos on the big screens.Â The screaming and cheering began in earnest at that point, and it didn’t stop until the show was over.Â It was sooo loud, you really can’t imagine it.
Somewhere around here, I started streaming live on Periscope, with the intention of streaming the whole show if I could.Â I know it’s against the rules, illegal, etc. etc. but.. well, there are a lot of people who really can’t afford the crazy expense of attending a live BTS concert.Â As concerts go, it is one of the most expensive shows on the planet.Â Seriously, Billboard says it was the most expensive tour of 2018, and that’s just for theÂ tickets.Â That doesn’t event count the cost of travel, hotel, food, and the aforementioned expensive merchandise, which I guess isn’t a necessity, but who goes to a concert without buying the t-shirt to prove it?
In any case, I watched a lot of live concert streams in preparation for going to Citi Field, and I was always grateful to the people who risked their seat to stream for all the ARMYs around the world who couldn’t attend, so I intended to try my best to stream, too.Â Which I did, for a couple of hours.Â Until security came. :(Â Â Having the security guy breathing down your neck and risking getting kicked out of a show you really want to see, waited forever to see, and paid a bazillion dollars to see.. Well, I put my phone away.Â When I looked at the stream playback much later, it said over 100,000 people had viewed it.Â *gulp*Â That’s a lot of people.Â I’m sorry ARMYs, I really tried.
Another great thing that happened around this point was the arrival of my most awesome seat buddy, Chris.Â Like I said before, for the most part, I was fine to attend the concert by myself and I really enjoyed everything solo all day long.Â But when Chris showed up, a guy around my age, also by himself, and just super friendly and fun to chat with.. it really made the concert just that much more awesome. We chatted through the whole show and he even helped shield my phone from the security dude for a bit when I was still trying to stream despite the stress of it all, bless his heart.
Chris, I hope you read this post!Â Super thanks for being such a fun seat buddy!!Â If you’re ever in Cincinnati, definitely ping me and I would go to another show with you anytime, anywhere!Â 🙂
I don’t have many other pictures of the pre-show since by this time I was streaming, so now it’s on to the show itself!!!Â FINALLY!!!!!
And the Show Begins… Breathing the Same Air as BTS!!
I know, I’ve written a whole novel and half and haven’t even gotten to the actual live concert yet.Â What can I say, it was a long, fun-filled, busy day!
By the time the show actually started, the crowd was so amped up, with huge swelling screams and cheers and ARMY bombs blinking.Â The start of the show was LITERALLY explosive, like fire shot out of the stage!Â And it was so LOUD!Â And so high energy!Â And we’re seeing Idol performed live!Â Right in front of us!
I don’t have any pictures because I was still streaming when the show started.Â IÂ hoped to have some of my video footage edited by now to include, but I think it will have to come later or I won’t get the post up this century.
I do have a few clips that I filmed after I gave up streaming and after the security dudes departed, but my crappy phone cam footage doesn’t even begin to do justice to what it really felt like.Â Singing along to your favorite songs with 40,000 other fans who love it as much as you is really something else.Â The energy was insane, I can still feel the vibrations in my chest if I close my eyes and think about it.
The twinkling ARMY bombs everywhere added so much to the atmosphere..
I didn’t get even one single great shot of the band. Even though the screens were huge and we could see clearly in person, the light noise and cables and whatnot made it impossible to get a great photo with a phone camera from where we were sitting. That’s ok though, the experience itself was the reason for being there, and the memories are more than enough.
Seesaw nation rise!
The Truth Untold!
The best pic I took of V! (That one’s for you Chris!) 🙂
I cried a couple of times.Â When Jimin cried, I bawled like a baby. Not my footage, but thanks to the ARMY that caught this on camera. *sniffle*
I cried again during Namjoon’s ending comments.. (JOON FOR PRESIDENT!)
If I’m in the right mood, hearing Magic Shop still makes me cry because I can hear the echo of 40,000 ARMYs singing back to them in one voice.. it was really beautiful. I sang, and screamed, and danced, and cheered, and enjoyed the hell out of those 2.5 hours.
By the end of the show, we all said our good byes, wished each other safe journeys home, and parted ways. It was really a magical experience.
End of the Show & Heading Home
I’d read about post-BTS-concert depression from other ARMYs, but what they don’t tell you is it starts the very second the show is over.
I felt like I was in a shell-shocked daze as we started herding out of the stadium, and by the time I got outside and back out to the parking lot, I think I stood there for I don’t know how long, just too overwhelmed to even move.
Believe it or not, I didn’t realize until right that moment that I’d planned every detail of my arrival TO the venue, but I had absolutely no idea how to get back to my hotel FROM the stadium.Â 40,000 people were all trying to leave at the same time, it wasn’t like I could call a cab.Â I was so disoriented, I didn’t even know which direction the hotel was in from where I was standing. As more and more people poured out of the stadium, I got swept up in the moving crowd, and just ended up going with flow with no destination in mind.
That was the only moment the whole day that I felt somewhat vulnerable and a little afraid to be alone.Â The crowd was still very friendly, but it was dark and chilly and I suddenly felt like I could get lost or disappear and no one would even notice.
Once we got to the outer edges of the parking lot near the street, I sort of came back to my senses and started looking on my phone for options.Â There were already huge lines forming for Uber and Lyft drivers, but then Google suggested a ride service I’d never heard of, Juno, so I downloaded and installed it and like MAGIC – even in that insane crowd – a driver in a big black SUV was there in less than 5 minutes to pick me up.Â It was fantastic.
I honestly don’t remember much after that.Â I know I made it back to my hotel, and I think I was too late for room service so I just crashed.
The next morning, I wandered downstairs to get coffee, where I met some young ARMYs with their dad getting ready to head home.
And a little later at check-out, I met one of the stagehands who had traveled with BTS for their whole North American tour.
I met one of the stagehands who traveled with BTS at all N American shows, I asked what it was like working with @BTS_twt staff and he said they were super perfectionist and super professional. He said all the crowds were great at every show. #BTS#BTSxCitiFieldpic.twitter.com/ipr30vxpyZ
I took one last selfie sitting outside the hotel waiting for a cab..
And then I headed for the airport and flew home..
Back in Cincinnati with the #CitiFieldFlu
As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, I got so sick within a day or two of coming home that I basically didn’t get out of bed for a week.Â I saw someone on Twitter call it the #CitiFieldFlu, I guess loads of people picked up whatever nasty bug was going around.Â By the time I recuperated from that enough to go back to work, I was too busy playing catch-up to write much, so that’s why it took almost a month to get this posted.
I sent a few messages to some of the folks I met at the concert once I’d recovered to thank them again and wish them well, and got back a bunch of nice replies.Â And I was super delighted when the Cincinnati ARMY I met at the airport DMd me on Twitter to ask if I wanted to go see Burn the Stage in a couple of weeks.Â She was so awesome, she even bought an extra ticket!Â Thank goodness, because they sold out while I was too sick to even notice anything.Â I’m really looking forward to meeting up with her to see the movie!
gratÂ·iÂ·tude /ËˆÉ¡radÉ™ËŒt(y)oÍžod/: noun, the quality of being thankful. tfw a new friend has your back when you’re sick and you don’t even know it yet. Thanks @Chante_tmc2016 ! @BTS_twt fans really are the best.
At this point, even I’m tired of this post, so I’ll wrap it up quickly.
It’s hard to describe, even with all these words and pictures and videos, just how much I enjoyed the show.Â The fans, the concert, the music, the love, the whole experience.
At a time when the political climate in the US feels uglier than anything I can remember in my lifetime (the election is tomorrow as I write this, I am desperately hoping for positive outcome), it felt sooo good to be with sooo many people from soooo many different places and walks of life, all coming together to celebrate and enjoy good music.Â It felt soooo good to support a bunch of young guys from the other side of the world and send them our love and appreciation and admiration and all the best hopes for their future.Â It’s really a tribute to the boys of BTS, and to Big Hit, and the entire team of professionals who produce and support them that we could all come to New York City and enjoy the show like that.
It made me feel and remember that Obama-style hope, and I’ve really missed that.
Thanks to all the ARMYs I met on my journey for making the trip so special, and to BTS for a concert that I will never forget. I purple you.
Â As a lifelong Constant Reader and huge fan of King’s work, it really wigged me out when he joined Twitter and I realized I could actually send a message to one of my favorite people on planet Earth.Â I never did, of course, because that would violate my “don’tÂ bug them”Â principle, but I’ve been tempted a time or two.
@stephenking if you ever see this, I’ve loved your writing since I was 8 years old and got grounded for readingÂ The Dead Zone.Â Thank you, sincerely super thank you, for a lifetime of awesome stories.Â <3
Â I saw some crazy sasaeng behavior at Citi Field, but thankfully not too much.
 I actually purchased tickets THREE times.Â The first time, I bought tickets on Stub Hub after losing out in the virtual queue, but I didn’t realize the ticket I bought was for wheelchair users only.Â Stub Hub wasn’t very helpful when I contacted them, their only advice was to put the ticket back up for sale and buy another one, which is what I did.Â Then a week or so before the concert, Citi Field released a block of box-seat tickets, and even though it was much more expensive, I snagged one of those and then re-sold my second ticket.Â I didn’t want to be a scalper jerk, so I always set the ticket prices for what I myself paid, but I lost out on transaction fees and whatnot each time.Â I never did the math to total up how much I really paid in the end to see the show, I don’t want to know.
Â I bought a couple of items for my trip which I’d like to recommend.Â It took hours of scouring Amazon to find a backpack that met Citi Field’s size requirements.Â I ended up with theÂ Red Rock Outdoor Gear Drifter Hydration Pack and just left the hydration pack at home.Â It was a good purchase, for such a small backpack, I managed to cram a lot in it, and clip a lot on it. I also packed twoÂ Jackery Portable Charger Bars (6000mAh) and aÂ Solar Charger RAVPower 24W Solar Panel which clipped to my backpack to keep me fully powered for the whole trip.Â My phone never ran out of battery even with constant use and lots of filming.
And last but definitely not least, my favorite purchase of all was something I almost left in the hotel room.Â Right before I walked out the door, I clipped the Trekology YIZI Go Portable Camping Chair to my backpack and I spent the rest of the day so grateful that I had it.Â Two thumbs up, it really saved my feet!Â I even had several offers to buy it from me throughout the day!
This is Part 1 of a three part series, see Part 2, and Part 3 here.
It has truly been an age since I’ve written an actual blog post. Â I may even have forgotten how to do it, I guess we’ll see.Â Â It’s not so much that I haven’t felt the urge to write from time to time, but once you get out of the habit of blogging, it feels insurmountable to start back up again.Â And yet here I am, trying to remember my website password on a Saturday morning.
The impetus for this blog reset was that I wanted to write about the experience of going to see BTS at Citi Field in New York a couple weeks ago. (If you need a primer, here are a few from the Guardian, Rolling Stone, NYT, and Vulture).Â Like many, I picked up the #CitiFieldFlu while I was there, so I’ve basically been bedridden or trying to catch up ever since I got back into town, but I hope I can remember everything because I think it might be one of the best trips of my life.Â It was not only a great show, the whole trip was the kind of awesome, life-affirming experience that makes you see the world differently when you come back home, and not many concerts can do that.
PART 1:Â THE BACK STORY
But to back up a bit, I feel like I have to explain how I got into this Korean boyband in the first place…
It actually starts with the election of Donald Trump, the #MeToo movement, and the absolutely paralyzing trauma I felt near the end of last year.
By mid-2017, as the daily insult and injury of the Trump Administration took my breath away, and every American media outlet, news program, channel, and pop-culture referenceÂ everywhere became All Trump All the Time, I began to experience a kind of cognitive overload and emotional upset that I’d never felt before.Â Then in the fall of 2017, the #MeToo movement broke open with one horrific story of abuse after another.Â Â Coupled with the shock and complex emotions that came with each days’ news cycle, I also began to feel a sense of shame that I was having so much trouble even coping with the news.Â I’d be heading into work listening to NPR, and suddenly find myself bursting into tears ofÂ anger, sadness, fear, horror, and sooooo much disappointment, it’s still hard to comprehend.Â Until one day, I just couldn’t cope with it anymore.
I turned the radio off.Â I turned the TV off.Â I canceled my subscriptions to the New York Times and the Washington Post.Â I un-followed hundreds of accounts on Twitter.Â For many months, I was pretty much offline but for what I absolutely had to do for work and I told everyone in my personal life that I was on a complete news blackout and that I did not want to know what happening.Â No, that’s not quite right – it wasn’t just that I didn’t WANT to know, it was even worse than that.Â I couldn’t even force myself to look at what was happening.Â 
My family and friends were shocked and confused, I think, and concerned.Â For anyone who knows me at all, tuning out and ignoring things is an extremely uncharacteristic response.Â And since the day I first discovered the internets back in 1994, most of my personal hobbies and interests, not to mention my whole career and professional life, has revolved around the internet, activism, and using technology to improve the human condition.Â And yet suddenly I found myself unable to engage with any of it.Â All of it. I felt compelled to shut the internet off.Â 
That was about a year ago, in November of 2017.
So what does a person DO when the thing that occupied all of their waking life for all of their adult life suddenly becomes toxic?
A SLOW-SIMMERING INTEREST IN KOREAN HISTORY/CULTURE TURNS INTO A REFRESHINGLY DIVERTING MINI-OBSESSION
How do any of our obsessions begin?Â Some tiny niggling seed that takes root and grows into something strange and unexpected.
My grandpa is in the center kneeling, with Korean children wearing UN hats.Â Not sure of the year, 1953 or 1954.
My most recent one has deep roots, if I think about it.Â My grandfather on my mother’s side, who I called Dad, served in Korea when he was in the Army, and it’s one of those episodes in the family lore that holds myriad meanings and significances.Â Family rumor has it that Mom and Dad got married because she got pregnant after (before?) Dad went to Korea.Â Not sure about the timeline there, maybe my mom will correct me. The cherry lacquer wooden bowls that Dad sent back from Korea were a source of bitterness for my aunt Mary when Mom and Dad passed away and we couldn’t find them.Â My uncle Frank probably still hasn’t forgiven me that I wouldn’t give up the photographs of Dad in Korea.Â (In my defense, I kept them to scan them in soÂ everyone could have them. :P)
After Dad died, I spent many hours scanning in photos and tracing through his life story, and I never could determine exactly where he was stationed in Korea, but I had the thought that I’d like to go there some day.Â He didn’t talk about his military experience much, but it obviously helped shape who he was, and if the family rumors were true, I was indirectly a product of his Korean adventure.
With Dr. Youngkyun Baek and Korean National University of Education graduate students at the University of Cincinnati, 2007.
Another root of my new obsession was a wonderful experience many years ago meeting Dr. Youngkyun Baek, who at the time was an Asst. Professor at Korea National University of Education.Â In 2007, he joined the University of Cincinnati with a Visiting Professor appointment and arranged for me to lead a week-long seminar with a group of his graduate students from Korea to discuss the use of Virtual Worlds and Second Life in higher education. That was my first sense that Korean society is far more accepting of and quicker to adopt technology than the US.
Having a traditional Korean meal with so many side dishes it blew my mind!
It was fascinating and so much fun to spend time with them.Â TheÂ language barrier was only a mild impediment to a fun-filled week of exploring virtual worlds during the day, and exploring Cincinnati and Korean culture after class.
Canoeing the Whitewater River with my new friends.
I’d say it is one of the great regrets of my career that I didn’t stay in better touch with them all.Â Maybe I’ll try to reconnect now that I’m less ignorant of Korean culture than I was back then (I feel embarrassed now to think of how much I didn’t know).Â If any of them happens to find this blog post, I hope they’ll say hello!
In any case, a few months before my Great Media Blackout of 2017 began, one of the news headlines that contributed to my sense of panic also re-ignited my interest in Korea.Â You may recall in August 2017 when headlines like Trump Threatens ‘Fire and Fury’ Against North Korea if It Endangers U.S. began to appear.Â For a split second, I was afraid Trump might get us into a nuclear war, and thinking of my conversations with Dr. Baek’s students way back when, I wondered what it must be like to live in South Korea and have that worry constantly.
One thing led to another, and I began reading about the Korean War and South Korea’s military enlistment policy, and then an online friend suggested that I watch a Korean drama on Netflix called Descendants of the Sun if I was interested in how the military experience and North/South relations are portrayed in Korean popular culture.Â After that completely addicting experience, I discovered I could addÂ Rakuten Viki and Dramafever apps to my Amazon Prime/Amazon Firestick, and well, let me tell you, once I fell down the K-Drama rabbit hole, there was no turning back.
Next thing I knew, I was ordering books from Talk to Me in KoreanÂ (highly recommended!) and getting monthly deliveries of Korea BoxÂ (also highly recommended!) and scouring the Cincinnati area for soju.Â (I never found it in Cincinnati, you have to go over the river into Kentucky at Party Source.)
It was all a marvelous distraction from the Trump/#MeToo madness, and though I have a lot of critical thoughts about the conservative, patriarchal parts of South Korean culture, it was still a welcome respite to leave the American mediascape behind and learn about a faraway land with their own history and myths and fabulous cuisine.Â As you can imagine, once I entered the world of K-Drama, then the music of K-Pop wasn’t far behind.
My musical tastes are as weird and varied as everyone else’s.Â I cut my teeth on a combination of bluegrass gospel from my biological father’s Kentuckian side of the family, and 50’s/60’s bubblegum pop, the Beatles, and “classic rock” from my mom and step-dad.Â The Eagles (who I just saw in Cleveland this past weekend!), CSN(Y), and Jackson Browne are in my childhood DNA, and then as an adult, well, it’s too varied to categorize, but I can say in the last decade or so, pop music and hip-hop were not really in the mix.Â I remember a couple years ago having the realization that I was Officially Old because I didn’t recognize even one single artist who won a Grammy that year.
So K-Pop was really a field afar for me, and I think I started with some generic “Top K-Pop Hits” playlist on YouTube, as one does these days.Â It all sounded kind of the same at first, and then one of the songs starts to grow on you, and then another one, and then you realize, hey, those two songs are by the same group, and then.. and then..
Â In the interest of full disclosure, I want to say publicly that I am also a survivor and a victim (even though I hate both terms) of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.Â #MeToo.Â Part of my shutdown was undoubtedly related to those past traumas that I thought I had overcome. Obviously not.Â It’s clear to me now that the way that the Trump election and #MeToo became entwined in my emotional response has as much to do with my personal history as it does with my political identity.
I also want to say that if any other person out there also had a total shutdown response to Trump and/or #MeToo, just know that you are not alone.Â I think we’re human and there are limits to how much trauma a person can process.Â We all have our own roads of recovery.Â I remain truly really grateful for the men and women who had the strength to speak up when I myself did not.
 Relatively speaking, of course, I really couldn’t maintain a 100% blackout even with great effort.Â In this modern day and age, there really is no total escape no matter how hard you try.
 Dramafever was just shut down last week after Time Warner/AT&T bought them, and there was a great wailing heard round the world by K-Drama fans everywhere.Â =(
Blogging became too time-consuming. Â Formatting, linking, embedding, bad copy pasta that has to be fixed. Â But I’ll try again, because my network continues to inspire me so much, I feel I should make the effort as they do. Â Bless their hearts, what would I read in the morning if they got lazy like me?
And, I remain forever amazed atÂ how wonderful tripping, linking, chasing, stumbling through others’ thoughts on the internets can be, and how sharing our thoughts can further other people’s trips in (hopefully) meaningful ways.
Here’s my latest trip to go with your morning coffee.
Badges and evidence, the “reputation economy”, and data used to make decisions
Scanning past Stephen’sÂ blurb about the VWBPE keynote, somehowÂ I came across Alan Levine’s (@cogdog) recent post “Seeking Evidence of Badge Evidence“, wherein he explores the usefulness of gamified badging systems if they don’t link to actual evidence that the badge was earned. Â Metadata about the evidence isn’t the same as linking to the evidence itself, right? Â Right.
This sparked a memory of an older post of mine, Twitter and the Reputation Economy in 2014, wherein I mused about how to measure “reputation” and suggested that Twitter Lists provide a non-obvious measure of something. Â Alan subsequently pointed out that a Twitter list wordcloud may be anÂ indicator,Â but it is not aÂ measure. Â Good point.
My tweet about Alan’s post sparked D’Arcy Norman (@dlnorman) to point to Cory Doctorow’s (@doctorow) recent post about what a terrible currency reputation would be.
My tweetÂ also sparked Alan to go down a deep, technically complicated but fascinating rabbit-hole of what my Twitter list wordcloud means, whether it’s useful, and how to generate one using docker, which I still don’t really understand.
At the end of all that chain, I summed up my current take-aways about data used for decision-makingÂ on a comment to his post:
1) measurements and indicators are not the same thing, important point.
2) reliability is key, whether of a measure or indicator.
3) the use-case (type of decision youâ€™re making) should drive the type of data used to make your measurement or indicator.
4) a measurement or indicator created for one use case may not transfer to a different use case.
Metaverse Vocabulary Words – Metaxis, Liminality, Stygmergy
Somewhere in checking out that tweet stream, I also came across Mark Childs’ (@markchilds) recent post exploring words that describe transitions, edges, limits, and perceptions of spaces, or places, or feelings of being present in a space or multiple spaces even. Â
..the video of which relates to Midas’ golden touch played out in Minecraft, and that perfectly captures and visualizes the idea ofÂ stygmergy,Â a word I came to know and love through Sarah Robbins (@intellagirl) years ago when she was exploingÂ using virtual worlds for teaching. Â See her “Using a Faceted Classification Scheme to Predict the Future of Virtual Worlds”. Â (I should link to her dissertation, but I can’t find a good link.)
After clicking through all that, I went back to Leon’s Twitter page to make sure I was following him (I am), and saw that he referenced the above tweet and forwarded Mark Child’s postÂ on to Martin Robinson (@surrealanarchy), who apparently has changed his main Twitter account to @trivium21cÂ (I followed that account, too).
A couple of weeks ago, I posted some thoughts about clemency for Edward Snowden and whether I thought he was a hero. Â My main point was that I was grateful to know the information he gave the world, but I felt that fleeing the US was an immoral choice, that whistleblowers who make the decision to “go public” have a responsibility to stand by their decision whatever the consequences. Â I said that even if I could understand the choice to run, that that didn’t meet my standard of “hero”.
The post generated a lot of comments, and I’ve been thinking about some of those responses.
First, I have to acknowledge the insensitivity of referring to Chelsea Manning as “he” and by a prior name. Â I fully 100% support everyone’s right to define their own identity, and it was thoughtless of me to do otherwise. Â I suppose that the name “Bradley Manning” had become somewhat iconic in my own mind and though I was aware of her choice to become known as Chelsea, it was almost as if the whistleblowing icon and the actual person had become separate entities in my brain.
But of course they aren’t separate at all, Chelsea Manning is an actual person, and its exactly these kinds of careless and unthinking errors that expose cisgender privilege and, however unintentionally, perpetuate prejudice and discrimination. Â Many thanks to those who pointed this out and I will be more conscious and thoughtful in the future.
Regarding the discussion about whether or not Snowden is a hero, everyone who commented here or on G+ or other places universally disagreed with my position. I have a lot of respect for the people in my network and when my perspective is completely out of step with the majority view, it definitely gives me pause. Â Even more so when virtually everyone thinks I’m wrong. Â 😉
I think it speaks very highly of the folks who read my blog that though they disagreed with me, passionately even, no one was disrespectful or rude, and I appreciate that. For me, blogging is a form of processing, of trying to think through issues and problems, and I’m always ready to acknowledge that I may be wrong. Â The whole point of posting publicly is to get feedback and to have good dialogue with people who are also passionate about the issues I care about, and I’m happiest when we’re really digging into an issue but doing it kindly and civilly with each other. Â So thanks to everyone for keeping it cool.
I can’t say that I’ve been completely swayed from my position by the arguments everyone made, but it has made me think more about the complexity of Snowden’s particular situation. Â My mother and many others asked if I thought Snowden should have paid with his life for his actions, and the answer is no, I don’t think he deserves to die or spend life in prison for trying to expose the wrongdoing of the NSA. Â I also agree that both of those scenarios were plausible outcomes if he had chosen to stay instead of leaving the US, and by that logic, then he would be justified in trying to protect himself from that fate.
Despite that, I still feel resistance to the idea that it is a moral choice to blow the whistle and run.
I may be persuaded that Edward Snowden’s, or to some extent, even Chelsea Manning’s, specific circumstances were extraordinary. Â That they were not exposing your run-of-the-mill malfeasance or wrong-doing, but rather they were exposing wrongdoing of such a horrific scale and magnitude, and perpetrated not by some low level official or small corporate concern, but by our own government across many branches and departments, and therefore that deserves some leeway. Â I think that’s a fair argument and it’s forced me to reconsider my position.
I would still argue, though, that universalizing Snowden’s decision to flee is ultimately NOT the best outcome – for whistleblowers OR for the society a whistleblower is trying to protect. Â In the best of worlds, what should happen is that the whistleblower should be safe, should be protected, should be given safe harbor until the disclosures can be digested and the situation investigated. Â Edward Snowden shouldn’t have to flee his own country, rather our government and our society should have better measures in place and better systems to protect those who make the brave choice to expose wrongdoing. Â We should be demanding better protections for the Mannings and Snowdens (and Swartzs) of the world.
And I guess that’s where it shakes out for me. Â If we universalize Snowden’s decision to blow the whistle and flee, and say that’s ok, then we run a two-fold risk:
1) We open the door for anyone claiming whistleblower status to get a pass whether it’s deserved or not. Â I maintain that making a public accusation of wrongdoing carries with it a responsibility to stand behind the claim. We all must have the right to face our accusers, and whistleblowers are not and cannot be exempt from that. Â Due process matters, it protects us from unfounded accusations and (in an ideal world) acts as a safeguard against vigilante justice, by the state OR other people.
2) We let ourselves off the hook for failing to provide the protections that legitimate whistleblowers deserve. Â While I’ll admit that Snowden likely had little rational choice but to leave, don’t we all agree that he shouldn’t have had to? Â I think in some way, blessing Snowden’s decision to flee is a form of ignoring our own complicity in a system that we know is terribly unjust. Â Instead of arguing about whether or not he was justified in running, we really should be expending that energy on making it so he doesn’t have to – not just for Snowden, but for all the legitimate whistleblowers out there who don’t have international visibility and media scrutiny to protect them.
That’s where my reasoning is at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll keep thinking on this for some time to come. Â Thanks again to everyone who commented, and as always, feel free to disagree! Â 🙂
Back in 2009 when Twitter Lists first came out, I had a little epiphany about the reputation economy. Â It isn’t just what you say about yourself online, but what others say and post about you in the aggregate, and all the associated metadata of your online life, that can define “who you are” in the Metaverse. Â That only seems to be more true as time has gone on, and despite the over-hype of the “reputation economy” buzzword, I still find it interesting and potentially meaningful, but only if the measures of reputation are accurate. Â We’re definitely not there yet, and I’m not sure we’re really any further than we were in 2009, either.
It’s hard to do an analysis of accuracy for anyone but myself, but if I had to say which system seems to currently have the best measure of “who I am” based on what others say about me, I’d have to say it’s not Klout, or LinkedIn Endorsements or any of those obvious attempts to measure reputation. Â The best measure as far as I can tell is actually Twitter. Â What Twitter Lists people have placed me in, which isn’t obvious at all, and isn’t even something Twitter seems to explicitly leverage as a measure of reputation, is actually a pretty good measure!
[A brief aside, I’m sad that Twitter seems to have buried Lists and made them almost non-obvious, since as far as I’m concerned, Lists are a crucial component of making Twitter useful at all. Â Many folks who joined Twitter after Lists came out don’t even seem to know they exist! Â If you happen to be one of those unfortunate souls, get thee to your Twitter page > Me > Lists > Create List and start categorizing people. Â Or click “Member of” to see what lists others have added to you to. Â I bet you’ll find some of them very surprising, hopefully in a good way. Â And after you’ve made some lists, tools like TweetDeck will suddenly make a LOT more sense to you, and your Twitter stream will become much more meaningful, relevant and less.. ephemeral.]
But back to the topic. Â So what does my Twitter network say about me? Â Some pretty good stuff, actually:
When I boiled the List Names down, I got 191 unique terms and, though I modified the frequency to make the word cloud readable (if I hadn’t, all you would see is: Second Life, Virtual Worlds, Education, Immersive, Cincinnati, which were the top 5 list names), I’d say that’s a really accurate representation of my online life. Â It accurately reflects my professional and geeky interests, and if you dig in there a bit, it tells you my gender, where I live, what I do for a living, some of the books I’ve read, games I’ve played, conferences I’ve attended, that I’m old enough to be on someone’s BBS list, and if I can say it humbly, that overall people have a pretty positive opinion of me. Â Â
I am of course quite biased, but I think I have a pretty awesome network of super intelligent people who love digging into the future of technology and education, and who like to think about what all this emerging tech will mean for the future of society, so it’s all the more interesting to see what kinds of categories they create for themselves and where they place me within that context. Â (I confess to having some warm fuzzies after seeing how the word cloud came out, so thanks Twitter peeps!)
LinkedIn’s Endorsements are another interesting measure, though of a slightly different sort. Â I’d say it’s also fairly accurate, but it pretty much capturesÂ only my professional interests and misses all the personal, quirky, or other interests I have.
Some folks I know have also complained that they get endorsements for skills from people who aren’t even in a position to know whether or not they have any expertise in that topic, and that happens to me, too. Â But in general, I’d say LinkedIn Endorsements are less a measure of what you areÂ actually skilled at doing and more a measure of what peopleÂ think you are skilled at doing. Â They aren’t the same thing, but both are interesting and useful measures.
By comparison, I would say Klout is theÂ least representative of the various “reputation economy” or influence measures about me. Â I don’t know how they weight stuff, but it looks like the Klout list was probably fairly accurate about 5 years ago, but as my focus, interests, and activities have changed, Klout hasn’t seemed to have kept up. Â It captures the same top 5 categories as Twitter Lists, but that’s about it. Â None of the nuance, history, and none of the topics I’ve become interested in since.. what, their initial calculations? Â I’m not sure.
I should also admit some bias here, I became very aggravated with Klout when they sent me what seemed like an email every few days to tell me my Klout score was going down, when at the time I was helping take care of my grandpa who was dying of cancer. Â The insensitivity of it really struck a nerve, like I should really give a hoot about my Klout score at a time like that? Â And how meaningful a measure could it possibly be if I’m less influential because I’m offline doing something important?
No matter what Klout says, I know my network values human life and knows what is and isn’t truly important. Â In fact, my guess is that my network would probably rank my reputationÂ higher for having been a dedicated caregiver, not lower.
And of course that’s the big problem with all of these reputation or influence measures – the algorithms can’t yet measure what’s REALLY important: trustworthiness, competence, honesty, reliability, compassion, dedication, clarity, ability to synthesize and make meaning from complexity. Â These are the measures I really want to know about someone, and as far as I can tell, there’s nothing out there like that yet.
The Twitter List names that people create for themselves, some of which touch onÂ values not just buzzwords, are the closest I’ve seen to anything like those kinds of measures, which for me makes Twitter a potentially overlooked but pretty important tool in the reputation and influence measure toolkit in 2014.
Without knowing all the details of what he leaked, how he leaked them, and the explanations for his actions afterwards that led him to China and then Russia, I can’t in good conscience call for his clemency either. Even if I acknowledge that his leaks have better informed a critically important debate about the surveillance power of the government and the constitutional balance (or lack thereof) of the NSA’s programs, even if his stated motivations as a whistleblower are 100% true, and even if I acknowledge that, like Bradley Manning, there likely were no “legitimate” paths he could take to take to expose the truth to the public, I still can’t go so far as to say that they deserve clemency because I’m not in a position to have enough information to make a good judgement, and my guess is, if you’re reading this blog, neither do you.
My own (very small, insignificant except to those of us who were affected) experience with being a whistleblower was a wholly terrible and unpleasant experience. Exposing misconduct and bringing to light what (some) people in power do not want revealed is a dangerous undertaking, even when the stakes are much less than national security. It is fraught with difficult ethical and moral decisions about how much information and when to disclose and how to proceed, and at least in my experience, I had absolutely no way to fully appreciate all of the unintended consequences of my actions, and how many other (innocent in the scheme of things) people would be hurt by my choices, no matter how well meaning and good my intentions were when I started.
I’m not comparing myself to Snowden or Manning, of course, the situations were completely different and on a completely different scale of importance, but I can only draw from my own experience. I certainly felt that I had an obligation take responsibility for the fall-out, and I guess that is where my own, however insignificant, experience as a whistleblower leads me to feel critical of both Manning and Snowden’s decisions to hide and run from the path they chose.
Yes, it stinks that whistleblowers are often punished for trying to do the right thing, but if you choose to do battle with the powers-that-be, then you have a responsibility to stand up and say, “Yes, I did this, my conscience demanded I take action to right this wrong, and be damned the consequences to myself.” That is what sacrifice is, that is what a “hero” does, and that is not quite what either Manning or Snowden did. Even if their initial motivations were largely for the right reasons, even if there have been many good things to come of their disclosures, they still failed to see it through by trying to hide from or escape from the consequences of their choices.
What makes that a “wrong” is that all the untold number of (innocent in the scheme of things) people who paid a terrible price for their actions had no choice in the matter. The co-worker who gave Snowden a password because of trust or because he thought Snowden’s request was legitimate as a sysadmin who was later fired. The diplomats or soliders or, heck, full on spies whose careers were destroyed or lives were endangered by Manning’s or Snowden’s disclosures. Those people had no choice in the matter. They didn’t have an opportunity to hide or escape from the fall-out of those decisions, so why should Manning or Snowden?
When you set the ball in motion, you have a responsibility to see it through to the end, no matter how bitter that end may be. To do less may be only human, but it doesn’t meet my standard of “hero”.
I found this both moving and inspiring. I’ve come to believe that academics and researchers have a moral imperative to fight closed publishing, and this talk by Lessig only makes me feel that more strongly.
Me blowing bubbles on my grandpa’s back steps, age 3 or 4?
. . .
When I was a little girl, back when most girls my age were dreaming of being ballerinas, princesses, orÂ veterinariansÂ (a popular choice in my rural community), I dreamed of being the President of the United States. Â I’m not sure when or why I came up with that idea, I just knew I wanted to help people, and in my little girl mind it seemed like the president got to help all kinds of people.
Then one day, I think maybe in 2nd grade or so, we were assigned a class project to draw a picture of our future selves at work in our dream jobs. Â I drew a picture of myself in the White House behind a big desk, probably with some rainbows and pink and purple hearts. Â Anyway, as we took turns sharing our pictures with the class, it was finally my turn and I was pretty excited that no one else had wanted to be my dream job yet. Â So you can imagine how upset I became when a classmate interrupted me to say that could never happen because only boys could be presidents. Â I promptly started crying, but it was anÂ angry kind of (embarrassed) crying. Â That kid probably unwittingly planted some of the earliest seeds for my lifelong feminism. Â I was sure I’d prove him wrong – some day!
. . .
I never made a conscious choice to work in the field of Information Technology. Â What started as a student worker position in my university IT department eventually turned into full time job, but even though I was working full time,Â I spent many years thinking my day job was just a placeholder until I could graduate and get on with myÂ realÂ career. Eventually I realized that the calling for public service I felt from a very young ageÂ hasÂ been realized by a career in IT, it just took a different path than I expected, and I didn’t think of it that way for so long in part because the narrative society tells us about what it means to work in technical fields is all wrong.
Working in Engineering and Information Technology is all aboutÂ helping people.Â Â It isn’t some abstract, impersonal problem solving exercise.
I was fortunate to have had early access to a computer and other kinds of technology even as a pretty young girl. Â My grandpa was an engineer, and the day he taught me how to load up games on his Commodore 64 was life altering. Â Load “*”, 8, 1 became a passport into whole new exciting worlds and I can directly trace my current job right back to that very first experience. Â I also knew one of my uncles was a computer programmer, and as I got older, I certainly understood that his job was high paying, challenging, and high status. Â Another uncle was an engineer too, and I knew he also had a good paying job and everyone seemed to respect his work and his career. Â All these men in my family, who I loved and respected, who seemed to be judged as some of the most successful career-wise in the family, and yet I had absolutely ZERO interest in doing what they did for a living. Â Why? Â Because it all sounded so darnedÂ boring.
My first game addiction, Ultima III Exodus on the Commodore 64.
When I think back to what that young version of me thought of their jobs, I associate all kinds of very dry, abstract concepts and words to their work. Â It seemed to involve a lot of math. Â It seemed to be about working with tools and machines and metals. Â It seemed to have nothing at all to do with other human beings, other people, or about solving the kinds of social problems that I found interesting and compelling as I got older and more conscious of the wider world. Â Somewhere along the line, I got the idea that technical fields like engineering and computer science were not only off limits for girls, but they were about inhuman, mechanical things, which I had no interest in anyway!
What’s funny is that you could excuse this misconception from a young girl growing up in the 80s, but it’s a lot harder to understand how I could still think that way even as an adult actually working in an IT job, and even though my mom worked in IT too! Â The difference was, my mom’s work stories were always about the people and relationships, so even though she also worked in a technical field I guess I didn’t associate her job in the same way – I thought of her as a people problem solver, not a technical problem solver, and somehow never made the connection between the two.
Connecting the purpose of our work to the tools we use to do it
I think what happened is that the information I absorbed about what it means to work in a technical field was focused on the tools used to do the work, not theÂ purpose of the work. Â And frankly, a hammer just isn’t very interesting. Â But if you talk about how using a hammer can help you build houses, and building houses helps families have stable, happy homes, then suddenly that inanimate hammer object is placed in a human context that’s tied to something relatable even to the youngest of children. Â Focusing on the tools used in technical fields is obviously appealing to some people, but it certainly wasn’t appealing to me.
Because of these misconceptions about IT work, I spent the early part of my careerÂ avoiding the more challenging technical aspects of the job. Â Partly it was out of fear that I wouldn’t be smart enough to figure it out (girls can’t be system administrators or programmers!), and partly because I was under the mistaken impression that becoming more technically adept would take me further away from the human interaction that I loved most about my job. Â It took me years to discover that I was wrong on both counts. Â Perhaps if someone had helped me connect the dots, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to discover how thrilling it is create something new that people find useful or valuable, or how wonderful it is to empower others to use technology for their own goals.
Me explaining the architecture of the University of Cincinnati’s OpenSimulator grid.
I think the way we frame the narrative of technology work has a lot to do with why girls and women choose other career paths. Â Even today, I doubt many people would associate working in technology with public service, even though in large part, the purpose of our work is about solving human problems, improving living conditions, and making society better. We just don’t talk about it that way. Â And we should, because for all the little girls (and boys) who are drawn to the human elements of a particular career, we want them to know that IT and engineering jobs can be very human centered! Â Yes the programming and software and protocols are necessary to do the work, but that’s notÂ why we do the work – we do the work to make the world a better, safer, more interesting and beautiful place, just like doctors and veterinarians and ballerinas – and (hopefully) presidents.
Ada Lovelace DayÂ aims to raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and maths by encouraging people around the world to talk about the women whose work they admire. This international day of celebration helps people learn about the achievements of women in STEM, inspiring others and creating new role models for young and old alike.
Ada Lovelace is widely held to have been the first computer programmer. Close friends with inventor Charle Babbage, Lovelace was intrigued by his Analytical Engine and in 1842, she translated a description of it by italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea. Babbage asked her to expand the article, â€œas she understood [it] so wellâ€, and this was when she wrote several early â€˜computer programsâ€™.Â Ada Lovelace died of cancer at 36, her potential tragically unfulfilled. Â
tl;dr: Â If we want to see the metaverse happen in our lifetime, we need to invest our time, money, creativity, and resources into making it happen. Â It isn’t going to come from Second Life or Linden Lab, and the metaverse can’t wait.
Five or six years ago, you could not have found a more enthusiastic and engaged supporter of the Second Life platform than me. Like many, I was inspired by the technology itself and especially by the vision of a company who promised us a new world built from our imaginations. Back then, the leadership of Second Life actually said things like “I’m not building a game. I’m building a new country.” (I love that Gwyn keeps that quote from Philip Rosedale in her sig line.) While I was always skeptical about that “new country” bit, I was completely and passionately in love with the idea that we were creating a new world – a new KIND of world – that exploded with possibilities and opportunities for those who were open to learning how to use them.
I’d readÂ Snow Crash too, of course, and it wasn’t just the idea of Second Life itself that excited me, but rather the idea that Second Life was a seed, a prototype, a very rough but crucially important first step towards the creation of an open metaverse. Even back then, my imagination supplied me with a thrilling vision of what the metaverse could become. I could see it in my mind’s eye, this online incredibly complex 3D universe of people, places, and things, of not just one new world, but many new worlds, connected to one another, traversable with our digital bodies, varied and wonderful and full of commerce, educational opportunities, entertainment, creativity, and all the magical things that we could collectively unleash from our imaginations. The metaverse would be the next iteration of the net and the web, moving from flat, mostly static, two dimensionalÂ pagesÂ to dynamic, live, and action oriented 3D online places.
Most exciting to me, this digital variation of our physical universe would not be limited by so many things that constrain us in the physical world – lack of capital, limits on consumable resources, the difficulties of physical distance, and the incredibly stale and inflexible institutions and legal structures that are cracking and groaning and failing to adapt even to the exigencies of the real world, forget being able to address the digital world. Â It wouldn’t take millions of dollars to build a company headquarters in the metaverse, no need for lumber and concrete either – pixels are limitless. And it wouldn’t matter if your colleagues lived in Dubai or Dublin or Dallas, you could still work together side by side in a virtual space and collaborate on a shared design in real time, in some ways better even than you could in the real world. And maybe, just maybe, all that plasticity and the ability to visualize things in new ways would help us discover new angles to solving intractable old real world problems, too.
I became absolutely convinced thatÂ those of us pioneering these new digital worlds would have the opportunity to do better in the virtual worlds we create than has been done in the real world we inherited, and that we could learn from our experiences in virtual worlds to make the real world a better place, too.
And in those early days, forget the technology or the company or the leadership at the helm, the most wonderful thing about Second Life back then is thatÂ I kept meeting people who were thinking the same thing.Â Logging into Second Life was like mainlining a drug, everywhere you teleported, you might just bump into someone brilliant, thoughtful, someone as excited about the possibilities as you were. Everywhere you looked were fascinating projects: scientists playing with visualizing data, artists creating experiences that were just not possible in real life, regular everyday people starting new businesses and finding financial success, professors and educators holding classes in the clouds and building a community of practice that made even the most isolated innovator in some corner of the physical world feel like they had finally found the colleagues and collaborators of their dreams.
Everywhere you looked was innovation. Everyone you met was experimenting, trying new things, pushing new boundaries. Anything seemed possible. Â Maybe even probable.
I became so inspired, soÂ excitedÂ by the possibilities that it quite literally changed my life. Trying to understand this prototype of the metaverse, and figuring out how to achieve those goals became the focus of my career. Â I was travelling all over the US speaking about Second Life and the metaverse at conferences and lectures, and I was deeply engaged in my own projects in-world, too. Learning not just how to twist a pile of prims into something beautiful, but how that pile of prims could be used to facilitate a community like Chilbo, a classroom at my university, or bring people together for a conference like SLBPE or SLCC. The more I learned, the more sure I became that great things were possible because this rough little prototype of the metaverse had already enriched and changed my life for the better – I was quite certain it could change other people’s lives for the better, too.
I had a vision of the future and I worked very damned hard to help bring it to life, not in isolation, but with thousands of other people who were working hard to do the same thing. And the most wonderful part was that we had found each other, from all corners of the physical world, we discovered in each other a passion for making the metaverse a reality.
It was an exciting, heady time. I miss those days. And if you were one of those people, I bet you do, too.
That Was Then, This is Now
The road from there to here has been an interesting one. I was incredibly lucky that my personal circumstances and the university where I work gave me the space, time, and resources to dive deep into the topic. I spent the next several years fully engaged in the work, the space, the people, the projects, the platforms. I’ve read hundreds of academic articles, thousands of blog posts and news stories and editorials. I’ve had the opportunity to work on so many fantastically interesting projects, I’ve organized conferences and participated in scores of events to bring people who share this passion together in real life and virtually, and I’ve explored as many worlds and spaces as time has allowed to see what others are doing too.
And while there will always be someone more technically gifted than me, moreÂ knowledgeable, more connected.. I think it is fair to say I’ve developed some expertise in this topic, some genuine experience in understanding how and when a virtual world application makes sense and when it doesn’t, what the challenges and opportunities are, and some inklings of what the future may hold now that I’m not just wide-eyed with wonder, but seasoned by the trials and tribulations of not just starting projects in the fledgling metaverse, but leading them, staffing them, maintaining them, supporting them, marketing them, and finishing them. To be sure, some of my youthful naivete has departed, but I’d like to think it’s left some wisdom in its place, and here is what the view looks like to me now.
It would be fair to say that no single company or single platform could ever have lived up to the kinds of expectations that I described in the beginning of this post. Linden Lab and Second Life could never be all things to all people, and I give them credit for even trying to address the needs of so many diverse use cases and such a passionately vocal and creative userbase. And I do believe that they tried. For a very long time, I think they did try, sincerely and genuinely, to help bring the visions of Second Life’s residents to life. I personally worked with many folks from the Lab who were as passionate and committed as I was, and who tried their best to facilitate the projects and events that I worked on.
And while they were of course always working for Linden Lab and had to keep the company’s interests in mind,Â there were hints that some of the folks at Linden Lab also shared our passion for the metaverse itself, beyond Second Life. For a time, there seemed to be at least the possibility that Linden Lab might grow into a larger role, not just serving as a provider of a world called Second Life, but maybe they could become a steward of that burgeoning metaverse, sharing their technology with others in service of that broader goal in a “rising tide lifts all boats” kind of way. Before so many brilliant engineers and thinkers left the Lab, they took concrete steps in that direction, even – they open sourced the viewer code, they participated in research with IBM to test inter-world teleports, and when Philip spoke to us, the residents, he painted that kind of picture. This was not a game. This was about changing the world, real and virtual.
That was Linden Lab then. That is not Linden Lab now.
The Metaverse Will Not Come From Linden Lab or Second Life
I still see the Second Life platform as that first crucial step towards the metaverse, but anyone with two eyes in her head can see that it’s been many years and many changes in management since there was even a hope that Second Life itself would be anything but one world whose sole purpose is to make one company a profit. Linden Lab isn’t even a publicly traded company, for that matter, so we who have invested countless hours, poured thousands and thousands of dollars, staked our reputations and careers, and devoted our creativity and passions to the Second Life platform – we who made Second Life what it is – we can’t even see into the black box a tiny little bit. In truth, we don’t own even a tiny piece of this thing that we helped create.
It has always been that way, of course, even back in the beginning. But back then I also had some.. let’s call it faith, that the people in charge at Linden Lab shared at least some small part of the same vision that I had. Even if they went about it differently than I would do, or chose to prioritize different things than I would have chosen, I had some faith that both we the residents and Linden Lab the company were in some way working in concert with one another. At times it was discordant, andÂ cacophonous, and certainly chaotic, but what complicated and pioneering endeavor isn’t?
And don’t forget, I was seeing these people, in person, at events and conferences all over the country. Â I could look into their eyes and see my own passions reflected in them, and that sustained me even when I disagreed, sometimes vehemently, with their decisions and choices. They were good people making a good faith effort to do something good, and I was willing to endure all manner of inconveniences, indignities, and even embarrassinglyÂ horrible failures in the middle of important-to-my-career presentations, all becauseÂ I felt that good faith effort deserved my patience and my loyalty.
I do not feel that way anymore. You shouldn’t either. It’s not because Linden Lab has become Evil or something silly like that (though I’ve long and often thought the dictionary definition of “mismanagement” should include their company logo), but simply because their priorities are no longer our priorities – not even close. If there was any question, the recent announcement about adding Second Life to Steam should put that doubt to rest. Linden Lab is pivoting, as they like to say in start-up land, and they’re pivoting to gamers. They’re no more interested in expanding or creating the metaverse than EA or Blizzard is, the only world changing thing they are aiming for now is better monetization of the entertainment and virtual goods sector.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with gaming – I am a gamer myself, and unlike Prokofy, I don’t think all gamers are idiots or griefers. I have a Steam account and play lots of games on there, and right this moment, I’m anxiously anticipating this weekend’s release of Guild Wars 2 like I haven’t looked forward to a new game in a long time (I’m going to start a guild if I can’t find one, come join me!). And a bit ironically given my last professional experience with Linden Lab, I actually like what I’ve seen of Rod Humble the person; he seems genuine and thoughtful and deeply knowledgeable about the game industry. I look forward to seeing what the newly re-focused Linden Lab comes up with, and I hope it is entertaining and interesting and successful. I’ll even hope that it continues to push the envelope technologically.
But game worlds are not the metaverse.Â They don’t want to be the metaverse, or participate in the metaverse, or have anything to do with an online universe where people can travel freely, create freely, start their own companies, or do their own thing. Game worlds are about sucking us into someone else’s world, where they endeavor to create an entertainment experience that is so enthralling that we willingly fork over cash to keep experiencing it. Which is great, sometimes really great, and fun and addicting and all that good stuff. But any game experience, no matter how thrilling, pales in comparison to what we who haveÂ lived in the fledgling metaverse know is possible, what we knowÂ could beÂ possible if the kinds of resources, talent, technology, and effort that currently gets invested in game worlds were to be invested in the metaverse instead.
The thing is, once you’ve made your own world, you can never go back to being satisfied only playing in other people’s worlds. Or at least that’s the way it is for me.
Now someone out there is going to argue that it’s not like Linden Lab is going to turn Second Life into WoW or something, that they are at least trying to pivot to something of a hybrid between game worlds and virtual worlds. That seems to be what Gwyn thinks, and I’ll agree that there’s truth to that, but it’s important to remember that virtual worlds are not the metaverse either. Virtual worlds are some step before the metaverse, before we figure out how to connect everything up. It’s another intermediary step, and while we’re working on learning how do that, we can’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Whatever hybrid Linden Lab intends to make, they’veÂ signaledÂ very strongly that they are simply not interested in having their virtual world participate in any of this metaverse stuff at all.
Which means for those of us who want to see the metaverse become a reality in our lifetimes, their goals are not our goals. Their priorities are not our priorities.Â The metaverse is not going to grow out of Linden Lab or Second Life, it’s that simple.
But I Can’t Leave My Inventory! Â And My Friends! Â And My Awesome Builds!
Does this mean you have to leave Second Life? No of course not, even I haven’t done that. I still have projects for work in Second Life and though Chilbo has changed to a mostly private landowner model, we’re still there and I still have a strong connection to my friends, colleagues, and communities in Second Life.
But I have tiered down, way down, and I have begun to invest my time and money largely elsewhere – in Opensim, in Unity, in exploring other nascent platforms and technologies that might be a step in the metaverse direction. I think if you care at all about making the metaverse a reality, that’s what you should do, too, and there are several reasons why:
The first reason is that Second Life is not a safe place or a good place to store your work.Â At some point, maybe not this year, maybe not even next year, but at some point you will have the epiphany that you have poured your creativity into a very, very fragile jar that is held by someone who does not give one hoot that they hold your most precious efforts in their hands. Worse, you will also realize that you have paid a ridiculously high price to have your creativity held in a jar owned by someone else. Worse still, it will break your heart when they drop the jar and all your effort shatters into a million pieces that you can’t easily pick up, if at all. (Ask the educational community, they will tell you.)
Imagine you are writing that novel you’ve always dreamed of writing, the novel that will change the world. And it’s early on in the development of software for writing novels, so there are only one or two platforms that allow you to even do it. One of the downsides of these early platforms is, you can only ever work on your novel on their servers, and the only copy that exists of your novel only exists on their servers. But hey, there aren’t any other good options out there, so you dive in, pouring your heart and soul into writing the best novel you can.
The more you add to your novel, as the years pass, the more attached you become, until one day something terrible happens. You lose your job, or you get sick, or the stock market crashes, whatever the reason, suddenlyÂ you can’t afford to pay for access to your novel. And just like that,Â all that work, all that effort, gone in a blink. Or one day the company changes its mind and decides it doesn’t even want to host novels anymore, novels are not their target market now, who needs these novel writing people! And just like that,Â all that work, all that effort, gone in a blink.
How many writers would choose to write their novel on a platform like that? None. NO ONE. Only someone insane would choose to do that. Only someone deluded would choose to do thatÂ andÂ pay through the nose for the privilege once there were other options available.
Unfortunately, you sometimes pay a really high price for being an early adopter. Back then, Second Life was the only virtual world game in town, and you didn’t have any choices. That is no longer the case. Â Linden Lab should allow you to make a copy of your work, but they don’t. And to continue the analogy, they don’t want to give you a copy of your novel because they need you to keep paying the hostage fees to access it.
My advice is: Stop being a hostage. Or at least stop being blind to it. And think about what it means for Linden Lab to decide for you, for us, whether we can have a copy of our own stories.
The second reason you need to shift your focus elsewhere is because other platforms need your passion and your creativity and your help.Â We all benefit when there are choices, when there are options, and when there is a healthy ecosystem of competition. Five years ago I would have guessed there would be many platform choices by now, but there aren’t, and it’s my fault. And your fault. We’ve remained so focused on one platform that we’ve allowed the virtual world ecosystem to atrophy to the point where you could hardly even say there is an ecosystem at all. And that’s bad – for businesses, for educators, for artists, it’s bad for virtual worlds, and it’s bad for the metaverse to come.
We need there to be a million laboratories and experiments happening, we need to have different options for different use cases, and we need to continue to grow the virtual worlds and metaverse “space” even if it isn’t the hot media darling it once was. In fact, we need to do it especially because it is not the hot media darling it once was.Â All those VCs and angel investors looking to drop a few million bucks on the hot new thing are so wrapped up in mobile and tablets and whatnot that the metaverse doesn’t stand a chance in hell of getting attention from anyone but the people who passionately believe in it. That’s us.
And what we lack in monetary capital we make up for in intellectual capital and the patience andÂ perseveranceÂ to click through fifty bazillion checkboxes if that’s what it takes to figure out how to do something. We are not deterred by horrible user interfaces and inconvenient re-starts, by constant patching and broken viewers. We have put up with more trials and tribulations to make our visions a reality in Second Life than obviously most sane people were willing to do – so what is holding us back from moving beyond Second Life to continue to grow the space? I can’t believe it’s because it’s too hard, SECOND LIFE IS TOO HARD, for god’s sake. Â Still! Â After all these years, it still takes a ridiculous amount of effort to do anything in Second Life. So I don’t buy the difficulty argument, or the lack of features argument. That’s baloney.
No, other things are holding us back, and mostly I think it is that we’ve forgotten the vision. Well, remember it. Think back, remember what you hoped for, and let that sustain you as you move beyond Second Life to explore and help create new worlds thatÂ desperatelyÂ need people like us to invest our time and talents into growing the virtual worlds and metaverse of tomorrow.
My advice: The single easiest thing for you to do is to begin with Opensim. Forget what you’ve heard or read about Opensim, forget all the frothing over content theft and copybots, and forget whatever experience you had with Opensim a few years ago. Opensim (and by extension OSGrid) Â is the closest thing to what Second Life should have become, could have become if the Cory Ondrejka’s of the Lab hadn’t left. The only thing it doesn’t have is the monetary capital that Linden Lab has squandered in bad management and bad decisions, and the intellectual capital required to hit that tipping point of adoption necessary for there to be “enough” people using it to find the collaborators, content, and creativity that you need for your projects.
I’ll save a big treatise on Opensim for another day. It isn’t perfect, and it has its own set of issues, but it is actually more stable and more feature rich than Second Life in many ways, and any excuses that it’s too hard or too confusing fall upon my deaf ears. It isn’t. Stop making excuses. If you care about virtual worlds and the metaverse, you need to be taking at least some portion of your time, money, and efforts from Second Life and investing it in Opensim instead. You’ll be able to put all the years you’ve spent learning Second Life to good use, since it’s not like learning a completely different platform from the ground up, and you’ll be contributing to a community of people who deeply care about the future of the metaverse. Heck, you need to get into Opensim if for no other reason than you will learn more about Second LifeÂ than you ever have in all your years on the main grid.
Most importantly, Opensim’s wholeÂ raison d’etreÂ is about growing the virtual worlds and metaverse space.Â Unlike Linden Lab, who have chosen to keepÂ their one world for their profit, Opensim is all about your world, your imagination – quite literally, you can run your own world. (And you should, even as just a learning exercise. I’ll help you personally if you want to try, and if you haven’t, go visit my little personal world FleepGrid.) Â I think you might be amazed at what you find, especially in the open hypergrid personal worlds rather than the InWorldz and SpotOn3D closed worlds, who, just like Second Life, want to beÂ one world for their own profit*.Â Skip those and seek out the smaller grids and open grids and find your passion for the metaverse rekindled.
(* I can already hear Prokofy’s rebuttal ringing in my ears. I am not saying that for-profit projects or motivations are bad, in fact I think they can be good, and they are definitely necessary. I’m merely pointing out that some people are motivated by things other than profit, and I’m primarily addressing the audience of readers who, like me, are in that group. Call us naive do-gooders, or copyleft crazies, but we also contribute many good and meaningful things to the space and have a right to seek out like-minded projects and people.)
The third, and most important reason, you need to move beyond Second Life is because we’re getting old, and the metaverse can’t wait.Â Some time ago I came across an interview with Philip Rosedale where he said something about how he’d spent his 30’s doing Second Life and it was time to move on. It struck me because, while I’m a little younger than he is, I’ve now spent the majority of my 30’s working in this space, too, and in that time I’ve developed both a better understanding of just how long it can take for a technology to mature and just how intractable some of the technicalÂ and social barriers we face are. Â Making the Metaverse might not be rocket science, but it isn’t easy either, and we still have a ton of work to do. Â We have a lot of technical problems to solve, for sure, but we also have a lot of cultural work to do, and in my opinion, the cultural and social stuff is actually harder. Â I can teach anyone how to click through a menu, it’s much more difficult to teach them why they should want to.
It’s going on 20 years since I discovered this thing called the internet, and from those very early days, I’ve always felt my personal talents lie in the ability to bridge gaps between different groups of technology users – to play the role of a translator. Â Back in the 90’s when my role was primarily tech-support, I translated programmers’ intentions to end-users, and end-users’ needs to programmers. Â Then in the early 2000’s when I was teaching workshops about using technology in education, I translated Gen-X/Y students’ behaviors for Baby Boomer faculty, and vice-versa. Â These days, I find myself trying to translate to those living with today’s technology what we who have lived with tomorrow’s technology have learned, and at times it’sÂ an immensely frustrating experience. Â But equally frustrating is the stagnation I see even among those I admire and respect, who seem to have lost a little bit of that edge, that desire, to see more, much more, than mesh, and pathfinding, and whatever new shiny thing Linden Lab has bolted onto the same old broken chassis.
When I think back to where I started, I would have predicted we’d be much, much further along the road to the metaverse today than we actually are. Â I’d have expected not just incremental improvements in tools, but whole new revolutions in how we translate our visions into pixels. Â That hasn’t happened as much as I’d have liked. Â I’d have thought that culturally, more people would be able to see and appreciate the benefits that virtual reality provides and would have embraced the opportunity to take advantage of it. Â Surprisingly, people’s imaginations are more limited than I’d have guessed (including my own), and while we have seen things like Facebook and Twitter adopted more broadly, those are still flat, largely textual pages, not places to explore and experience together. Â They are just iterations of the first webpage I saw back in the early 90s, not the revolution that Second Life once was, not the revolution that the metaverse needs to be.
Which brings me back to the whole game thing. Â Back when Philip ran the Lab, Second Life was not a game. Under Rod’s leadership, a game is exactly what he’s trying to turn it into.
My advice is: Â If you want to see the metaverse we imagined, then stop playing theÂ perpetualhoping and waiting game that Second Life is.Â Because if there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that the metaverse won’t spring forth from hoping and waiting.
Update: Â I had a super busy week at work, so I’m still stewing and thinking about all of the comments. Â In the meantime,Â I wanted to add links to the various responses and side discussions that were posted elsewhere both for myself and for other interested readers. Â Many thanks to all for the food for thought! Â (Please let me know if I missed any, too!)