Metanomics


27
Mar 10

Governance in Virtual Worlds

On Friday, March 26th, I participated in the Governance in Virtual Worlds 2010 conference sponsored by the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and World2Worlds.  The conference description:

Virtual worlds and online games are used by millions of people around the world for recreation, corporate and academic conferencing, formal education, research, training and charitable work. These worlds have given rise to public-policy issues, both ancient and cutting edge. Governance in Virtual Worlds will provide an exploration of these issues by professors, journalists, corporate managers and community activists. Learn what it means to be an active citizen, a creative producer, and a savvy customer, and meet the people shaping policy for the worlds of the future.

Now, I’ve attended a LOT of conferences, conversations, symposia, discussions, and other such things revolving around virtual worlds, but I must commend John Carter McKnight, Adjunct Professor of Law at  Arizona State University for putting together a truly excellent group of panels.  (And I’m not just saying that because I was on two of them!)   Though the conference was plagued with technical issues at the beginning, which happens sometimes, the panels sparked good conversations (and sometimes heated debate)  and it was the first time in a while I heard some new ideas that made me stop in my tracks and think, “Oh, yeah.  Why aren’t we talking about that?”

John Lester (formerly Pathfinder Linden) Gives Keynote Opening Address

For long time SL peeps, one of the highlights of the conference was John Lester‘s keynote opening address.  Formerly known as Pathfinder Linden, who did much to promote the education and health care communities in world, John appeared as his original avatar from the SL beta (the first one!) days, Count Zeeman.  John’s keynote was unfortunately one of the ones marred by the technical challenges, but he talked about the biological responses that humans have to our virtual experiences.  He gave an example of a teacher who brings her students in world and right off the bat has them jump off a mountain.  The students feel fear, vertigo, and all these physical reactions, they don’t know if they’re (their avatar) is going to die, they don’t know what to expect.  The physical reactions we experience in virtual spaces are due to our brains having evolved to think in, navigate in, and respond to 3D data, we have entirely natural responses to 3D cues, it activates our lymbic system just as if we were standing on a physical mountain.  Ok maybe to a lesser degree, still.  🙂

Of course, we’re missing key components of physicality in virtual worlds, particularly the non-verbal cues of body language, posture, etc.  John reminded us Snow Crash fans that in Stephenson’s novel, the thing that made the metaverse take off was when it incorporated the natural body language of those who were jacked in, so we’re not yet at a point where I yawn in real life and my avatar yawns as well, but that’s where we’re headed.

I’m not sure if this was just my take or John’s, but there was some conversation that augmented reality is likely to top into the mainstream before virtual worlds, since handheld devices are already ubiquitous and the super-smart-phone genre like Droids and iPhones are becoming more commonplace and affordable.  John mentioned the augmented reality windshield GM prototyped that I tweeted about the other day (woe the day our windshields get hacked!) and we talked about a future where our HUDs were not just on the screen but in our contact lenses.  Good stuff!

In terms of governance of virtual spaces, the issue is that our current system of laws and courts are processes that move so exquisitely slowly, and yet the pace of technological change is accelerating at an ever faster pace.  How are we to govern spaces that our current systems are not even remotely equipped to understand, let alone arbitrate?  And that, of course, was the key question of the conference.  It was great to see John and despite the audio glitches, it was great to see him in world again.

Keynote Panel:  The Politics of Virtual Engagement

Next up was the keynote panel, which also had a rocky start on the technical end (again, not the fault of the conference organizers!) and I didn’t get to show my slides so I’ll embed them here:

I’d hoped to talk about how we can look at the small scale governance issues already cropping up at the institutional level, like in higher education, and then extrapolate how those issues will affect the larger ecosystem of institutions participating in virtual world spaces, but the tech issues got our timing and things off to a rocky start, so I’m not sure how much came through.   In any case, the “Politics of Virtual Engagement” at my university are just one example of many, but I think there are lessons to be learned.  For example, virtual world evangelists and people like me trying to introduce the concept of virtual worlds to academia have to have a deep knowledge of our institutional culture.  The needs of our student population are different than the needs of faculty, which are again different from the needs of administrators and staff.   The trick is trying to weave those needs together into virtual spaces and experiences that tap into what can only be done in virtual worlds or that virtual worlds do better than other platforms. People have to see how this technology meets their needs before it can scale up.  This is as much true for every other domain – business, non-profits, online communities – as it is for higher education.

And the questions and issues raised by the students, faculty, and staff at the University of Cincinnati are likely to be echoed across the spectrum of institutions who move into virtual worlds.    This technology forces us to renegotiate long standing and entrenched boundaries that DO exist in the physical world, but are highly permeable in the virtual world.   What can we learn from early adopters who are already negotiating these shifting boundaries to make it easier for the early majority?

I also think virtual worlds expose the limits of our creativity and imagination in ways that are.. somehow less obvious in the physical world.  Give a teacher the freedom to work in any kind of learning environment they can imagine rather than a traditional classroom, and you’re bound to get some blank stares.   And who can blame them!  They aren’t accustomed to having that kind of freedom and flexibility, and conceptualizing the actual SPACE in which learning takes place is not in their knowledge domain because in the physical world, someone else designs the classrooms.  And it isn’t just teachers, students, staff – it’s also me!  The plasticity of virtual worlds gives us tremendous freedom to create settings and experiences that can’t be replicated in the real world, but our imaginations are not yet caught up to the possibilities this technology makes possible.

I feel that way even after participating in virtual environments for over 15 years at this point.  Every day something new shakes my world and hints at possibilities I hadn’t even considered.  It’s fascinating stuff.   And I think in the long term, all the other issues – who owns your data, privacy issues, conflicts over copyright and IP – these issues don’t have simple black and white answers, the inter-relationships forming between individuals and individuals, and individuals with institutions, and institutions with institutions, and scaling all the way up to encompass the global digital community and ecosystem, these things are so complex, and emerging and evolving so quickly, I just can’t imagine that our existing institutions will survive in anything resembling their current forms.   I guess we’ll see!

Real Laws in Virtual Space

There were two speakers in the next panel who made a lasting impression on my overwhelmed brain.  Joshua Fairfield, Associate Prof of Law at Washington and Lee School of Law, and Gregory Lastowka, Professor at Rutgers School of Law.   This post is already getting long, so I’ll sum up quickly.  Joshua’s main point was that we are spending an awful lot of brain cycles worrying about how RL law is going to impact virtual worlds, and not enough time thinking about how the rules of virtual worlds would be horrific if implemented in RL. Good point!  From my quickly jotted notes as he was speaking:

Imagine IP licenses embedded in our toaster, our clothing, our cars, as we do have constraints on our use of virtual property. What then?   On privacy, we all know from the Bragg case sued Linden Lab, LL has ALL communications from people in world, all IMs, they were able to pull up IMs from years before.. All of those convos can be sometimes must be made available without a search warrant, no probably cause required. The essential irony – we go to escape and are under constant surveillance. Cell phoen tracks you through GPS whereever you go.  So the question is, are we losing our personhood?  Personhood, once property and privacy are in trouble, personhood will follow. We are a social network in our selves, the social networks we use are coming to OWN that tangle of connections that we are. We will hand over our personhood when all aspects of our behavior, posessions, creations, and communications are owned by .. someone else.

Gregory Lastowska’s talk was also good, again my raw notes:

Virtual Worlds as a separate jurisdiction.. virtual law as separate rules of physical jurisdiction. Play spaces are governed by a separate set of rules, we can look at different human societies, say the rules pertaining to education, religion, or family, they are sort of “special spheres” of human interaction, so there may be some precedent for game worlds, but that isn’t the trend we’re seeing, the courts are treating them just like web sites, so not seen as separate sites of jurisdiction which may not always be the right way. David Post, Jefferson’s Moose, hypothesize different laws for cyberspace. If we were to look at the internet and copyright law, we never would have developed our copyright law as we did because much of it doesn’t WORK as applied to the internet, the net is constant copying, every microsecond there are violations, and when it comes to financial importance, lawsuits, Napster etc. you see the general trend is to limit the growth of the technology in order to serve the copyright law, and that seems ,.. not good.

SO – if this were a separate space, what kind of law would we have?

Second the point on augmented reality, separate from VW issues? We will see some issues from VW will also be issues with augmented reality, primarily the difference between the customer/client and the owner/server operators, as we move towards cloud computing, balance between tech and law, Lessig’s Code..

Got interrupted, work phone call.  Then a meeting and I missed some of the next panels.  Bummer.  🙁

Virtual Self Governance

The last panel was about how communities existing in virtual worlds govern themselves, and I was really excited to talk about my own virtual community, Chilbo, in this setting.   Here are my slides from that presentation:


Now strangely, it seemed that one of the other panelists was upset that I had slides, that I talked specifically about how the Chilbo Community formed and was governed, and especially that my last slide invited people to visit and explore our town.  Frankly, I thought that’s what everyone on the panel was going to do, per the instructions I received from the conference organizers, so I’m not sure exactly where the miscommunication occurred.   If I wasn’t supposed to talk specifically about Chilbo, then I’m not sure what the point of the panel was!  Further, the other panelist also seemed to disbelieve my statements about our experience.  I didn’t expect any of the content I presented to be .. inflammatory or controversial, rather I thought the point of the discussion was to talk about some of the specifics of how different in world communities form, govern themselves, and use the tools and platforms to self-organize.

Perhaps I misread the tone of the other panelist, but I felt distinctly defensive after a bit.  As hard as it may be to believe, yes, we do actually mostly govern by consensus and no, acrimony, arguments, and strife are not very common – in fact, it’s quite rare.  That isn’t to say there are never any disagreements, just that differences of opinion or conflicting interests seem to be resolved with little fanfare and few fireworks.  I confess, I know very little about the inner-workings of CDS.  I’ve very pointedly made an effort to let the structure and processes of governing Chilbo evolve out of our specific culture, community, and needs, rather than trying to emulate or model it after something else – because in some sense, though human communities are obviously not new, the thing that IS new is the who’s, why’s, and how’s of how we have all come to be together in this particular virtual world, in this particular region, at this particular time.   Though as Rose Springvale said, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel (a good point!), I think we also have to give ourselves the freedom to imagine new ways of self-governing to break out of systems of governance that were developed in a pre-digital age.

In any case, I’m not suggesting that the Chilbo model is perfect for everyone and maybe wouldn’t work for any community but our own, and it isn’t even as if I understand exactly how or why it seems to be as successful as it is at constraining the discord that often appears in online communities, but for whatever reason, it seems to be working for us on a lot of levels, and so my goal was to share about our experience.  That really shouldn’t have offended anyone’s sensibilities, I don’t think.

Overall, I felt it was a great conference and I was sorry to have missed a couple of the panels, but I hope everyone else enjoyed it as much as I did and many thanks to all the folks who organized, attended, and participated.


11
Mar 10

When Game Devs Engineer the Real World – You Brushed Your Teeth, +5 points!

The concept of “Life as a Game” is certainly not a new one, when I was a kid, the game of Life was my favorite board game of all time.  I still remember the thrill of filling up my little car with boy and girl babies I imagined I’d have  at some point in the far off future, or the crushing defeat of bankruptcy, a term I didn’t really understand, but in that context basically meant “Game Over.”  Spin the dial – what does the game of Life bring you next?

And it’s not as if I’m not a big fan of video and online games – I cut my teeth on the Atari 2600/5200, hand drew maps in colored pencil to find Princess Zelda, played Ultima on a Commodore 64, still have an account on the Medievia MUD that goes back to 1994, have an 80 level holy spec priest on WoW (they nerfed holy spec, don’t get me started), and most recently celebrated the completion of my horse stable on Farmville.

I grew up on games – the first generation to grow up playing video games – I was a “Girl Gamer” back when we were a pretty rare breed and I’m still playing now that “gaming” in its various forms is so common that the Pew Research Center reports that, “Game playing is ubiquitous among Americans teenagers. Fully 99% of boys and 94% of girls report playing video games.” They also report, “More than half – 53% – of all American adults play video games of some kind.”

We are increasingly (already?) a nation of gamers.

And yet, despite the fact that virtually all young people game, and over half the adults in the US game, there still appears to be a very finite line between “gaming” and .. everything else.  We still delineate “real life” (RL) as separate from game spaces – even when the space isn’t actually a game space, as in Second Life.  The skepticism and often openly hostile reaction of scorn/pity that Second Life residents get from non-SL peeps is almost remarkable considering that the very people delivering that heaping dish of disdain turn right around and log in to WoW or EVE or Farmville.

Just yesterday, in a debate about a topic wholly unrelated to gaming, someone I was arguing with bolstered his point with the concluding line:

“I think of you as less of a person for using Second Life, and for no other reason.”

Now, to be fair, we were engaged in a sort of theatrical debate where the low blow is not only acceptable but expected, and it was all said in good fun and humor, but.. like with many kinds of humor, it was funny because it had the faint ring of truth.  Many people actually DO think less of me as a person for using Second Life, just as a decade ago they thought less of me as a person for playing EverQuest, just as a decade before that they thought I was not only insane but maybe dangerously insane for talking to strangers on the internet through those weird BBSs and MUDs full of D&D playing soon-to-be-axe-murderers.

Ahhhh how times have changed.  The internet, she vindicated me. And ahhh how times of changed, now half the adults in the US play WoW or some other game and it’s not so crazy anymore.   Alas, I’m still waiting for virtual worlds to vindicate me, but having gone through this combo-pity-scorn routine a few times, I’m not shaken by the current state of attitudes about virtual worlds, augmented reality (why would you want to look at DATA on top of the REAL WORLD on your PHONE, what’s wrong with you?!), or most of the other technologies I use that cause people to look at me askance and with wary eyes. (Twitter????  Whaaa???)

What DOES cause me great concern, however, is that these Ludic Luddites have no clue about what’s coming.

Barry Joseph delivers the SLEDcc 2008 keynote address.

I have to give all due props to colleague Barry Joseph (SL: GlobalKids Bixby) from Global Kids, an organization that does great work with youth in New York City, for introducing me to the concept of a “ludic life” at his keynote address at SLEDcc 2008.

His keynote talk, Living La Vida Ludic: Why Second Life Can’t Tip, is worth watching, and it’s one of those talks that sticks in your mind like a burr, at the time it didn’t quite penetrate (I was one of the conference organizers, so my brain was on 50,000 other things) but it stuck with me, and in the years since, the message he delivered only resonates more strongly with time.

Loosely translated, it’s about living a playful life.  It’s about combining the adventurousness, fun, openness, exploration, and all of the other joyful aspects of our game play into our “real life”.   The central thesis of his keynote was that virtual worlds and other platforms like Second Life can’t and won’t tip, until the broader culture of “living la vida ludic” tips.  One must come before the other, and back in 2008, he made it clear that the title of his talk could be taken in two ways – first, that virtual worlds like Second Life would NEVER tip – or that something was holding Second Life back from tipping into the mainstream.  He left the question about which interpretation was right for the audience to decide, but I thought then as I do now that the answer was the latter.  There are forces at work holding back virtual worlds, Second Life, AND the ability for us to live a ludic life as openly and as joyously as we wish we could.

Those who don’t understand not only feel scorn and pity, they feel fear.

Yes Virginia, NASA scientists say  the earthquake in Chile may actually have knocked the earth's axis.   It's not just your perception, the world has actually shifted.

Yes Virginia, NASA scientists say the earthquake in Chile may actually have knocked the earth's axis. It's not just your perception, the world has actually shifted.

As I said to a good friend of mine the other day, I’m struggling with this.. feeling I have, that all of the meta-narrative that stood at the very foundation of my understanding of the world – how the world works, where it’s going, where I fit into it, what I’m supposed to be doing – the meta-narrative from my childhood seems to not make much sense anymore.

The world seems off kilter.  It’s changing so quickly, I don’t know anyone who feels like they can keep up with the pace of change.  And so many major systems that underpin our society and culture appear to be, frankly, broken.  On the rocks.  Our government. Our banking and finance system. Our ecosystems.  Our healthcare system.  Our system of education.  None of these systems and institutions appear to be meeting the needs of our society as we experience it TODAY.  They all seem to be failing us.

Why?  It’s a no brainer, of course, and not an original thought at all.  It’s simple – the systems and institutions built to address the needs of a pre-digital-society don’t work to address the needs of a society that can get, transmit, and transform information as quickly as we can today.

And boy is that causing a lot of fear.

I feel it, don’t you?

Fortunately, the nation’s best teachers have some advice

(well, mostly the nation’s best male teachers, but that topic is for another post)

Chris Lehman at TEDxNYED explaining that changing education necessarily means changing the world. Photo credit WayneKLin.

The rousing chorus of last week’s TEDxNYED conference, where superstar educators from K-12 and higher ed like Larry Lessig, Henry Jenkins, George Siemens, Mike Wesch, Amy Bruckman, Dan Meyers, and others converged, is that the education system is not only broken – it’s getting worse. They blasted out  conversation starters about why and how and what needs to change in the US (educational system).

Perhaps most importantly, the subtext of the conference was that the issues teachers and educators are facing aren’t just confined to the “educational system” – as if it’s some discrete thing disconnected from the society and culture at large – and indeed, as George Siemens said, considering that society dumps every ill and issue at the doorstep of education to solve, it’s amazing the system functions as well as it does.  But take out the word “education” from these TEDxNYED Talks, and they are talking about what society at large needs to do to adapt to our changing circumstances.  (The videos aren’t up yet, but they’ll be available on YouTube soon.)

At least for the purposes of this post, I think the first important piece of advice came from Michael Wesch.  Which is simply this:

When a game changing technology enters a society or culture, you don’t have the option to opt-out.  It changes everything.

All those Ludic Luddites, who fear the technology, avoid the technology, feel that the current systems of getting things done would work just fine if only they could better regulate, standardize, and enforce them, are just plain wrong.  The world has shifted and there’s no turning back now.

What does this have to do with gaming?

Slide from Dan Meyers' talk at TEDxNYED - quests anyone? Photo credit kjarrett.

Well, I’m getting round to that.

As I watched these presentations and suggestions from teachers about ways to improve (society) education, I couldn’t help but see game elements – and the ludic life – infused throughout their talks.

When Dan Meyer talked about changing math curriculum to stop asking kids to give the answers, but instead help them figure out what the important questions are, it looked like creating good game quests to me.

When Lessig and Jenkins talked about mashup culture and how destructive it is to limit the creativity unleashed when you put tools in the hands of individuals, it reminded me an awful lot of how content gets created in virtual worlds like Second Life and OpenSim.

Or what about this quote from George Siemens’ presentation:

George Siemens at TEDxNYED. Image credit WayneKLin.

The solutions we need to address societies biggest problems – (global) warming, population growth, poverty – will be found through serendipity, through chaotic connections, through unexpected connections. Complex networks with mesh-like cross-disciplinary interactions provide the needed cognitive capacity to address these problems.

Sounds like the serendipitous, chaotic, and unexpected connections you form in WoW, or EVE, or any other game world, and “mesh-like cross-disciplinary interactions” is just fancy talk for good class balance.  Can’t have too many tanks and not enough healers or the whole thing comes crashing down.

Ok.  And one more, also from George:

The big battles of history around democracy, individual rights, fairness, and equality are now being fought in the digital world. Technology is philosophy. Technology is ideology. The choices programmers make in software, or legislators make in copyright, give boundaries to permissible connection.

This is, of course, the perennial battle between the game players and the game gods. Except wait, what?  The whole story of the birth of the US is all about us being our own game gods.  Hm.

In any case, the point here is, I think the Ludic Life is starting to tip.

We haven’t hit it just quite yet, but the elements of game play that Barry talked about in 2008 are starting to show up in the oddest of places.  The World Bank is funding an Alternative/Augmented Reality Game called EVOKE that has thousands of people, from school kids to adults, and from all over the world, playing a “game” that promises to teach us how to address major global issues and respond to global crisis.  Oh, and you might win scholarships, grants, or seed funding from the World Bank if you have a good idea.  Put that on your resume!

While Facebook and other social networks like Twitter have been the talk of the town, a recent NPR story cited research showing that more people play Farmville than use Twitter.  And it isn’t your kid playing, it’s your mom.  The average Farmville player is a 43 year old woman, and there are 80 million people playing.  80 MILLION.

Smartphone apps like Foursquare and GoWalla are turning our real lives into games, too.   I’m now the proud “Mayor” of Queen Mary’s Family Restaurant, where my mom and I go have breakfast on Sunday mornings.  I had to edge out some other fella who got there before me.

So, what’s bad about that?  Isn’t this a GOOD thing?

Well, yes and no.

Many thanks to my good friend and neighbor in Chilbo, Roland Legrand (SL: Olando7 Decosta), for the post on his Mixed Realities blog that brought the video below to my attention.   Check this out:


What happens when game devs (working for corporations?) become our primary social engineers instead of the nominally elected politicians?

Naturally,  I’m interested in the ways that game mechanics, game culture, game concepts, and game design filter out and influence RL.  And though I work in higher education, my undergrad degree is in Political Science and my not-so-secret passion is sort of the nexus where the emerging metaverse and game culture is changing “real life” society and culture, which of course includes education but goes beyond edu, too.

I know I’m not the first guild master to think that herding this bunch of cats is way more complicated than many RL jobs, or to realize the skills I learned adventuring with my guildies often had applicability to real life situations. I’d like to think I learned something about teamwork, diplomacy, compromise, and all sorts of organizational, strategic, tactical, and political skills through my journeys in worlds that only exist in bits and bytes.

Generally speaking, my career, my work, this blog, everything I’ve been doing for the last 10 years is about bringing this technology to people who don’t have it/know about it/use it yet.

But watching that video gives me the willies.

First, because I don’t think it is as far off in time as some think it might be.  Second, because I don’t think it’s that far fetched in terms of what could actually come to pass.  And third, because I’ve been a lowly peon player in the game god universes/metaverses for a really really long time.  On an old BBS I’m still using, I’m one of the “moderators”.  And you know what we say?  This ain’t a democracy.  Don’t like our rules, don’t play.

Furthermore, my post the other day about Stickybits demonstrates just how quickly the barriers to privacy are falling.  I posted that barcode just to figure out how the service worked, and before I knew it, I was collecting the home addresses of my blog readers without even realizing what I’d done.

Want me to know your home address?  Go ahead, download the app to your smartphone and scan that barcode.  I’ll get an email within a minute or so letting me know you scanned it, and where you were on the planet when you did, right down to the address and a lovely Google Map pinpointing your exact geo-location.

And I guess I should award you 5 points if you scan it.  Redeemable for..  I don’t know what yet.  An hour long private tour of Second Life, I guess.

And now I’ve broken the #1 rule of the 140 character metaverse, which is to make a really really long post and get to the end and not have any answers.

I don’t know exactly what train we’re on here, but the train seems to be moving ever faster and faster.  And I worry more and more about who’s driving the train, and I have a sort of sick feeling that about half of the passengers have no clue that they are even on THIS train – I think they think they’re on a different train entirely, and that they’re driving it.  But they aren’t.

I dunno.

As much as I love gaming, and I do love it, I’m not so sure I want Crest giving me points for brushing my teeth.  I think I’ll have to come back to this.

Thanks for reading if you made it this far, and if you have any thoughts, I’m all ears.


25
Jan 10

“Fear the Boom and Bust” a Hayek vs. Keynes Rap Anthem

This is hysterical!  And sure maybe a little overdone, but economics lessons that make you laugh can’t be all bad, right?

Thanks @ThomasStone for the link. 🙂


24
Jan 09

Metanomics Monday: Teens in Virtual Worlds


Fleep on a previous episode of Metanomics

This coming Monday, January 26th, the weekly Metanomics show will feature a topic of interest to educators.

Kids Building Digital Bridges
Metanomics, Monday, January 26, Noon to 1 Pacific Time

Virtual worlds transport young people outside their neighborhoods and offer them chances for creative collaboration across physical, generational and cultural boundaries. Metanomics host Robert Bloomfield investigates the novel ways that kids use virtual worlds to break down barriers with Barry Joseph of Global Kids and David Klevan of the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum. On the Spot, Daniel Voyager discusses the future of Teen Second Life, fresh from his graduation to the main grid, and educator Chris Collins provides closing commentary.

(Hey, Chris Collins, that’s me! Come hear me get on a soapbox!)

See the Metanomics website for more information, watch in-world or on the web!


12
Nov 08

Superstruct: Inventing the Future – 2019

Screaming 3D Bootstrapper Csven Concord had been pinging me for weeks about the Superstruct game organized by the Institute for the Future. I finally got a few hours to take a look at it and was stopped cold at the very first mission of the game: describe yourself in the year 2019. Not a fantasy you, but you you, where you think you might actually be. It took me three days just to accomplish mission #1 to make my profile.

My efforts to get into the Superstruct mindset were somewhat hampered by the technology being used. Not sure if it’s just my PC or that I’m using the FF3 browser, but I continually have to relog into the site over and over just to navigate around (is it not tracking cookies properly or what?) and the framing they use makes it hard to grab direct links to specific content. With some trial and error, I finally got to Cven’s Screaming 3D Bootstrappers Superstruct page, and managed to add myself to the S3DBers wiki page, and saw a call for help under the heading “Young Farmer’s Outreach”:

Request: “we need 3d VR environments that mimic the reality of a farm/ranch so that our young farmers can share their skills”

So the idea is that it is the year 2019, and five major superthreats are having devastating effects on human populations. To play the game, you create or join Superstructs (groups) to address one or any of these threats by using your unique talents, resources, and perspective to generate ideas, stories, videos, websites, pictures, or anything else that helps us imagine how life would really be in that situation and what solutions might really work to address the problems we face in this fictional reality of 2019.

In my imaginary 2019, the Chilbo Community has grown tremendously into a large, global community in the metaverse. To deal with the Ravenous superthreat – where major disruptions in the global food supply chain threatens the world with starvation and lack of healthy, nutritious food – the Chilbo Community has established a virtual garden to allow farmers and scientists from anywhere in the world to help people learn to grow their own gardens. In this fictional world of 2019, Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ReDS) has also forced many cities and populations into Quarantine, so the Chilbo Community Garden might be especially useful for those stuck in quarantine zones where access to food supplies may be dwindling. By using virtual world technologies to connect people who cannot visit one another in real life, we can spread information about sustainable farming to a larger audience, use the 3D modeling capabilities of virtual worlds to create roleplay scenarios, display equipment and demonstrate techniques, and reach populations who are isolated because of possible contagion.

To flesh out this idea, I worked with some Chilbo residents to actually build out this garden in the Chilbo Nature Preserve in Second Life, and recorded a machinima clip to “report” on our progress in the year 2019. This is only the second machinima I’ve ever made, so pardon the amateur execution.

When I think about the future of education, I wonder why we don’t spend more time doing THIS kind of work. I wonder if we’re teaching students the skills they need to really evaluate information on the web in context. For example, in the process of “playing” this game, I came across the ReDSNet Project website. Now, this website is so well done, so realistic, it would be easy to think ReDSNet was real. How many students would have the skills to read for content AND context and eventually discover that this is a fictional website? How many students would have the creativity or skillset to create a fictional website that was so convincing? How can we use these types of .. roleplay scenarios to build digital literacy skills that really WILL be useful in the year 2019?

I wish I’d had more time to spend on the Superstruct game/concept. It was really a fascinating, thought provoking exercise. And even if the machinima still doesn’t make any sense to anyone but me, I enjoyed the experience, I spent some time seriously thinking about my own future and where I _want_ to be in 11 years, I got an excuse to practice my machinima skills, and I strengthened some bonds in my network, personal and professional. Quite an accomplishment for some crazy collaborative game on the intarnets that I only had a few hours to play.


21
Sep 08

US Economic Crisis – “Privatizing Gains, Socializing Losses”

The quote in the title of this post comes from Gretchen Morgenson, who writes the MarketWatch column for the Sunday New York Times, on the 9/19/08 episode of PBS’ Bill Moyers Journal. Watch it.

I am so thoroughly disturbed by the current state of affairs in the US economy that I must put all political correctness aside for a moment and ask you, dear reader, for a reality check.

It appears that our government is about to take on a tremendous amount of debt by nationalizing private entities, buying trillions in bad debt, and by some accounts, taking on some 70% of the mortgages in the United States.

This is unprecedented. Cataclysmic. Terrifying.

I spent some time last night actually watching TV, something I do less and less of these days, catching up on a backlog of Tivo from the past week. I watched a bunch of news reports, pundits, and analysis of how and why this economic crisis has come to a head, what the government is doing about it, what those who have been reporting on the financial sector for 30 years think about it, and the whole time I’m thinking to myself, wow: I have absolutely no faith that anyone in the US government or otherwise actually knows what they are doing with regards to this imploding/exploding economic mess.

If you somehow aren’t following this, you should be. Every American citizen certainly should be, because we the American people are about to be saddled with TRILLIONS of dollars of more debt – and I cannot imagine how this won’t impact the rest of the world in some way – so you should be paying attention even if you aren’t in the US. Did I mention _trillions_ of dollars in new debt? I can’t really fathom a trillion dollars, personally, it’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around billions of dollars. Here’s a quick primer, if you’re trying to catch up:

Government Pledges Swift Financial Crisis Rescue

Wall Street Turmoil Marks Wholesale Banking Shift

So, from what I can tell, the last 30 years of banking deregulation (i.e. relaxing the laws, standards, and oversight of what financial institutions and Wall St. investors are allowed to do), has led to ever larger financial institutions creating ever more complex financial “products” that have become so damned shady and complicated that even Wall Street itself doesn’t understand what they’ve gotten us all into.

You’d have to have been hiding under a rock to not know that a bunch of companies made a bunch of risky loans for people to buy houses they couldn’t really afford, and as the price of everything (especially energy) began to soar, a bunch of these people couldn’t afford to make the payments on their homes anymore. The companies that loaned them the money weren’t too worried, cause they’d “packaged” up big bunches of these loans and “sold” them to other companies and banks, who then themselves sold pieces of this debt to a bunch of other companies and banks, and so on and so on. And as more and more people stopped being able to pay their mortgages, more and more of these companies and banks were stuck holding the bag on all this debt that no one was paying on. This is the “Subprime Mortgage Crisis” that we’ve been hearing about all year.

Except it seems that the people in the US government and the geniuses on Wall St. either didn’t know or didn’t want to admit that these “packages” of defaulted loans had become so widely sold, traded, and mixed in with other stuff, that even big, stable, long term financial institutions and companies were in big trouble as more and more people became unable to pay for their houses. Suddenly the troubles of “Main Street” were wreaking havok on “Wall Street” and everyone began to panic. It got so bad, that big name companies that everyone thought were safe and stable started filing for bankruptcy and begging other big banks to buy them, it got so bad, that people and companies began to take their money out of money market accounts and other funds and that caused even MORE people to panic.

And so, in the span of a week, the Bush Administration’s people have stepped in and said, don’t freak out, we, the US government, will take over some of these failing companies, and we, the US government will insure your money market funds, and we, the US government will take on the debt of all these houses that no one is paying for anymore. And Wall Street rallied at this news on Friday and had a big party that Uncle Sam was going to swoop in and save the day.


From what I can tell, this is the craziest, scary economic situation of our lifetimes. The financial health of the United States of America hasn’t been this jeopardized since the Great Depression.

Now one of the analysts on PBS said that you don’t stop to fix the leaks in your roof when the hurricane is still going strong, you just do what you have to do to survive the hurricane, and you fix the structural damage when it’s over. I think that’s true. I think if the government had not stepped in, goodness knows how far reaching this crisis might have become, it’s truly terrifying to think about, particularly considering how much US debt is owned by foreign investors.

But. BUT.

It seems to me that this means that the US government is going to make damned sure that the free market capitalists don’t loose THEIR homes and savings and retirement, and the ordinary people who have already lost their homes and savings and retirement are just out of luck. For all of my living memory, the REPUBLICAN PARTY has stood for business, for smaller government, for telling regulators to butt out of what business does, let the all-knowing all-wise market sort out the winners and losers. And when they were winning, all those profits, all that money, was THEIR money and the government shouldn’t tax it, shouldn’t take any of it, the American people as a whole shouldn’t share any of it, because it was the gutsy risk-taking of the capitalists that led to the profit in the first place, and the market rewards winners and punishes losers. Not two weeks ago I saw a political ad for John McCain talking about making the tax cuts to the wealthy that the Bush Administration enacted early on permanent.

Except now, when the all-knowing, all-wise market started doing exactly that, started punishing the risk takers who were taking TOO MUCH RISK, now the REPUBLICAN PARTY is saying wait, hold on, the American people, the US government (you know, the ones who didn’t get to share in the wealth cause it was all YOUR money), well, we’ll take on a bunch of your debt. We’ll take on a bunch of the risky crap that you’ve gotten yourselves into. Hell, we’re even going to take over some of your companies. And the free market capitalists are saying HALLELUJAH, yes please, please take all this mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. PLEASE TAKE IT. The financial press is using words like toxic, poisonous, and radioactive to describe this debt. The wonky economic analysts in their rumpled suits and crooked ties and silver hair, the people who have been studying this stuff for their whole professional lives admit that even they don’t understand exactly how “toxic” this toxic stuff is.

And me and you, Joe, we’re about to get handed that bag of toxic stuff.

My undergraduate degree is in Political Science. I (sadly) didn’t focus on economics as much as I wish I had, and I can’t claim to understand everything that’s going on right now if even the pros don’t have a clue, but I just have to put this out there, publicly, for my own conscience.

The REPUBLICAN PARTY, representing free-market capitalists, has largely had their way in terms of economic policy, they have successfully gutted many of the laws put in place after the Great Depression, and they have successfully protected the profits – the sickeningly vast profits – of a very, very tiny percentage of very, very wealthy Americans.

I’ll sit tight with everyone else while the hurricane is upon us, but when it’s over, we have a LOT more than just repairing the roof to do. I personally know people in my family, people in my social circle, who are facing homelessness and dire economic circumstances. I personally know people who got a few thousand dollars into credit card debt (and I’m talking $4-5000 range) who then had something bad happen, an illness, a job loss, who were unable to get out from under it and are struggling to just plain feed their kids. And I didn’t see Uncle Sam coming to bail THEM out.

I am angry. Afraid. Worried. And I genuinely believe that the REPUBLICAN PARTY has quite literally wrapped themselves in the American Flag and used every dirty trick in the book to keep the average, church-going American distracted by issues like guns, abortion, and gay marriage so they can rob our country blind. And they seem to be getting away with it.

When does it stop? When does the party of “Country First” actually start putting the country – the whole country, not wealthy investors – first?

I do not understand how any sane person could vote for John McCain in this election. I really don’t. I don’t know how any sane person could be watching this and not see the horrible irony of wealthy “government keep your hands off” investors begging the government to take on their private debt, so much money than I can’t even fathom it in any real sense. 35% more than the entire US defense budget. 4/5ths of the output of our entire national economy in debt.

It’s staggering. Just plain staggering.

And the last time I looked, this is what CNN’s homepage looked like. The only indication of this on the front page? A tiny link on the right.

And on that depressing note, I’m off to finish laundry and go to my grandpa’s house. He grew up in just-post depression America, and I hope he has some damned good advice for me.

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17
Sep 08

CCK08 – Disconnected

(This post is about the Massively Online Open Course called Connectivism and Connective Knowledge being taught by George Siemens and Stephen Downes from September to December 2008. Over 1900 participants have signed up, and I am facilitating the Second Life cohort for the course. Over the following months, I will be posting about the experience, home work assignments, and other materials related to our activities.)


Storm damage in Cincinnati, photo by elycefeliz used under CC licensing.

On Sunday, the remnants of Hurricane Ike traveled all the way up to Indiana and Ohio, and though I’ve certainly seen my fair share of weird weather phenomena, I have never seen a wind storm like that! I lost my biggest shade tree in the back yard and have a little roof damage, but other than property damage, all my friends, family, and coworkers are ok. Being so far inland, this part of the country is certainly not prepared for hurricane or tropical force winds, and it caused a massive blackout in the region, shortages of gas and food, school closings, and a new understanding and sympathy for those in Texas who took the brunt of the storm.


And suddenly, in the middle of the Connectivism course, I found myself forcefully Disconnected.

I’ve had brief power outages before, but not for so long and never for so long in the summer. When you get a big winter storm, there’s a snowy white visual barrier between you and the rest of the world and you know it will melt and things will get back to normal. This time, there was no visual, nothing but the hanging powerlines and broken telephone poles to remind you that our modern society and all of our connections are really quite tenuous. Without the juice that those cables provide, and the pipes that transmit all of those 01010101011110001’s, those of us who are hyperconnected online may be more isolated and disconnected locally than ever before. It was a sobering thought.

It wasn’t until sometime on Monday when I began to worry that the power might not be back by Tuesday’s Connectivism course meeting in Second Life that I remembered my Utterz account. I have Utterz set up in such a way that I can call Utterz from my cell phone and record a message. Utterz then creates a post automatically on my blog, and WordPress is set up with a plug-in to automatically send a message to Twitter whenever something is posted on my blog. This means that when I was stranded with no electricity, internet, or landline phone, I could flip open my cell phone, record a message, and within a few minutes my voice was online and my network of twitter friends were notified. Chilbo residents Malburns Writer and Tara Yeats noticed it, and Tara is also in the Connectivism course, so she very kindly sent an email out to the Second Life Cohort to let folks know I was offline. (Thanks Tara!)

Hmm, so maybe not so disconnected after all. But it was quite strange to be standing in the dark and sending out what felt like an SOS of sorts into the ether. What to say when you’re talking to.. well, anyone? Should I direct the message to my blog readers, to the Connectivism course? Without access to my online calendar, I wasn’t even sure who else I was supposed to be meeting with, so maybe it should be as general as possible? I realized I am quite weirded out by posting a voicemail to anyone who happens to hear it!

Mobile post sent by fleep using Utterzreply-count Replies.  mp3

And then a few days later I ran across a post by fellow Connectivism student Janet Clarey, who writes about my Utterz post, saying:

Chris Collins (a/k/a Fleep) sends a mobile post to her blog because she has no power and no Internet connection. She’s letting her ~2,000 online course mates (in the CCK08 course) know that she won’t be in attendance today. No biggee right? It’s no different than a voice mail sent to a group. Or is it? I think it’s significant. She’s communicating with anyone.

I’m not sure I could be as creative if I found myself without power or a connection. Perhaps that’s because Fleep seems to have several less wrinkles than I do and doesn’t carry the weight of my prior telecommunication experiences. Or maybe I’m just not cool.

See, I’d call someone even though anyone would be the better choice for learning (e.g., what was covered during her absence). She’s inviting dialogue over monologue.

Janet gives me too much credit. =) I am actually old enough to remember shared phonelines, dialing telephones, and pressing 9 to get an outside line. I’m old enough to feel awkward speaking to just anyone who happens to hear, and I’m still experimenting with and feeling out my own boundaries about what is and isn’t appropriate to broadcast out to the whole wide world. The only difference, perhaps, between Janet and myself, is that I had previously played with Utterz, had taken the time to set up the cascading automated linkages that would make that audiopost > blog > twitter chain happen, and remembered it during the blackout. But on the inside, I’m still uncomfortable both with my connectedness and disconnectedness, I still feel unsure, strangely vulnerable talking to anyone and yet discomfited when the lights were out and the PC buzz was palpably absent.

I think we’re all still learning how to be connected, how to cope with disconnection, and where our comfort level begins to stray into uncomfortable territory. One of the lessons I took from this (besides the fact that I really should have a bigger store of batteries and non-perishable food!) is that there turned out to be great value in the hour or so I spent playing with Utterz.. what a year ago when I set that up? It turned out that by connecting my blog and twitter to some new service I wasn’t even sure how to use or what to use it for would eventually come in handy. That the few minutes I spend from time to time listening to my friends’ Utterz was back there in my memory, recalled in the moment of need. Setting up connections is time consuming, and sometimes I don’t know what value, if any, it will have, but in this case, it turned out to be very handy indeed.

And it wasn’t just the technology connection that made this work, it was also the people connection. Malburns and Tara are good online friends, good citizens of our community, and good hyperconnected netizens. Who knows how many people saw/heard that post and did nothing, but Tara took the time to not only listen to the message, but then to compose a message and forward it on my behalf, completing a circuit in the chain that was NOT automated (notifying the Connectivism SL cohort) – and it was our personal relationship and connection that made that part happen, not the technology itself.

Lesson: Need batteries and better emergency stores at home – you must plan for the unexpected.

Lesson: Our electronic connections are more tenuous than they sometimes appear. The energy crisis and degrading infrastructure in the US is a Serious Issue that we need to pay more attention to.

Lesson: Keeping abreast of and playing with new online tools and ways to connect can have big payoff in the future, even if you don’t see value in it now.

Lesson: Technology facilitates many things, but it’s the people connections that ultimately save the day.

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12
Aug 08

Metanomics: Fleep “On the Spot” About SLEDcc 2008

On Monday, Metanomics host Robert Bloomfield (SL: Beyers Sellers) put Education Correspondent Fleep Tuque “On the Spot” about the upcoming Second Life Education Community Conference 2008 (SLEDcc), part of the official Second Life Community Convention in Tampa, FL from September 5 – 7th.


(Click the image to view video)

Fleep discussed the genesis of the SLEDcc name and gave an overview of the six conference strands and upcoming sessions in Tampa. She also talked about the SLEDcc Working Groups, a new component of this year’s program, that will bring participants together to address four topics to generate useful resources for members of the Second Life education community. Educators are invited to contribute to the SLEDcc Working Group discussions in the SLEDcc08 group on RezEd prior to the conference:

SLEDcc will also have a full program in-world, with streamed sessions from Tampa and an exciting schedule of tours, socials, poster sessions, and presentations. Register for the in-world SLEDcc here!

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