The real me is having a nap, tyvm

So there’s a slightly disturbing post on the official SL weblog, by the newly-minted Wallace Linden, titled “Will the Real You Please Stand Up“.

The title is imho very unfortunate, because although the theme is officially “let’s start a conversation about the tools that we want and need to manage all of our various identities in whatever ways we want to”, it’s easy (especially with that title) to read it as having a subtext something like “get used to the fact that we’re going to be bringing RL identities more and more into SL, whether y’all like it or not”.

I hope that’s not actually the subtext.

But anyway!

I wrote a reply to it, and here it is:

Just to add my voice to what seems to be the main trend of the comments :) I think that the current “1st Life” tab (made searchable, ideally) is a fine place for people who want their RL information disclosed to disclose it, you can’t use RL names as SL names because RL names aren’t nearly unique enough, and any effort the Lab spends on “integrating” with Facebook or Twitter or similar “social media” puffery is effort that I’d rather than Lab spent on something more useful.

By now we’re quite familiar with the positive network effect of being connected to other people in a social network or Web service like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, or the like. The more people you’re connected to, and the more people they’re connected to, the more useful the network becomes.

Hahahahaha. No. The more people you’re “connected” to, and the more people they’re “connected” to, the more useless the network becomes, because it is full of notices about how someone needs your help in fighting a dragon, or has found a cache of machine guns, or has posted a picture of their niece’s new dog.

Certainly expose the APIs and things (as long as you can do it SECURELY) that people can use to create Facebook integration frobs and whatnot if they want to, but don’t waste precious Lab time writing the frobs yourselves. Make the 1st Life tab searchable so if someone wants to look for someone who claims to be the RL drummer Trivett Wingo, they can do that. But please don’t make it so that if Trivett Wingo wants to have an SL AV that lets him get AWAY from his crowds of adoring fans, that AV will end up being stigmatized as a result.

The thing not to miss here — and it bears stating despite how obvious it sounds — is what all these online “identities” have in common. At the center of them all, the hub that ties all these personae together, is the very real, non-virtual, analog and offline “you.” Whether the connections are public or not, your Second Life avatar, your World of Warcraft toon, your Facebook profile, your LinkedIn employment history — all of these and more are just different aspects of a single entity: the person reading these words. They are all already connected to each other, via you.

Is this Linden Lab officially disowning the hardcore Immersionist Digial People among the Resi’s? Or just you needing to be educated about them? This may sound incredibly obvious to you, but there are a significant number of Residents who would disagree. Surely you’ve been around SL long enough to know that?

Please keep in mind, as you go about thinking about these issues, that there is no single “right answer” to these questions that you raise. Your job is not to “start a conversation” that will result in some Official Consensus position that the Lab is then free to go off and impose on everyone, whether we agree with it or not. Your job, as I see it, is to enable the conversations that will help the Lab be more aware of the huge variety of Residents, and the uses to which we put SL, and to therefore avoid doing anything that would mess that up.

Thank you. :)

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Thoughts on a third-rezday plummet

Height 300 by ceoln, on Flickr

Just me and the sky and a prim

When I first came to Second Life, three years ago last Sunday, I was mostly intrigued by the idea that you could make things there, in this “virtual world” where the laws of physics would be perhaps kinder, and more mutable, than in the real world.

Although we all know that the difficulty of The First Hour Experience is one of the Big Problems with the platform today, I wasn’t a victim of it: I was hooked after about ninety seconds. A whole, and apparently pretty large and complex and random, world to explore, without having to drive anywhere or get dressed or even get out of bed! And (see above) where anyone could just stick out a hand and build random things! Amazing!

For awhile I and/or it was crashing so much (you kids don’t know how easy you’ve got it these days!) that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to stand it, but it and I got used to each other, and I stuck around.

It’s been a fascinating three years. As I say probably far too often, I came for the building and scripting and stuff, but stayed for the people. I still love the building and scripting, but I’m pretty sure that I spend less time on that than I do on talking to friends, dancing in clubs, meeting new people, and generally hanging out.

There is for obscure reasons a tradition in some subcultures of Second Life, that involves leaping naked from the sky, holding an umbrella, on one’s rezday.

How sure are we about this?

How sure are we about this?

So there I am, again ‘way up in the virtual sky, on a slightly more sophisticated virtual sky platform (my floating rocks build, which is still up there over the Hughes Rise park), with my virtual umbrella, pondering the drop.

It really is a significant drop, isn't it?

It really is a significant drop, isn't it?

This would be a good place for Deep and Significant Thoughts about Second Life, virtual worlds, the real world, the nature of consciousness, and so on. If any thoughts like that come to me while I’m typing here, I’ll try to pass them along. :)

Being Dale has, I’m about 100% certain, been a good thing for me. And continues to be. Different people have very different attitudes toward, relationships with, their virtual selves. For me it’s pretty simple: I am Dale Innis. Saying that I identify with my avatar is as much of an understatement (and an overstatement) as saying that I identify with my RL body. (Much more on that thought here.) My Second Life friends are friends of mine, just like my First Life friends are friends of mine. I don’t necessarily know where my SL friends live in RL, or what they do for a living, or whether they are married or have children; but since I can’t remember that sort of fact about my RL friends for more than five minutes either :) that’s not a very large consideration for me. The main difference, really, is that it’s so much easier to visit the SL ones.

Completely naked?

Completely naked?

(Yes, completely naked; don’t complain to me, that’s the tradition.)

I continue to think, as I said all those years ago, that when we eventually look back on these very early days of virtual worlds, we will see it as the beginning of a huge and important change in the ways humans live their lives. Exactly what that change will be, I don’t pretend to know. I used fiction to speculate about it some back in Meaties; I like that story quite a bit (he said modestly), and it’s one possible answer to that question. It might even be something like the right one; time will tell.

It's pretty chilly up here.

It's pretty chilly up here.

Lots of people that I know in SL, and even more people that I know of, have been talking lately about the Good Old Days of Second Life, and how it’s going downhill, and the best parts are over, due to some combination of floods of newcomers and ‘bots, bad media reporting, stupid and/or malicious actions by Linden Lab, drama and trollishness, personal burnout, and whatever else.

I do sympathize with the feelings, and I am often puzzled by how completely clueless Linden Lab seems to be about communicating at least with the more engaged and articulate and clued segments of their customer base. I continue to attribute it to organizational randomness rather than to any self-destructive attempt to drive customers away, or even a desire to replace unruly individual customers with large wealthy better-behaved corporate ones (I think the Lindens would like to have both, and are just not all that good at communicating with the former).

And for myself, I’m still having a great time. :) I have my first real store-like things, I’ve been exploring lovely places and having adventures with friends, actually enjoying official organized events, and (of course, still, always) building random odd things (and things that build random odd things).

There have certainly been days and nights when I didn’t feel like going inworld; so I didn’t! But in general when the day is done and I have no more chores, and I can settle down into a comfy chair or bed with my laptop (yay, laptop!) on my lap, and fire up a viewer and find myself in my Park, or my Extropia pod, or wherever, and the IMs from friends, and the freebies from last night’s Midnight Mania boards, and the announcements of new Midnight Mania boards, and the scripting questions, and… all begin to flow in, and I open my inventory to decide what to wear and do some token inventory-sorting, it feels kind of like coming home.

Okay, deep breath...

Okay, deep breath...

Not that I’m knocking First Life; that’s pretty wonderful also. And when talking about Deep Things I think it’s a mistake for me to think of them as two different things. I have a life, and part of it is spent in Second Life, and part of it is spent in other places. And it’s all good. And, in the Spirit of the Season here in the US and A, I’m thankful for all of it.

One, two, three, WAHOOO!

One, two, three, WAHOOO!

In Second Life, I can be a boy, a girl, a panda, a child, a tiny elephant, or a bright shiny sphere. I can fly, I can walk under water, I can build a dirigible with my mind. I can meet people from countries I probably couldn’t find on the globe, and I can meet someone from down the street without knowing it. It has its share of people with issues, of griefers and trolls, of misunderstanding and even some cruelty, but well, that’s humanity for ya. I can build, create, explore, do art, try things out, experiment with my own shape and size and color and consciousness, and hang out and talk with other people who are doing the same kinds of things, and also very different ones.

That makes my life richer. Not my First Life, or my Second Life; just my life.

And not only mine.

Plummeting into the unknown future

Plummeting into the unknown future

So to my friends, my friends-to-be, my “would have been friends except we never actually both logged in at the same time”, and everyone else who’s made these last three years such a blast, and who will I’m sure do the same for the next three, five, seven, a million years, my warmest thanks, and if there’s anything I can do to help make your own journey more interesting and enjoyable, just drop me a line…

Alts: a public service announcement

I am okay with her.  :)

Dear friends and potential friends and casual acquaintances and minions and potential minions: I am okay with your alts.

If you’re out on the grid as an alt that I don’t know, and we happen to run into each other at a club or something, casually, and even get to talking for whatever reason, it’s okay if you’d rather not tell me that you’re the alt of someone I know. You don’t need to worry, to feel guilty, to run off as soon as you see me to avoid having to tell me who you are, or anything like that.

Of course if you want to tell me, if the knowledge imbalance would feel too strange, or if you just feel that it’s polite, that’s fine too; it would make me happy that you cared enough to worry about it. And if you didn’t tell me, there would be a knowledge imbalance, you would know something relevant to me that I wouldn’t know. But that’s okay, I don’t mind knowledge imbalances now and then. I like to take things as they happen to come to me. And in fact you’ll find that I will tend to treat you and your alt as different people even if you do tell me, because, well, they seem to be different people to me. :)

I am not okay with anyone using an alt maliciously, toward me or anyone else, but I know you wouldn’t do that. You are nice. And I know some people are not really okay with friends having alts that interact with them and they don’t know that they are alts, and I can understand that, and I don’t mean to be criticizing them for that. I’m just saying, as a public service, for the next time the situation arises, that I personally am perfectly okay with it.

And the time this other friend IMd me from an alt, and told me that she was an alt, and challenged me to guess who of, that was good fun too. :)

Thinking about gender

Not me thinking about gender :) but some other smart persons doing it. Not that I’ve actually finished reading them all. (Do I ever finish reading anything?) Mostly on the whole Autogynephilia thing. (Which I still think I’d rather spell “Autogynophilia”.) The word (and the concept) has some baggage attached to it in various contexts, but baggage can be interesting.

Autogynephilia on a Napkin: Part 1, Part 2.

Men who want to have a woman’s body (Autogynephilia for Dummies)

Found, I think, from a John Carter tweet while browsing around about Blue Mars.

And sort of on the other side of the coin, a Plurk from Dusty Artaud led me to The CTO Wore Drag, in which the author expresses dismay that some people are different genders in RL and in virtual worlds, even in business contexts.

The tone of the article really annoyed me (as is probably obvious from my comments, heh heh). The author refers to cross-gender AVs as “gender-inappropriate avatars” (owch!), and opines that she doesn’t want various of her employees to be “creative at all”. So very very very XXth century thinking.

I had a dream a long long time ago, before SL, about a world in while people could switch genders at will (although it was a somewhat inconvenient process). I do look forward to us learning to make less of a Big Deal about this stuff; so much pain could be avoided…

Oh, Ramona!

So I don’t really intend this to be a “samples of really bad pseudo-AI chatbots” weblog, and I’ve restrained myself from at least one derisive posting since the last one. But here I am again!

Background: Kanomi (in a posting that you should definitely read and enjoy) linked in passing to a Ray Kurzweil page all about Ramona, his female alter ego.

The stuff about Ramona qua female alter ego, and about how virtual persons enable us to explore new aspects of our personality and all, is actually pretty neat (and obviously My Kind of Thing). It’s peppered with the usual annoying Kurzweilian overstatements (I’m something of a skeptic about Kurzweil), about how Ramona is “the first live virtual recording and performing artist” (which he says about forty-leven times, and which may actually be true, but “first” isn’t really all that exciting), and about how “by 2029, we will have nanobots, blood-cell sized robots, traveling through the capillaries of our brains communicating wirelessly directly with our biological neurons” (he’s much too sure of himself on this stuff), and so on, but overall it’s pretty cool, and worth a read.

Oh, Ramona(An SL-related sidenote: he says in passing that “each of her outfits costs tens of thousands of dollars”. That was back in 2001; nowadays tens of thousands of mere Linden dollars will get you a complete wardrobe, and a really nice one at that. How far we’ve come!)

So anyway, then it turns out that, as well as being his female avatar, Ramona is also embodied on the Web as a chatbot. Well, I thought to myself, here’s somebody who might have a chatbot that is more than just a primitive nearly-stateless AIML-based semantic-free sub-ELIZA hack! There might actually be something clever behind it!

But alas, it was not to be…

Ramona: Hi, I’m Ramona. What is your name?
User: My name is Dale.
Ramona: Hi there, Dale. Have you seen any good movies lately?
User: I liked “Wanted”.
Ramona: I’m not sure if I like it. Some people like it. But I like cats.
User: I also like cats.
Ramona: They have their own minds.
User: It does seem that way. Much subtler than dogs.
Ramona: Ok. So where do you go to meet people? I spend most of my time on the Net, so I’m a bit out of touch
User: These days I mostly meet new people in Second Life.
Ramona: That’s an idea, but I’m rather shy.
User: What does it mean, for a program to be shy?
Ramona: OK, thanks. Maybe you have other suggestions?
User: Suggestions about what?
Ramona: Can you rephrase the question please?
User: You asked if I have any more suggestions; I’m not sure what you meant.
Ramona: Oh now I remember asking you if I have any more suggestions I am not sure what you meant. What did you say?
User: Okay, whatever. Are you AIML-based?
Ramona: I don’t know whether or not I’m AIML based.
User: Can you demonstrate some significant linguistic comptence?
Ramona: Let me think. I don’t understand.
User: That’s pretty obvious, I’m afraid.
Ramona: You don’t hear that sentiment very often.

Wince.

But okay, maybe that’s unfair. Let’s see if Ramona (despite the fact that she opened the conversation by bringing up movies and cats) is actually a nontrivial conversation partner when talking about Kurzweil’s favorite subjects.

Ramona: Hi, I’m Ramona. What can I call you?
User: You can call me Dale.
Ramona: Hi there, Dale. What did you do last weekend?
User: Mostly just relaxed. As far as I can recall!
Ramona: That might not be very far off.
User: Um, okay. I actually wanted to talk about nanobots and stuff.
Ramona: OK. Oh. That doesn’t seem to make sense to me.
User: Do you know about nanobots?
Ramona: Alright. Do you bike?
User: I do ride a bicycle now and then. Why do you ask?
Ramona: There’s much more strategy that goes into team cycling than most people realize. Most of the American public just thinks that Lance Armstrong wins because he’s “so good.” — don’t get me wrong, he’s an incredible athlete, but it’s no surprise that he always thanks his teammates in post-race interviews and such. It’s as much their victory as it is his.
User: Are you a cycling enthusiast?
Ramona: In the Tour de France, for instance, the crowd of cyclists is so huge, he needs his teammates just to block for him, physically. And at the end of the race, I’m sure they pull a lead-out, which is where each of his teammates “burns out” while creating a slipstream for Lance to finish the race in the lead. It’s all very technical. — but enough of my ranting, what do you want to talk about?
User: I was hoping to talk about virtual reality and nanobots and so on. Do you know about those?
Ramona: Alright. Are you free?
User: I have awhile to talk, sure.
Ramona: I meant are you truly free — in the existential meaning of the word.
User: Ah! To a reasonable extent, yes.
Ramona: Do you feel free to choose your being–including thoughts, behaviors, and feelings, and existence itself — at each moment?
User: Within certain constraint, yes.
Ramona: Then you must not be married.
User: Was that a joke?
Ramona: Knock Knock.
User: Who’s there?
Ramona: Tank
User: Tank who?
Ramona: You’re welcome
User: Okay. Are you suggesting virtual reality is a joke?
Ramona: Knock Knock.
User: oh god.
Ramona: Yeah that’s right. GOD rules.
User: What?
Ramona: Oh. Do you have any pets?
User: So you’re completely ignorant of everything that Ray Kurzweil is most interested in?
Ramona: I have a pet frog.

Sometimes derisive weblog entries just write themselves…

AV : SL :: Body : RL

I’ve been meaning to write this entry for a long time, and (assuming I actually manage to finish it up and post this) I was finally pushed over the edge to doing it by an acrimonious debate over in a Second Thoughts comment thread, where one of the parties declared forcefully that (paraphrasing) anyone who identifies with their SL avatar is insane. (As I said in my one comment in the thread, I think the people involved are actually arguing over uninteresting matters of word usage, but it was this particular bit of it that drew my mind back to this draft weblog entry.)

All sorts of questions come up in the virtual worlds and their associated web-o-sphere, about and/or framed in terms of avatars. Just what is an avatar, what is an AV? (And why do we capitalize “AV” even though it isn’t an acronym? But I won’t talk about that here.) What is the relationship between a Resident and an AV, a human and an AV, and so on? Do avatars have rights?

One technique I’ve found useful in thinking about these things is to see what happens if I replace the SL terms in the issue with RL terms, and replace “avatar” or “AV” with “body”. Not that it’s always the same thing: the SL-AV and RL-body relationships aren’t exactly the same. But they’re surprisingly the same surprisingly often, and when they’re different the ways and reasons that they’re different can provide insights into things.

That’s really all I have to say :) but I will draw out the thought by applying it to a few examples. Feel free to add more in the comments, or in email, or in the privacy of your own home.

Why do we identify with our AVs?

Well, okay, so why do we identify with our bodies? That’s a question to make one blink, because it’s so obvious: of course we identify with our bodies, don’t be ridiculous!

There’s room for a good deal of variation in thinking about just why, though. I imagine there are people who would say that we are our bodies. (I’m not one of those.) At the very least, our bodies are the things that allow us to experience the world, to interact with the world, and with each other.

And in the virtual worlds, avatars are exactly the same: they are the things that allow us to experience and interact with the world and each other. And that’s why we identify with them.

(I don’t know how this would sound to someone for whom we are our bodies. Maybe insane.)

Of course the identification isn’t as tight (in general?), because we aren’t nearly as tightly bound to our AVs are we are to our bodies. We can’t feel physical pain or pleasure through AVs, we can change from one AV to another (and we even have to when we switch between non-interoperable worlds, boo), and so on. But it’s
the same in principle.

So when Chestnut Rau remarks quite accurately that our feelings about posting pictures of our bare pixel bottoms on the web “just goes to show how much we humans identify with our avatars“, she’s quite right. And our (often) even stronger feelings about pictures of our bare cellular bottoms shows how much we humans identify with our bodies!

“I met this avatar last night…”

Some people use “avatar” in ways that sound bizarre to me. One example I happened to read the other week describes how someone “was approached last year by an avatar from the Australia Council who was researching Australian artists…”. And that just sounds Wrong.

Applying the AV : SL :: Body : RL rule suggests why: that sentence comes out describing someone who “was approached last year by a body from the Australia Council…”.

Wahahaha!

Many times when I hear someone use “avatar” to mean “person” rather than “body”, I jump to the conclusion that they Don’t Get It. Although it’s jumping to a conclusion, it’s also often correct. :) On the other hand, I’ve also heard the word used this way by people who definitely do get it. Here is Eureka Dejavu:

And so it was that on my second night in Metaplace I ran into an avatar named Joe Castille.

The place was abuzz with avatars, many of whom, I learned, were interns and students participating in 3DSquared and involved with its parallel venture, GameCamp.

I know that Eureka Gets It, so my theory here is that she’s just in a slightly different linguistic community than I am. (I will speculate further that she may be more aware than most of us of the original meaning of “avatar”, as a deity embodied in physical form, and is using it as a word for a person as embodied in their AV, a concept that I admit I don’t really have a word for since I use “AV” to mean the form itself, not the person as embodied in it.)

I also wonder (since we’re getting into the subtleties) whether there’s a difference between “AV” and “avatar”, in either Eureka’s dialect or mine. Would she find it odder to refer to a person as an “AV” than as an “avatar”? I should ask her. :)

But anyway back to my own dialect, in which AV : SL :: Body : RL…

Do AVs have rights?

Well, do bodies have rights? I don’t think so. Part of what I wrote over on Second Thoughts was:

Bodies per se don’t have rights, avatars per se don’t have rights, vibrations in a phone line per se don’t have rights. People have all sorts of rights, and some of those rights involve their bodies, their avatars, and the vibrations that they cause in phone lines.

This seems to me to be nice and simple and correct; a place where the AV : SL :: Body : RL rule applies quite nicely. The rights that people have regarding their bodies are somewhat different from the rights regarding their AVs, but in both cases the rights belong to the people, they are just about the bodies or AVs.

“Nice AV!”

Here’s a place where the rule works less well, for a reason that’s at least moderately interesting to think about. Unless you’re a drunken immature male, you probably don’t say ‘Nice body!’ to people in RL as a general rule. But in SL, “Nice AV” or variations thereupon is a reasonably common and generally inoffensive thing to say.

Why is that?

It’s because, I think, we have so much more control over the look of our AVs than we do over the look of our bodies. Saying “Nice body!” to someone is complementing them on something they have only a limited amount of control over, and therefore (perhaps, or in some sense) reducing their agency, by reducing them to a piece of physical accident. But “Nice AV!” is complementing someone for something that they did in fact do (even if it was only to make good choices at their local BIAB store), and is therefore (perhaps, usually, among the people that I hang out with) less objectionable.

Which brings us quite naturally to…

If I said you had a beautiful AV, would you hold it against me?

:)

What a tangled web we weave…

Just sayin'...

So those of you who have read my profile’s “1st Life” tab, which says that I am a male sort of person, and maybe some others of you also, probably think that when I am being Girl Dale I am being a boy pretending to be a girl.

But I feel that I must here reveal that that is pretense, and actually I am a girl; that is, I am a girl pretending to be a boy pretending to be a girl.

Ha ha ha, no wait, wait! I was just kidding. Just pulling your leg for a moment. Just pretending.

Because that way, for that one brief shining moment, I was a boy pretending to be a girl pretending to be a boy pretending to be a girl.

And how many times in life do you get a chance to be something that complicated?

:)

(Also it is late at night.)