Wednesday, February 14, 2007

losing my head

One of the interesting things that new technologies offer us is a nearly unlimited set of choices, customizations, or options for the visual (and often aural) enhancement of our interface and it is easy to get lost in a wilderness of digital enhancements.

For example, while waiting to observe students from a composition class as they created their first SL avatars, i began to 'edit my own appearance' and accidentally LOST Beeble's animal head! In an effort to don a 'party hat' that I found in my inventory, Beeble's head just popped off and landed on the ground.

i still am not sure how this happened, but i was amused to discover that beneath Beeble's head was the basic 'human' featured head that is part of the basic avatar model. Surely there are some rich metaphorical reflections possible here, especially with my foregrounded emphasis on human biology and animality. Is my sense of animality actually part of my core being, or is it like a hat or head that
I 'put on' as in SL?

This makes me think of my current studies of the Don Juan story and how his seductive character is often portrayed as an irresistible force of Nature - the drive of desire. This question brings up the question of his moral responsibility and engages with some of our oldest discussions about what it means to be human and where we are located in the matrix of Nature.

Participation in SL can also lead to discussions about man and Nature, what constitutes human identity and what is significance we experience when we are in personal physical proximity as opposed to distant digital interaction.

In a way, this discussion goes back about 5000 years to the invention of writing. Though Socrates was suspicious of writing technology, preferring to rely on the older technology of the spoken word but if it weren't for Plato's writing, the oral traditions of Socrates might not have survived. Reflection on his response and on the varying values and deficits of each technology (spoken vs. written) can be a very fruitful exercise potentially enhancing our understanding of and appreciation for each technology.

So too, it can be fruitful for us to reflect on these amazing new digital technologies and the ways they enhance our lives as well as the ways in which they are insufficient and sometimes even destructive.

An ongoing and critical engagement with our technologies not only promises new and more useful insights about their best uses, it is essential to maintaining our mastery of our tools and preventing their mastery of us.

As Emerson noted in the midst of the Industrial Revolution:

"Man Thinking must not be subdued by his instruments."

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