Monday, March 26, 2007

life and death in digital space

I've been learning about SL with my pal Ignatius Onomatopoea who now has his own 'real world' blog called "In A Strange Land" where his avatar goes by the name "Joe Essid". Wait a minute...which is the avatar and which is the original?

I visited Ignatius' blog and posted a question about whether Baudrillard's death had been simulated...or if he had created an avatar in SL before he died, could/would it live on in cyberspace?

This reminds me of the 1998 Dennis Danvers novel Circuit of Heaven where the invention of a vast silicon storage location called "the bin" began a trend of people 'downloading' themselves (memories, personality) into the bin and then sending their the trainload to the crematorium. And this digital mania is not far from some of the hopes & claims of the digital hypesters so ready to disparage and dump the body.

In the bin, life is clean, smooth, safe, sanitary and eternal....the bin replicates itself, so there are multiple copies of you out there...but eventually people begin to miss having a body, they long for the chaos of biology, the joys and pains of embodiment. Eventually the limits of the program become evident and the inhabitants of the bin miss the unlimited potentialities of the bodies they cremated.

Some miss embodiment so much that they choose to download into other people's bodies who are just coming into the bin! What would you call that?!
It wouldn't be exactly trans-gender...but I guess it could be! Trans...organism?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

merci Jean Baudrillard!

The post-modern French philosopher and social theorist Jean Baudrillard died recently on March 6, 2007 but his ideas continue to be most relevant to our digital culture in general, and Second Life in particular.

One of the few skills I've learned so far in SL is the simple creation of a sphere that can be programmed to say a phrase when an avatar comes nearby, then offer another phrase if touched. I created two objects I called 'blather balls' or 'curiosity generators' that I programmed to ask "Is this reality?" and then "Where is Jean Baudrillard?" I was hoping that I could find a way to invite him into Second Life to discuss his theory of ''hyperreality".

Though I'd read snippets of Baudrillard's philosophy in grad school, my most memorable early encounter was in the indy film The Snowflake Crusade
directed by Megan Holley. This fabulous first film is shot in Richmond, VA and centers on the identity struggles of Clive Barclay, the clone of a childless Nobel scientist whose accomplishment and judgment loom over Clive. While watching a bar-full of people enchanted by a TV show about clones called "Scion Hearted", Clive berates them for wasting their lives on a show that is essentially about a series of simulacra or a collection of copies with no original noting that Baudrillard would be "laughing hyperreal tears of delirious joy" that would duplicate and reduplicate endlessly until we were drowning in simulation with no clear hold on reality.

Though Baudrillard is most recently known for a connection to The Matrix, he has commented that the film misunderstands his theory, though it shows a shot of his classic text Simulacra and Simulations hollowed out to hide pirated software containing recorded scenes from other people's experiences - a dense web of simulations.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Beeble's Identity Crisis

Oh where to start? First, and perhaps most relevant, is my identity as an academic who is exploring SL for research and pedagogical purposes. Since this is the primary motivation for my interaction here, at least i have one stable point of reference (i think).

In my doctoral studies, i've been fascinated by the hype of the cybervangelists who endlessly extol the virtues of digital existence and disparage physicality, referring to our biological lives as "the meat world." My own preference and perspective is that, while digitality is fun & can teach us, BIOLOGY is our unrecognized power and ultimate reality. None of this fantastic technology would even exist (much less persist) if it weren't for the biology that created and maintains it.

Since i feel such a strong connection to the cycles of my body and Nature, when creating my avatar i chose the closest thing to a dog that I could find. Dogs seem to me a good representation of earthiness (they give birth anywhere, lick themselves, smell each other) not so much a prescription for behavior i recommend. i look a bit more cartoon-like than i was hoping, but then everybody does here.

I suppose the word "avatar" is an oddly apt term since it derives from Hindu mythology and refers to the descent of a god into the material world. But the term is also completely inappropriate since, in terms of technology, WE are the gods and when we make an avatar we DE-materialize ourselves in a way. Or perhaps an avatar is simply a technologically enhanced version of the childhood friend....or spirit guide.

My friend Ignatius Onomatopoea has been teasing me that i'm a 'furry' or a 'fuzzy' but my purpose in maintaining this particular look is purposeful both for the expression of our connection to the Earth and an invitation to reflect upon and discuss the nexus of image and identity. For example, when Iggy was creating himself, he wished to represent himself as close to his biology as possible but the program didn't have options for gray hair or baldness!

What might this imply? Remember the rejection of biology and the horror of aging present in Brave New World? Does some of the cyber-hype and particularly the disparagement of the body reveal a similarly neurotic fear of aging and death?

Is it possible to arrive at a place in the mind where THE BODY IS NOT THE ENEMY or the traitor to OUR EGOS but rather the wise teacher born from millions of years of field testing and development? i think so. This is my personal goal.

My SL identity crisis is dawning not because of my loss of faith in my body, but because of the connotations of the image i have chosen! From Iggy's teasing, to a chance interview with an SL Designer, to conversations with a veteran gamer, i have learned that the 'fuzzy' or 'furry' is a category of avatar that existed before SL and which is associated with sensuality, particularly 'kinky' sex - whatever that means! How can you have sex without a body?

So, what do i do? Surrender my avatar because of digital prejudice? But is it prejudice or a self-designation by the players? By choosing it i tapped correctly into the embodied sensual that i want to emphasize without understanding its previous and wider connotations.

In some way, this confusion is perfect. Beeble is here to explore & learn, but also to remind and to celebrate the world of the flesh, of embodied experience so he would definitely NOT identify with avatars who find satisfaction in any kind cyber-sex which is not and can never be true sex at all. It's just like my take on cyber-rape: there has to be physical proximity and contact for the term to have any useful meaning - for me at least. Y'all can go play with your keyboards if you like.

These associations, biases or readings' of my avatar, or of the basic ICON behind it will prove to be an interesting filter in my attempts to interview people in SL.

more to come....