Michael Wojcik on Sat, 19 Jul 2008 16:42:29 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Dreaming of Molly Millions, the Panther Moderns and Body Hacking

lotu5 wrote:

> lotu5 wrote:
>> Michael Wojcik wrote:
> still, these games don't really fulfill the requirements for "true" 
> immersive virtual reality

Definitely. My suspicion is that immersive VR will be received 
similarly: it'll be confined mostly to niche uses, particularly 
entertainment, and even there it'll remain dwarfed by other activities 
for the foreseeable future. But that's just my guess.

> but they do demonstrate that there is a lot of interest in networked 3d 
> social environments,

Depends on how you define "a lot of interest". internetworldstats.com 
(I have no idea how authoritive they are) estimate 1.4 billion 
Internet users worldwide, of which 215 million are in the US.[1] 30m 
users of shared worlds (the Gigaom stat you quoted) is less than 3%.

> which offer the possibility of imagining yourself, even if temporarily, in
> another body.

As do all forms of narrative. And, for that matter, as does 
imagination all by itself.

> This is my question, what are the stakes and implications of a large trend
> towards new forms of embodiment and bodily expression? Are they merely the
> newest emerging market, or do they offer the possibility for new ways of
> challenging power?

I'll go with "both".

As I noted in my previous message (which of course you haven't seen, 
since I haven't sent it yet), this is a perennial question for every 
development in forms of expression. It came up in nearly every seminar 
when I was a literature grad student. It's a good question (one of my 
favorites), but I think it should be accompanied by a critical look 
into those forms of expression themselves, including analyses of their 
economics. How many people are actually participating? How much of 
their resources do they devote to it?

> While you claim that "people prefer to do other things with their 
> resources", market analysis shows otherwise. A recent study claims "one 
> billion people will flock to virtual worlds by 2017"

I am *hugely* dubious - about market analysis in general, and this 
study in particular. And note this study still shows VW usage 
plateauing at around 5% of "broadband users" (another misnomer, but 
we'll take that to mean "users who don't care about how much data they 
transfer"). So if Strategy Analytics is correct, 95% of "broadband 
users" will *still* prefer to do other things with their resources.

> That represents a lot of money spent creating a different self. also,

In absolute terms, sure; but absolute terms aren't very significant in 
this context. In relative terms, it's still a niche.

> While you think that its a niche market, i think its a massive 
> contemporary occurrence with serious political implications that we need 
> to be thinking about critically, and not so easily dismissing.

I don't know of anything that can't stand a little critical thought, 
and I'm not dismissing VW as a cultural phenomenon. But that doesn't 
make it not a niche. Niche subcultures can be worth studying in their 
own right. That doesn't mean that they have any sort of large impact 
on how most people live their lives.

> Why are people spending millions on tatoos for their avatars in 
> synthetic environments while millions of people in the glboal south are 
> tired of starving and starting food riots?

Why are they spending millions on DVDs, gas-guzzling cars, McMansions, 

> If "life has become an object of power in itself", then what about 
> second life or the mass consensual hallucination of another life?

How is that different from, say, popular written fiction? RWA 
estimates 64.5 million "Americans" (presumably residents of the USA) 
read at least one romance novel last year.[2] Does that make romance 
novel reading an even larger "contemporary occurrence"? Does it make 
romance novels a more-significant "mass consensual hallucination"?

And if not, why not? That's the question I have to ask, when I look at 
VW and the like critically. What justifies a claim or assumption that 
these forms of activity have different implications for wider society, 
or politics, or what have you?

Mind you, I'm not saying they *don't* have different implications. I'm 
just saying I haven't seen a convincing argument why they would.

[1] http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm

Michael Wojcik
Micro Focus
Rhetoric & Writing, Michigan State University

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