xDxD on Mon, 11 Aug 2008 14:18:44 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> [Augmentology] _A Warcry for Birthing Synthetic Worlds_

hello there!

just giving me my 2 cents on second life.

as it is, actually, quite interesting.

I tend to argue a bit about second life enthusiasts, as i find it to be 
quite a boring experience. Apart from chatting about with other people, 
the scenario is as uninteresting as it can be. Having all this stuff 
just laying around, as colourful, interactive, 
real-world-physics-defying, or perceprtively intriguing as it might be, 
second life performances tend to be just boring showoffs of some coding 
and 3d-modeling expertise.

I really don't like the "hyperformalist" approaches: i think art has 
changed a bit, and they don't really make any sense.

but a couple of points of view make second life a really interesting 
environment. more that other virtual settings.

privacy, security and, in general, the perception of technology.
themed reality.

performance. i refer to almost anything i see in second life as being 
'performative'. on one side the creation-by-coding mechanism is 
explicitly performative. it involves a phenomenology that is quite 
complex and it is deeply interrelated with practices that are 
psychological, political, economic, sociological. I see it in a way that 
resembles a magnifying lens to reality. in the "physical" world software 
is political: our operating systems, the software we use to communicate 
and work, the information systems that we directly orindirectly use when 
we relate to administrations and governments, the financial systems 
behind the cash register at the supermarket... software defines what we 
can and cannot do, if we can be monitored while doing it, the ways time 
has to be compressed/expanded in order to do it. Even at interface 
level: if i make a function hard to use, intimidating, 
not-available-in-you-language, or if i don't put it into the interface 
at all, you are just not going to perform that function. this is great 
power, and a deeply political one, too. Second life is, in a way, an 
explicitation of this mechanism. The people who produce software rule 
the world.

On "corporate" level, they decide what can or cannot be done (in a 
*whole world*.. a synthetic one, but in perception it is a world), how 
you perceive it ("transact in security and privacy" .. is it really 
"secure"? ... and "private"? we'll get to it).

On the individual level there are two aspects.

The first regards the illusion of liberty that creation-by-software 
provokes. It is an illusion similar to the ones we have when we use 
myspace or facebook, or even youtube 'n flickr. We can be there, we can 
create what we want to, we can build stuff, show stuff, communicate 
stuff... but using the ranges of freedom provided by the service 
providers. And that is not liberty, nor independency, nor autonomy, in 
my point of view. It is a highly hierarchical, strategically perpetrated 
degree of freedom made available for "business" and a bunch of other 
reasons. Yet we still have the perception that we are "free" to create, 
communicate etc . Even if it's "up to here, and not an inch further".

This is really significative, as it is a wonderful parallel to what is 
called "performative consumism", describing the deep change consumism is 
running through from after the 60s-70s: the individual is placed at the 
center, defining multiple centers that are perceived as focal points: I 
am *me*, and this product is jut for me, it is designed for me, it 
denotes me as a being characterized by its possession and by the 
suggestive impact that it wraps my person/body in. Nike does it. Mc 
Donald does it. Ikea does it. And Ikea is the most significative 
parallel: it allows you to build/assemble things to "create" your 
personality in a deeply individualized, original way. Too bad that 
everything's chosen by a catalog depicting plastic people with plastic 
lives, with barcodes tattoed on their neck. :)

The second aspect regards the next interesting area of analisys that i 
find in second life: copyright (and property).

As it has been said, second life is a world based on intellectual 
property. Being a totally immaterial world its economics are ruled by 
laws that are based on the concepts deriving from intellectual property. 
Some are decent: the possibility to create things and processes, and to 
put your name on them, to be recognized as the author. Some are 
not-as-decent, such as the tendency to apply old fashoned models to what 
is a definitely new form of production. Here, too, is an explicit 
parallel with life-outside-second-life. Production has changed: in 
industry, in service production, in art, in entertainment etc. Products 
are not mere physical objects anymore, as they are mostly 
communicational entities: it's not the objects, it's what you do with 
them. Even really concrete products, such as fuel and housing, have 
transformed in this way: fuel is de-materialized in our perception, it 
is a service more than a commodity, we don't have the perception of it's 
materiality, of where it comes from, of what it meand politically on a 
global level. We define it by a continuous raising-lowering price tag, 
by it being the "thing we go and get when we go to the service area", 
and by the advertisments trying to make us believe how "greener" fuel is 
since they took away that fraction of a milligram of sulfur from 
gasoline, or on how many i will look in my roaring sportscar when i use 
shell's preciously refined fuel. So, products/production deeply changes, 
yet old fashoned mechanisms are applied to it. This is extensively true 
and observable in second life: a totally new form of production, totally 
shaped as a service, totally unaffected by the concepts of scarcity or 
limitedness, and enabled to totally new processes by the se of software; 
yet with the "shopping mall" and "speculative" syndromes that are 
typical of the "old" industrial society. Real estate marks this point 
quite clear: the software raids on SL aimed at buying real estates as 
soon as they were available on the market by using automated software 
procedures were serviced to speculative practices that remind me closely 
of the italian "palazzinari" (an italian slang term for construction 
firms and big real estate and financial businesses) of the 70s and the 
90s (and, sadly, of the recent 2000's as well).

Another one of the interesting concepts emerge directly from these 
considerations: the notions of privacy and security and, in general, or 
perception of technological contexts.

A few days ago Google, called to court for a streetview-based claim, 
based its defense on the concept that "in today's digital world, 
complete privacy cannot exist", referring to the availability of 
satellite images, of telecommunication logs and filtering systems etc. 
And they are correct, obviously. Yet, while using digital technologies, 
we are constantly fed with the notions of how our phone calls are 
private, on how our credit card transactions are secure, on how "we are 
not evil" and will not use your data to harm you, but merely to provide 
you with a better service. And we believe a lot of it, obviously: the 
services provide such a high level of appeal, comfort and functionality 
that most of us like to believe that it's true )or, at the least, we 
have a far notion that not-all of it might be true).

Second Life is no exception. We are presented with mechanisms that are 
really symetrical to the ones we are used to in "real life" and we are 
told that they are secure, that the software technology will provide 
protection for your data and possessions.

One of the performances i enjoyed most on SL was the copybot. A simple, 
simple mechanism highlighting how all of this is a lie. You can copy any 
data/object/avatar, steal identity and "value", using the mechanism 
itself by noting how by just "looking" at an object, you already own it 
(because, probabily, it is in your client's cache, or any other of teh 
hundreds of possibilities). Immediately conceptually destroying any form 
of commerce found in the virtual world: how can i sell you something 
that you already own because you saw it?

Another really profund concept that makes SL truly interesting is the 
concept of re-enactment. Tis is currently being exploited by artists all 
around, and these are the forms of art that i find more significative in 
the synthetic worlds up to now. The possibility for reenactment can 
become a tool for political analysis as well as an incredibly powerful 
expressive tool. Re-enacting is a complex process, involving 
appropriation, reinterpretation, irony, perceptive access to 
communication channels by leveraging things people already know, and the 
exploitation of this fact to forward new or different meanings through 

I will close this long (sorry, just wanted to point out some things) 
message with the last thing that really intrigues me about second life: 
the emergence of themed parts of realities.

I love japan for many reasons, but one of the most important ones is the 
fundamental presence of a themed attitude in many diverse areas. The 
concept of "theme" is extensively used in clothing, in architecture, in 
social role-playing. I was amazed at the sops in japanese cities selling 
complete, ready to wear kits through which you could embrace any style 
you liked. You could buy a box and take out of it 
shirtpantssockshatglassesearringswalletaccessories to dress up as a 
punk, as in the 50s, as a rocker, as a schoolgirl, as a cyberfreak, as a 
mandarin, as a surfer, as a traditional japanese, as anything you 
wished. And cities have many areas that are themed and that function as 
fundamental nodes in their overall architecture: for shopping, for 
hanging out, for business, for sex, for getting drunk, for studying etc. 
Every one of them explicitly characterized aesthetically and spacially. 
Second Life has all of this, bringing it to an extreme that is enabled 
by the endless possibilities in terms of world-customization.

I do several things in second life, in the desire to research on all of 
these concepts.

Some actions i perform are quite critical, and often brought on me de 
disapproval of many members of the worlds and systems of art and on the 
virtual communities themselves.

I experimented with the aesthetics of overload (system/cpu overload) 
such as when i filled several places in second life with sound 
sculptures that quickly fileld up the servers' processing powers.

For example when I filled the Ars Virtua gallery with incredible sound 
jellies and presence activated devices:


Or when I overloaded Odyssey's and IMAL's "the Gate" event:


These are never mere acts of "griefing", but researches, on one side, 
that access the possibilities offered by other aesthetics and techniques 
(hacking, overload, lag, complex systems, AI) and, on the other side, 
assessing philosophical, anthropological and political concepts.

For example when I tried to destructure the concept of "artist" by 
joining in on a performace in a peculiar way (the "hackingInKlaw" 


or when I put on a theatrical reenactment of 9/11:


or when I brought back to life some famous people (Karl Marx, Coco 
Chanel and Franz Kafka) and turned them into autonomous avatars 
controleld by an AI and going freely and independently around SL and 
interacting with other avatars with chats generated from their texts and 
interviews (the project is called Dead on Second Life):


My best to you all!

second loop ha scritto:

> Hi Tobias,
> We put up part 2 today, check it out:

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