second loop on Sat, 16 Aug 2008 09:37:08 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> _A Warcry for Birthing Synthetic Worlds_ [Part 3]

With links and photos here:


The web was built on openness and designed from the ground up to
enable sharing of code - view the source from early web pages for
examples. Yet it seems that already Second Life content creators want
strict restrictions on copying, even going so far as to support the
DMCA. So, while the DMCA is decried in so many cases (such as the
RIAA suing elderly women and children who don't even own computers),
Second Life content creators want to call upon it for protection.
There are currently multitudes of useful business models built
around open source and free sharing. Why do users of Second Life,
who have the ability to create a new world and rethink the negatives
associated with our geophysical one, want to rely on an obsolete
notion of copy restriction? This acts to simulate the production of
physically-templated objects instead of assisting in the understanding
of new models which are based on (and flourish from) copying, sharing
and building commons.

Ultimately, this is my argument: much like the alter-globalization
movement wants to create a new world, an "other globalization" not
based on corporate profit at the expense of the millions who are
exploited, synthetic worlds present us with an opportunity to imagine
and craft the kind of worlds in which we want to exist. While many
argue that Second Life duplicates the problems of sexism, racism and
homophobia that we see in the geophysical world, I would argue that
we can't ignore the way that corporations are shaping our synthetic

Linden Labs are currently the ones responsible for offering new
avatars birthed into a synthetic world that is bursting with
potentialites. At present, these avatars have the choice of
manifesting as Male or Female, City Chic or Clubber. Why aren't Second
Life standard avatars such as these included instead: Steamclock
builder, Vampire Neko, Futanari and Transformer? Clearly, Linden Labs
choose to please their conservative corporate customers by ensuring
sexual standards conform along a traditional axis. If most of Second
Life looks like a mall, perhaps that's because the current system
structure is constructed to maintain profitability from every Linden
exchange in-world. Another crucial element of interoperability,
it would seem, is an open money system. Where are the developers
imagining new currency systems who were so active a few years
ago? Where are all the offshore havens? It is the responsibility
of the creators of, and those passionate about, synthetic worlds
to act ethically in the construction of said worlds. Each user is
responsible for the emergent system. In light of this, let's start
setting up those realXtend and OpenSim servers, working on the code
for interoperable worlds, begin populating them and seeing what new
creations and relations arise.

Mitch Kapor's keynote speech presents current users of virtual worlds
as marginal people in a "frontier world" that should expect the strong
hand of the law to intervene, where the 3D sheriff strides into town
on his new mount. Kapor said: "in the earliest wave of pioneers
in any new disruptive platform, the marginal and the dispossessed
are over represented, not the sole constituents by any means but
people who feel they don't fit, who have nothing left to lose or
who were impelled by some kind of dream, who may be outsiders to
whatever mainstream they are coming from, all come and arrive early in
disproportionate numbers…that sort of arduous frontier conditions
really give these environments their charm and their character…that
is going to make things challenging for people who feel that as the
frontier is being settled and there is less novelty and in some senses
less freedom, it is always an uneasy transition for the pioneers."
Kapor goes on to say: "It was the way the west in the U.S. was
settled. It is the way Second Life has been settled" and that he
endeavours to make virtual worlds operate "in a more decentralized
kind of way, one that Thomas Jefferson, if he were around, would be
proud of…". I, for one, want to abandon the whole wild west metaphor
in relation to synthetic worlds. I would also hope that the settling
of Second Life doesn't involve the killing of millions of indigenous
people and would not make slave owners proud. I prefer instead to
think of synthetic worlds as birthed arenas based on the gestation
of code. These arenas will then develop through nourishment provided
by hardware and user creativity. The kind of decentralization that
synthetic environments need to ensure freedom and growth would scare
the hell out of Thomas Jefferson.

If the example of the web shows us anything, it is that users and
developers can ensure some degree of freedom for the next few decades.
While net neutrality threatens the future of that openness - as phone
companies demand laws that guarantee the prevention of copyrighted
films from being downloaded - new technologies like wireless mesh
networks offer the possibility for hope. One of the most important and
wonderful properties of the net is that problems are identified and
routed around. It seems that synthetic worlds are at a point where
some routing is necessary.

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