My Astonishment at Second Life: Losing Experience?

Today’s discussion which brought up the topic of the program, “Second Life” is something I could not cease to stop thinking about. Virilio often mentions the “journey” of life rather than the “destination.” In class, we discussed whether it was any less of a dedication to God if one attends church “religiously” on Second Life rather than going to an actual church in real life. And therein lies another question: to some people, is “Second Life” real life?

I believe that currently, “Second Life” is the equivalent to perhaps a more developed version of “Sims.” Not about the journey, about the arrival instead. Hopefully, users who are participating in this online community recognize that they are still real people that are more than just the avatars they have created. They must remember that “Second Life” is merely a simulation. The danger lies in the next generation (which I am avidly focused on) who may grow up to not realize that actual churches exist, and that attending a service on “Second Life” will suffice. But that person will never get the experience of meeting people by chance, in person, someone who may or may not change the life of that user. Also lost are the chances of accidents, good and bad. If we no longer run the risk of getting into a car accident on the way to church or getting in an airplane crash to go vacation in Paris, we may start valuing our lives less. We lose the concept of risk and of the preciousness of our lives. Our whole conceptualization of humanity will alter, and in my opinion, in a negative light.

I further explored the problems that “Second Life” has already caused. Though it has over 8.7 million registered users, the site apparently only has about 600,000 active users, mostly due to technological kinks. But if these kinks become ironed out, which most likely they will, undoubtedly the number of users will increase. What then?

After reading the Times article I will post below, I reached the horrific conclusion that “Second Life” is becoming very real. The very program that I had basically mocked instantly became a reality, where apparently adult avatars are having sex with child avatars, and pictures of real children in real life are being exchanged illegally. People are profiting from such entities as real estate on “Second Life.”

Though I still do not understand the technicalities of “Second Life,” I am terrified that this will become “First Life.” I am terrified that we will completely lose our humanity and become avatars on a screen, our screen being our reality.

Second Life’s Real-World Problems

Reversing the Cynicism

As aforementioned, Paul Virilio is absolutely correct in pointing out the negativities of technologies; certainly, if we do not start using it for good, this phenomenon could lead to the downfall of societies. Stereotypes, insults, etc. can be circulated in seconds. Virtual realities have the power to alter people’s conception of reality- and even worse, for them not to know what reality is in the first place. Moreover, there lies the potential danger of reality never meeting the satisfaction that one receives during video games (virtual reality). This can lead to a regression of basic social skills, a loss of core human values, an interest in the beauty of the real world. When I am unable to stop watching a tv show, I often must take a step back and put myself in check, reminding myself of the obligations I have in my real life, i.e. finishing my paper, chatting with friends, playing with puppies at Greenville Animal Care.

Speaking of Virtual Reality, I did not realize that there was a type of Virtual Reality Therapy- a well established type of assistance to soldiers who have been diagnosed with PTSD. The idea of this type of therapy is to simulate the dangerous, scarring situation they had experienced out in the battlefield, much like games such as Call of Duty. However, this “game” goes beyond virtual reality games and emits smells, such as those of gunpowder and gasoline from tanks. The idea is for the soldier to get past the emotional blocking of their experience and to re-visit them once again in a safe, screen-only environment.

Virtual Reality Therapy may also be used in advance for soldiers who are going out in the battlefield, to prepare them for what may come in a closed, safe environment.

Here is the article I found this information from. Virtual Reality Therapy

But technology can also offer so much good, such as the revival of social revolutions i.e. the rise of the Arab Spring and individuals’ fights for freedom in those specific countries. Without the spark of Facebook and Twitter, that mass of people would not have been able to come together for this important, collective cause. These images below represent the power and joy of this revolution that was made possible solely because of technology. Technology inspired hope, something that Virilio never spoke of.

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After thinking of this rather obvious yet important example of technology being used for good, I began a search of individual examples of people who are aware of the dangers of technology but still use it positively to achieve a holistic, positive goal. The first example I came across was Mr. Vineet Singal, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Anjna Patient Foundation. Below is an excerpt from the article in which Mr. Singal is interviewed. The link to this article is also found below.

Technology for Good

From ‘Technology for Good’:

Why focus on technology for supporting Free Clinics?

“I feel that technology is the next best thing to having a live human being explaining or quizzing patients about different diseases. Often times free clinics are already constrained by resources (not enough volunteers, etc.) to make sure that they can see every patient, let alone allocate people to sit in waiting rooms and explain different diseases. Further, a lot of people just prefer technology because they can learn at their own pace. For example, there was a study done by Timothy Bickmore and Laura Pfeifer from Northeastern University in which they used a virtual nurse to explain to patients their outpatient procedure. One of the patients commented, “Sometimes doctors just talk and assume you understand what they’re saying. With a computer you can go slow, go over things again and she checks that you understand” Plus, our technology is interactive and requires direct user-interaction, which is much more engaging than hearing a person talk for fifteen minutes straight!”

The second fascinating example I found of technology being used for not only good, but greatness, was Mr. Cameron Sinclair, also known as CEO (Chief Eternal Optimist) of Architecture for Humanity, which is an organization that builds community centers for temporary housing, free clinics, schools, etc. for low-income neighborhoods. His story gave me hope for technology. A description of his work can be found below Mr. Singal’s interview.

Virilio’s Warning

More observations from Open Sky

Virilio’s following words on page 37 during his discussion of “Grand Optics” struck me: “How can we really live if there is no more here and everything is now?” Virilio speaks not only to the physics of space, time, and light, but also to something more subjective: loss of intimacy, of democracy. Virilio was born in 1932 and I feel as though recently, we are surrounded by technology gurus who seem to add, at high “acceleration,” as Virilio may describe it, to the media world. Even in schools now, I rarely read about older figures with a different opinion, someone who knew how things used to be, when people were in only one place at one time.

Is he Correct? 

In my second and final reading of Paul Virilio’s work, “Open Sky,” Virilio’s approach to human beings seemed astronomically cynical as to how I had initially interpreted it. Virilio seems, after my full interpretation of his text, as though he is not only warning s but telling us to reconnect with our humanity before we lose it completely. Perhaps his message is this: technology is much like any substance- whether it be a food, a drug, a habit. In moderate doses, it can be beneficial. But when the amounts are amplified, the use can become  negative. This is what we currently see in technology. We see examples of this everyday- children who have not only developed a virtual reality but have come to believe that this is their reality. Indeed, it is one thing that we have to deal with hate crimes in the actual world, with things such as vandalism. But now, with technology, the scope of where one can express hate has more than doubled. Through text messages, emails, blogs, and social networking sites, one can express, negatively, the views towards another individual or group of people. And unlike an atomic bomb, which takes time for creation, a nasty post or text can be typed out in a matter of minutes. And the damage can be done in a matter of seconds, once the victim has received this. Below is an article which describes the tragic story of Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide upon release by his friends of some private sexual information via video.

Suicide in Virtual Reality Hell

I have aforementioned nuclear warfare. But Virilio now touches  on perhaps a more dire type of war: war with technology. I have spoken of nuclear war as a type of technological war, but the type that Viriliio truly fears is the “information war” (56). He moves from missile to satellite. Moreover, Paul Virilio recontextualizes globalized warfare, which is now fought at the speed of light, through telecommunications, propaganda, and social controls, and perhaps, supplemented by traditional means. The ultimate triumph of such a war (of any war, really) is an immobilization of the populace and/or an annihilation of the government, with or without bombs. How will society progress if we cannot continue to reconcile, if new ideas may be artificial and we become so self-centered that we lose our basic ability to interact with people?

Technology: Nature Killer?

Onc of Virilio’s first quotes struck me. “Without weight or measure, there is no ‘nature’ anymore, or, at least, no idea of nature” (Virilio 6). In the next sentence, he speaks of a philosophical let-down which I do not completely understand because it contains a lot of French terminology. His words did strike me, however: “…philosophical let-down in which the idea of nature of the Age of Enlightenment is eradicated, along with the idea of real in the age of the speed of light” (Virilio 6). Virilio’s words here are hauntingly poetic, and here, as I was to find out later, “the speed of light” meant globalization, or, in a broder term, “technology.” Certainly, nature makes up much of the “matter” as we describe it here on earth. I am going to take a moment now to include pictures of “real world entities” that I truly appreciate.

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Certainly, Virilo has a point. Though it is the beginning of his book, there is no doubt that technology takes us away from the amazing world that nature has created for us as long as we are focusing on technology. We may see these images online, but the ability to experience them in person,  which should be an experience to absolutely treasure, goes missing. Virilio is stating that technology may cause us to lose this completely.

The next discussion that Virilio brings up which interested me was his notion of “being telepresent” (Virilio 10). This relates to the idea of experience. There exists no doubt that technology is altering the very way we are experiencing stimuli around us, how and where and the proximity of when we talk to people. Indeed, one can be “telepresent” through many types of media. The following quote by Virilio struck me: “the urbanization of real time is in fact first the urbanization of one’s own body plugged into different interfaces” (Virilio 11). I completely agree with this statement here. On another (related) sidetrack, I thought to a specific scene in one of my favorite movies, He’s Just Not That Into You. This particular scene focuses on a young woman who is unable to get in touch with a guy she is trying to establish conversation with. She has never physically met this man, but she speaks of getting rejected by several different types of technologies and expresses her nostalgia of the time when people only had one phone number  through which one could potentially get rejected through.

Virilio further discusses concern for skewing of time due to “megalopolitan” (Virilo 12) societies in which globalization seems to be progressing faster than the speed of light itself. If time and space (as aformentioned with the discussion of ‘being telepresent,’) Virilio expresses his concern with the skewing of the entirety of physics that us humans have established as the way we exist in nature (the latter of which may one day cease to exist).

Privacy Problems

Just like when one produces a manuscript, the owner of a piece of “real estate” on the web has liabilities and a responsibility to not duplicate anything that is copyrighted or patented. Chapter 11, titled “Libel and Privacy in a Digital Age” in Writing for Digital Media by Brian Carroll seemed to be the most complex chapter I have ever read in this book. I believe, however, that the perplexity I felt is synonymous to how the digital world feels in regards to privacy.

As Carroll states, is a word “not mentioned in the Constitution” (Carroll 259). Indeed, this quote seemed to capture the true mystery surrounding this topic: “The ability to invade what most citizens would define as a right to privacy or a right to be left alone is outpacing the law’s attempts to re-negotiate for a digital age just what privacy rights should look like (260). With increasing use of social networking sites, very few people’s lives remain completely “private.”

Specific to children, Carroll spoke of the “children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) (Carroll 266). In this act, it was established that parental consent is required for release of personal information of children under the age of thirteen. I believe that this is an extremely important act, especially in this fast growing digital age. Indeed, children under thirteen are 1) unaware of the complexities of the digital media and its rapidity and 2) may not be able to speak for themselves.

Carroll’s follow-up percentage by the University of Pennsylvania study was disappointing, however: “50% of children’s Web sites that collect information were in fact following the rules” (267). And it is slightly unsettling to realize that this is a percentage only out of established children’s sites. It makes me worry for those website that may arbitrarily, completely going against COPPA, collect information on children for their own uses. My hope is that with the development of further technology will come stricter checking methods for these violations to protect children and other groups of people, and their sacred privacy.

Editing Alters the Story

Though it may seem repetitive and self-explanatory to re-copy the quote that is placed at the beginning of the article, I find it powerful and a great overall sum-up to “The Aesthetics of Editing” by Osgood and Hinshaw. Stated by Walter Murch, it quotes, “Editing is now something almost everyone can do at a simple level and enjoy it, but to take it to a higher level requires the same dedication and persistence that any art form does.” Indeed, through my brief exposure to such tools as iMovie, my goal is to create something that will keep my viewers entertained. An editor of such entertainment as television shows and movies must make important decisions regarding what to include and exclude. As director Louis Malle described, “your editing show” (228). Attention to entities such as image and sound, shot order, shot relationship, time, and more make or break the viewers’ interpretation and what they think of the work. I am currently in the middle of working on my video for the Children’s Museum, and other than technicalities such as getting a steady shot, I hope to create a video that will hold the viewers’ attention for the entire five minutes it is supposed to be. I would like to include humor, some cheesiness, and of course the lure of adorable children which is my focus throughout this project. If I do say so myself, my topic, for attention purposes.

I was searching the internet for advertising companies that help out struggling groups and came across a very small advertising company run by only two people, Ken and Jan Landers. They have helped many small companies with website building, commercials, etc. to advertise their companies, services, and products. I feel as though a small company such as this which helps with these sorts of issues is trustworthy. Below is the link to the website.

Top Notch Advertising Company

I believe that editors of commercials have a particular challenge: unlike a sitcom or television as previously discussed, they have a matter of seconds to advertise their product. If the viewers’ attention is not captured, the millions of dollars spent for production, casting, and airing have gone to waste. I personally enjoy humorous, to-the-point commercials. Below is one of my favorite commercials, a Febreze commercial. Very brief, it made me laugh out loud the first time I watched it. The woman turning around and the animals on the ground is very entertaining.

Another commercial technique which I find captures viewers’ attentions is catchy music and/or songs. The first thing that comes to mind is the 2009 Filet O Fish commercial. Though I have never bought a Filet O Fish from McDonald’s, seeing the commercial several times has made the lyrics ingrained in my head to this day. It is catchy and funny, and even if people like me are not buying Filet O Fishes, at least they remember the commercial.

Thinking about commercials, my train of thought then drifted to the most prized commercial spot of the year in American Television: The Superbowl. During this event, ads are charged $2.7 million for every 30 seconds aired. I brainstormed about what specific criteria ads are selected for in order to be aired at this time. The article below offers some insight into this. A quote from the article: “There is no sure-fire formula for a superior Super Bowl commercial, but there are guidelines for appealing to the largest viewership possible. They include anthropomorphic animals, celebrities, cute babies, popular music, special effects, sex appeal and surprise endings” (NY Times).

Superbowl Advertising

Mr Thn Prfrdng (More Than Proofreading)

In Brian Carroll’s sixth chapter of Writing for Digital Media titled, “Getting it Right: Online Editing, Designing and Publishing,”  Carroll expertly stress the importance of attention to detail. One of the first quotes in this chapter summarizes this well: “The immediacy of online might lead us to assume that editing for the Web means less attention to detail, less time spent checking, re-checking….. when in fact the complexity of online media means that there has never been more to inspect” (Carroll 119).

One must think about the reader and the message he or she is attempting to convey, along with how to organize it so that we do not bore the surfer. The truths from Poynter Institute Eyetrack noted in this chapter were very helpful to me: “shorter is better, interactive is better, personal is preferred, and navigability is central” (129).

This checklist to make the best use out of multimedia reminded me of a previous quote that I feel is important fact to reiterate: “…The human brain sees more words and therefore reads more of the story in print than it does online, where it likes to scan and surf” (Carroll 124). Evidently, we “surf” the net, not “read” it.

Unlike newspapers and books, a website has the power to be more than “linear” (Carroll 127). Thus, website editors need to keep in mind that the website will get more readers if it is interactive, and the editor has much power in terms of the content and elements of multimedia that are actually incorporated. As compared to “traditional” news media editors, online editors not only need to proofread for elements such as accuracy of facts and punctuation but to make sure that the reader will not be bored, that the multimedia elements are used to the website’s advantage and let the reader truly have an experience.