072108 The Imagination Age Metanomics Transcript


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Metanomics is a weekly Web-based show on the serious uses of virtual worlds. This transcript is from a past show.

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072108 The Imagination Age Metanomics Transcript

  1. 1. METANOMICS: THE IMAGINATION AGE JULY 21, 2008 ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Good afternoon, and welcome to the forty-first episode of Metanomics as we explore the Imagination Age with Rita King and Josh Fouts of Dancing Ink Productions. Metanomics is brought to you by Simuality, our primary sponsor, maker of SlippCat. We also have four supporting sponsors: InterSection Unlimited, the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, Kelly Services and Language Lab. As usual, our live venue in Second Life is Muse Isle Arena, and we welcome everyone who is at our event partners across the grid: Meta Partners Conference Area, Rockliffe University, the Outreach Amphitheater of the New Media Consortium Educational Community Sims and Colonia Nova Amphitheater. I’d particularly like to welcome our viewers at Colonia Nova, who hail from the four Sims of CDS, Confederation of Democratic Simulators, the oldest operating democracy in Second Life. Congratulations to the new elected representatives of CDS. Justice Soothsayer is the new leader of the representative assembly, and additional representatives Arria Perrault, Rubaiyat Shatner and Bells Semyorka. There will be a few members yet to be designated by their factions. These folks are going to have their hands full as CDS opens its fourth Sim in Second Life, the Roman-themed Locus Amoenus, which will be ready for occupancy in late August, so they’re accepting reservations now. You can get information at slcds.info. Given that today’s show will have a number of political themes, it’s also worth pointing out that the CDS election results are not entirely uncontested. As we all know, democracy can be messy, and it’s fascinating to see that it really doesn’t seem any cleaner or messier when
  2. 2. it takes place in a Virtual World. If this is your introduction to Metanomics, we’d like to encourage you to join our Metanomics Group and pick up a Metanomics kiosk. These are both excellent ways to keep up with our show. The group also has a number of interesting chat conversations at any time of day or night, with a global audience and a wide variety of opinions. If you have a topic that you want to discuss anytime, just open up that chat window and make your views known or ask your question. Just like we do every week, we’re using InterSection Unlimited’s ChatBridge system to transmit local chat to our website and website chat into our event partners. Keep in mind that, wherever you’re watching this show, your local chat’s public, and it will be seen at all event partner locations and on the web. We encourage you to speak up so that everyone knows you’re out there, including us, because it helps us to get questions and track your responses and make this more of the live interactive conference-like event that it should be rather than simply a television show. Before we move on to Dancing Ink, we’re going to take a few minutes to put someone On The Spot. I am please to welcome Jane2 McMahon, one of the many volunteer organizers of the Netroots Nation in Second Life, which hosted on Netroots Nation Island anyone who was unable to get to Austin for the Real World Netroots Nation Conference or maybe just didn’t want to deal with the heat or the travel costs. So, Jane, welcome to the show. JANE2 MCMAHON: Thank you.
  3. 3. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So let me as you first right off the bat: Was the event a success? JANE2 MCMAHON: I think it was a really great success. My first involvement was last year when it was a very small community in Second Life. The event was put on largely by a company, a progressive politics company, I might add. And this year, the community had grown enough and coalesced enough that we had a tremendous team of volunteers. We had a lot of new people arrive in-world to participate and to further the debate, which is what Netroots Nation is all about. And everybody is so energized and ready just to carry this on, so yes, I think it was. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now I understand, Jane, that your Real Life job is also political, and I’m sure that informs what you’re doing in Second Life. Can you tell us a little about your day job? JANE2 MCMAHON: Well, sure, except for I’d probably call it bureaucratic more than political. In Real Life, I work for Canadian Provincial Government. I’m a senior advisor. One of the things that I’m concerned with or that my job is concerned with is interactive media policy. My involvement in Second Life politics is more as part of public life because I believe people want a place to talk to each other and want to participate in things that matter to them. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So you’re Canadian, but--
  4. 4. JANE2 MCMAHON: Yes. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: --you’re using Second Life to participate in a dialogue that is primarily about U.S. politics. JANE2 MCMAHON: Yes. Well, that’s one of the exciting things about using technology to influence public debate because, although Daily Kos and Netroots Nation are primarily concerned with U.S. political processes and policies, as we all know, a lot of those things are global, whether we’re talking about environment or use of natural resources or healthcare or food supply or population. All of those things are of global concern, and using technology enables us to have an international Second Life community, as opposed to strictly U.S. I mean not everybody can afford to travel to the U.S., but, if we have a computer and a connection, we can all participate at Daily Kos, and we can all participate in Second Life. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So you’re probably aware that there are political groups and philosophies in the U.S. that get very concerned when they see influence from other countries. You don’t see that as a concern? JANE2 MCMAHON: No. I’m hardly the Prime Minister of Canada, who can phone up your President and influence a heck of a lot, but I can talk about things that matter to me. Certainly Netroots Nation is inclusive enough that it does not ever differentiate between somebody from San Francisco and somebody from Saskatchewan. We love those _____. Everybody’s allowed to speak.
  5. 5. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Was there a particular event at Netroots in Austin that seemed to have a greater amount of traction in Second Life? I know Lawrence Lessig was one of the speakers. Howard Dean. JANE2 MCMAHON: Oh, well, Howard Dean and Wes Clark, of course, energized everybody. Al Gore attending was really something, both for folks in Austin and for Second Lifers. One thing that was lesser known and that we threw together at the last minute, as we know technology often is, is, we did an interactive event between people in Second Life attending and people in Austin in Real Life. And it was absolutely amazing to have a real time event where they could see us and speak to us, and we could see them and speak to them. And we think that’s just going to take off this year. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Were you speaking to them through text chat or actual voice? JANE2 MCMAHON: Both Second Life voice and text chat. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Oh, that’s great. Can you just tell me a little bit more about the technical part of how that worked? JANE2 MCMAHON: Oh, my goodness! My background in history will certainly help me here. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You can pass, if you’d rather.
  6. 6. JANE2 MCMAHON: Oh, no, I’ll take a stab at this. Tom Valentine, in Real Life, [If Mastrioni?] in Second Life, got a Veodia account. Nolan Treadway, from Netroots Nation, the logistics person who’s an amazing person, made it all happen in about 24 hours. He set up the camera. [Jax Streeter?] in Real Life and a few other people helped. Our organizer, Jillan McMillan, and people like that got us together in Second Life, and it just all happened. We had a room. We had a camera. We had a screen so that they could see us in Second Life, and we could see them, and it really was quite amazing. It was way more than a Skype call or being in the same place. It really is interactive, and I was surprised at how interactive it was and, I think--just so pleased to be able to do that. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, the first thing I have to say, and the reason I asked about the technical side is this turns out it’s the second time in the course of about an hour that I’ve heard people say wonderful things about Veodia as a way very easily using video to create these types of interactive events. So when this show’s over, I’m going to be checking that one out, and maybe we’ll see if there’s a show topic in that. Before we close On The Spot, I’m very interested to hear that this wasn’t just one-way communication from Austin and Netroots and into Second Life. It’s going the other way. Now what about more generally. Certainly everyone who, many, many people in Second Life, who are on the left side of politics, are familiar with Netroots. My guess is many fewer people in Austin are familiar with Second Life. How do you go about getting the information to flow the other way and get Daily Kos, the blog, to be following what you guys are doing and be influenced by it?
  7. 7. JANE2 MCMAHON: Well, Daily Kos itself is very organic in nature. Anybody can write a diary, I mean within the confines of democratic political concerns, of course, and Daily Kos’s own concerns. Anybody can write a diary. The way that it becomes of public interest or stays in the, quote, public eye, i.e., the top of the blog is by people reading it, commenting on it and recommending it. So everything is done by the readers and the bloggers of Daily Kos. Marcos has given that power to people. As well, there are other bloggers like Jesus’ General at patriotboy.blogspot.com, who do amazing things, well read, also support this, may not actually be official Netroots Nation/Daily Kos people, but that enormous blogosphere of like minded people of left of center. Oh, and by the way, this isn’t just left of center. Politics on the net encompasses all political stripes. But anyway, that’s how it happens for Netroots Nation, and that’s how we get the word out, and that’s how we have been getting the word out. And we’re also helped again by things like our interactive event that caught the interest of people. And then they realized, “My goodness! Those people are having panels in Second Life.” If we can do an interactive meet-up, we can do an interactive panel. There’s nothing to stop us from doing that. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, Jane2 McMahon, thank you so much for telling us about what you have had going on in Netroots in Second Life, and I wish you the best of luck in pulling off an interactive panel. I’ve done a couple of those through Metanomics, and they aren’t that easy, I could tell you that. JANE2 MCMAHON: I’m sure I know what you’re saying [CROSSTALK]
  8. 8. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: But it will be a great learning experience. JANE2 MCMAHON: I’m looking really forward to it. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So again, thank you for coming on the show, for spending your minute On The Spot. JANE2 MCMAHON: Thank you. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And I also would like to point out, as some regular viewers may remember that a few weeks back I asked the question: Where are the conservatives in Second Life? And Jane does point out that the internet is not just for the left side of politics. I did actually spend just a little time talking with people who are supporting John McCain, who are unofficial Republican Party organizers, as well as a couple state legislators. So I hope that we’ll be able to get a broad spectrum of the political life in Second Life represented on our show because I think there are a lot of interesting things to be discussed. Let’s turn now to our main event. We have as our guests Rita King and Josh Fouts of Dancing Ink Productions, who go by their Second Life names Eureka Dejavu and Schmilsson Nilsson. Rita King is CEO and creative director of Dancing Ink Productions, a company that fosters the emergence of a new global culture in what she calls the Imagination Age through Virtual Worlds. She worked for seven years as an award winning investigative reporter covering corporate culture and is the author of Big Easy Money: Disaster Profiteering on the American Gulf Coast, From the Fire Pit to the Forbidden City:
  9. 9. An Outsider’s Inside Look at the Evolution of IBM’s Virtual Universe Community and also author of the emergence of a new global culture in the Imagination Age. Josh Fouts is Chief Global Strategist of Dancing Ink and has helped both China and Brazil create Virtual World presences, has co-founded and directed both the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School and also the USC Annenberg Online Journalism and Communication Center. Oh, and co-founded and was editor of the first internet-based online journalism review. Josh spent a while at the U.S. Department of State and the Voice of America, focusing on that magic place where technology and public diplomacy come together. So, Rita, Josh, welcome to the show. JOSH FOUTS: Thanks for having us here. It’s great to be here. RITA KING: It is great to be here. Thank you so much. I’m looking forward to it. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: The one thing about hosting this show is every week I look at these bios and have new reason to believe that I’m just not working as hard as I should be. You guys have been extremely productive. What I’d like to do to start out here is ask about one of your newest projects Understanding Islam Through Virtual Worlds. So this is a project that is--well, you’re both senior fellows in the Carnegie Council? RITA KING: Mm-hmm. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And so this is an association with that role that you’ve got. And,
  10. 10. Rita, let me start with you. What exactly is your charge and the output for this project? Or, as we say in business school, what are the deliverables? RITA KING: Well, the deliverables are five Machinima videos, a report and a policy recommendation paper about how Virtual Worlds can best be used to understand Islam, which is really how Virtual Worlds can be used to better understand how cultures can relate to each other creatively. First of all, I just want to start off by saying it’s an interactive project. We’re incredibly fortunate to have the senior fellowships at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. They’re an amazing organization, and they give us a lot of creative freedom to explore this complicated subject. We have started a social network so that people can provide us with their feedback and thoughts on understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds. That is dancingink.name.com. We invite anyone who would like to please join and contribute mixed media, thoughts, insights, anything that can be used to help us understand the subject. And, in the meantime, what we’re doing is, we’re sort of on a quest in Second Life. I’ll let Josh speak a little bit more about this, but the project was originally framed as a series of events, and people would have been brought in to Second Life, to share information about their understanding of Islam in the physical world. But, as we explored, we realized that many people around the world are already doing things in Second Life to share their own cultural perspective. But because people have to learn in this space how to exist harmoniously in a new culture together, that adds a lot of value, that simply bringing people into the space would not have added.
  11. 11. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: There are so many topics that you could have chosen if you were interested in bringing distinct cultures together or just any of the many things that you could be trying to do, in Virtual Worlds, that would be of interest to the Carnegie Council. What inspired you to pursue this particular direction of understanding a world religion? Rita, can I start with you? JOSH FOUTS: Well-- RITA KING: Oh, I’m sorry. Okay. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Oh, Josh. Josh, either way. RITA KING: Well, I can speak a little bit about it and then pass it off to Josh. Obviously, understanding Islam is an issue of huge import. Equally important for people who are not Muslim to understand Islam, but also people who are Muslims to understand the current state, at least the small piece of it that we encounter in this quest. Obviously, we can’t pretend that we have all the answers nor do we think we do. It’s simply an exploration. But it’s a very complicated subject in a world where cultures no longer have the luxury of existing in seclusion. And so Second Life and Virtual Worlds in general and social networks provide people with an opportunity to explore what is great about their respective cultures, but also to look at the pieces that may be counterintuitive or counterproductive in a changing world. And that’s really what our goal is.
  12. 12. And so we’re looking at art, politics, religion, business, ancients--for example, ancient Mesopotamia will be represented. The world of business movers were represented through a partnership with Manpower. They are the industry leader in the Middle East, representing eight countries. We have explorations across the gamut. Science with the Federation of American Scientists. Various individuals, some of whom are watching this broadcast right now, who are building mosques, building schools, teaching classes to understand the Koran. We’re interviewing people. We are taking a virtual Hajj to Mecca, trying to explore what it means to take a virtual Hajj to Mecca. So there are various components, and we welcome input from anyone who would like to provide an additional area for us to look at. The project will continue for several more months. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I know you’ve got a few months more to go, but what does it mean to take a virtual Hajj to Mecca? RITA KING: Well, somebody contributed a really interesting comment in our Ning Group about what it means and presented it such that a spiritual quest in physical world is both a tangible journey on which a person is possibly uncomfortable, possibly going a far distance, possibly hungry, all the things that the physical body is susceptible to on a journey. What is a virtual journey? It’s more a journey of the mind. On the one hand, some people perceive that that minimizes the physical difficulty that contributes to the reward of taking a journey. On the other hand, the subtraction of the physical elements liberates the mind in some ways to pursue what such a journey means on strictly a spiritual level. And so there are really two ways of looking at it.
  13. 13. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Now, Josh, let me turn to you to talk a little bit about the policy side of this. Rita mentioned that there are going to be some policy recommendations that will come out of this, and I’m sure, at this point, since the report’s not done, you don’t have any final conclusions. But what types of policy considerations are on the table? JOSH FOUTS: Thanks for that question. With regard to policy implications, I think that one of the big challenges that policymakers face when it comes to anything new, and technology routinely falls into the category of things that are new because it’s constantly evolving and reinventing itself. Policymakers have an inherent caution with regard to technology, and I saw this back when I first came into the U.S. federal government at the now defunct U.S. Information Agency and the Voice of America--Voice of America still exists. In the early 1990s, there was an incredible precaution sense with regard to using technology. And one of my hopes is that our policy recommendations will provide a more informed perspective on what Virtual Worlds really are about. In addition to policymakers being cautious with regard to technology, I think there’s an interdependent relationship that is being fed by the media, in which media is most representing Virtual Worlds particularly because of a predominant narrative that they’ve been abasing. We saw this in particular in the coverage of the recent Second Life congressional hearings that took place about a month and a half ago, two months ago, by the House Subcommittee for Telecommunication on the Internet. Ironically the panel took place on April 1st, but-- ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yes, I do remember that. JOSH FOUTS: Right. So the press just sort of used this as a launch pad to turn what was
  14. 14. otherwise an effort at providing an informed serious approach to what Virtual Worlds are doing, or serious perspective on what Virtual Worlds are doing into a joke. And so my hope is that our report will be take on a voice and attempt to better inform policymakers about the real potentials for cultural dialogue and such that are taking place in these spaces. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’m fortunate to be getting great chat comments from our event partners and from the web, and I’m going to let some of our viewers actually ask the follow-up questions. So first, here’s one from Bau Ur: In Real Life, I’m involved in a campus-based interfaith project to promote understanding between Muslims and Christians in the USA. Joint charity work seems like the very best way to promote appreciation of Christians and Muslims toward one another. It seems to carry a lot more weight than formal presentations and discussions of perspectives. Can Christians and Muslims do anything substantial together in a Virtual World, something that affirms their shared values and virtues? Josh, what’s your thought on that? JOSH FOUTS: Actually, Rita’s going to jump in on that. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. RITA KING: Well, it’s our belief that Virtual Worlds offer a lot of options for people to work together in ways that really can barely be imagined, and that’s why we call it the Imagination Age because it is our belief that people in groups are really limited in many ways now only, of course, by access, which is a real issue, but by their imaginations and creativity. And one of the things about religious groups--I’ve been studying religions since, I mean I can’t even
  15. 15. remember not studying them. I started studying Greek mythology before I was even in school. Someone gave me a picture book, and I’ve just been fascinated ever since. And one of the things every major spiritual system has in common since the dawn of humanity is just an exploration of what it means to be alive and what it means to die. And many systems focus on how we got here or where we’re going, and people end up disagreeing about those two cosmic mysteries, often at the peril of existing in the here and now at the same time. And at Dancing Ink Productions, we believe that Virtual Worlds provide a framework for people to just be in the moment, to create something together, and it doesn’t undermine the systems that they were born into in the physical world because we all are born into a framework of socioeconomic, geographical, gender, race, identity issues that really can’t be escaped completely in the physical world. Virtual Worlds offer the first opportunity for people to bring the full weight of their respective systems and share the best of what those systems have to offer so to create something which yields a sort of mental liberty that is required for critical thought and the evolution of humanity at a time when the entire globe is at a crossroads and needs to learn how to creatively solve problems together. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We have another follow-up question from Fleep Tuque, who is an educator: Does the project have any plans to engage with courses for credit, actually for credit, educational institutions? So for example, a course exploring Islam could really benefit from exposure. RITA KING: There’s been a huge amount of interest in this project, which we’re very grateful for and really adds to the dimensions of the project. We absolutely plan to continue
  16. 16. this work. That’s part of the reason why we started the social network around the group. The project will be officially over in its current capacity in October, but the potential for continuation is tremendous and significant, and so we can’t say at this point what that will look like, but we plan to continue. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Let’s see, where should we go next? You mentioned, Rita, that the world is sort of at a crossroads, and you are at a hot button issue and possibly playing with fire. Intercultural dialogue is great in theory, but you may run into problems where people don’t want to play nice, and those can be magnified in a Virtual World where there are a number of people who delight in causing others problems and interfering with their goals: griefers. RITA KING: That’s right. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So what are your thoughts on how to avoid these problems? RITA KING: Well, my thoughts in Second Life are pretty much like my thoughts in Real Life. There will always be someone who is looking to dent the significance of something, with pranks or with malice, but I believe that giving undue attention to people who are looking to distract from important issues is counterproductive in any world. But actually we just posted today--I think they’ll post it later today at the Carnegie Council--a mission statement for the project that addresses some of those issues, and I can just highlight them for you very quickly, to answer your question.
  17. 17. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yes, thank you. RITA KING: Transparency is incredibly important. Fearlessness is incredibly important. We will not be secretly incendiary in presenting our findings. In other words, if we encounter something that appears to be incendiary, we are cautious about the way we’re framing our findings, but we are giving equal weight to everything we encounter. In other words, we are approaching this with our hands in the air, feeling as if we’re learning everything we are learning from scratch. And we are looking to see how the subject is being presented in Second Life at this time and place. Another important thing, and I learned this from Lila Cabbil, who is the president of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development. She is my personal accountability partner on the subject of race, and she is currently working with a group of almost a hundred-- ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Can I interrupt you? RITA KING: Sure. Of course. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: What’s a personal accountability partner? RITA KING: Well, in short, when I wrote Big Easy Money and spent six months going back and forth from New Orleans, which was former thriving slave trade hub, I realized that I did not understand the extent of American racism. And so I met Lila and asked her if we could take a civil rights quest across the American Deep South. She was friends with Rosa Parks
  18. 18. for 40 years and runs the institute, and she agreed. At first, she didn’t agree because she said she was afraid I was looking to have a, quote, drive-by relationship with a Black face. And so for several nights in a row, she interviewed me and agreed to go, and we did. And during that quest, I learned several principles that are informing this project. First of all, if you sense a problem in your family, your community or your world, you can look first at yourself to see how you might inadvertently be perpetuating the problems that you perceive and then change your own perspective accordingly. You should speak in “I” statements, taking accountability for your statements, not “we” statements or “they” statements. Which sounds easier than it is. And then you should always attempt--or I should always attempt, I guess, speaking in “I” statements--to meet people where they are, which again sounds easy, but it’s very difficult when you’re looking at cultural issues as we are. And so what we’re doing is applying those principles of cultural vulnerabilities, understanding that when you do not grow up or experience a culture firsthand, it is going to seem foreign or intimidating or perhaps not quite right. We grow up believing that what we learn is accurate and that other systems are less accurate, but the fact of the matter is, religion is a very serious issue, and, as you mentioned, it is like playing with fire. You can’t talk about Islam without talking about God, and, as soon as God gets introduced into the subject, it becomes a very hot button issue. So we are trying to look at this as individual people and groups in Second Life, who are attempting to creatively share a part of themselves and their cultures with the rest of the community, and we are documenting that process. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you.
  19. 19. RITA KING: Thank you. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’d like to take a step back, if I could, and just really focus a little bit more on the many other things the two of you have done and, in some cases, are still doing. But, Josh, you mentioned that you worked with the State Department and Voice of America. But also, your avatar, just looking at your avatar shows that you’re a gamer at heart, and you actually were one of the people involved in creating a public diplomacy game when you were at USC, Peacemaker. Can you tell us a little about that experience? JOSH FOUTS: Sure. The inspiration of what you’re talking about is the Public Diplomacy through Games Competition, which was a project that I co-directed with a team at USC, funded by a grant from the Lounsbery Foundation. The idea for that came out of an experience I had in my very first Virtual World experience which was in 2003, in a massively multiplayer online game called Star Wars Galaxies. Star Wars Galaxies, interestingly enough, had a number of the components that Second Life has, in terms of some of the overall cultural philosophy of how the space was used, namely that user-created content was sort of the order of the day. Yes, it was a game. There was a template with a game overlaid on it, but the notion was that the people who were passionate about the space would fill in the content themselves. Right after logging into the game, the first thing that I noticed within my first day literally of creating my avatar in Star Wars Galaxies was that no one was speaking English. I hadn’t logged onto a European server. Star Wars Galaxies as opposed to Second Life is actually partitioned by region and servers, so they try to keep people in Europe on European servers and people in the U.S. on their servers, which is why
  20. 20. I think Second Life is such a wonderful idea. Anyway, the first thing I noticed was that people weren’t speaking English. In fact, I identified four or five different European languages at that time. I had just a couple [months?] earlier come to USC from the State Department, and I had felt this passion and certainly one of my missions at the Voice of America and USA, which was part of the State Department, to try to use technology as a way to build bridges between people. And I saw people in Star Wars Galaxies having intense relationships through play, through leisure time and through the creation of content, and I had this epiphany. I said this is going to really radically change the way people around the world are going to get to know each other. It’s much more transformative in terms of its potential for building strong relationships between people than standard chat rooms are. And so I applied for a grant at the Lounsbery Foundation and said, “We should build a game that’s a public diplomacy game and give it to the State Department.” And they said, “We don’t think you’re going to be able to teach foreign service officers how to build a game. How about if you go to people who know it the best, and those are the gamers.” And so they said, “We’ll fund a competition where you ask video game players if public diplomacy, that is, an effort to build bridges between cultures can be used as a way of building bridges between cultures.” Much to our surprise, 90 percent or more of the games that were submitted from countries as far away as Turkey, Peru, Israel, were games that were built within the Virtual World of Second Life. In fact, the top four prize winners, the second, third, and fourth prizes went all to games built within Second Life. And the winning prize was a standalone game called Peacemaker, which is a game in which you can role play the governments of the Palestinian
  21. 21. Authority and the Israeli government and get a view of how difficult it is to govern and move toward peace. If you say something positive about the opposing political group, your own community gets upset, and that causes challenges for managing that. And that sort of was the seed that moved us on toward thinking about the Understanding Islam project. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So along those lines, I have another great comment from Irah Anatine. I hope I am pronouncing that correctly. Someone who says, “I’ve been in Iraq recently, exploring ways to use Second Life, to bring information about what is going on there, into Second Life. I’ve had a chance to speak to several local citizens and leaders who are asking for elections and international observation.” And then here’s the interesting point, in light of what you just said about the tremendous international participation in the game contest, “This seems to be a very sensitive subject to take place for citizens--often implies taking positions against the official speech.” And I guess I’m interpreting between the lines here a little bit, but I can certainly see a concern that citizens in governments that may not allow as much freedom of speech as they might, citizens might be concerned by taking part in these types of efforts. And the governments themselves may be very concerned. What are your thoughts on that, Josh? JOSH FOUTS: I read the question in the chat from Irah Anatine. I guess if I understand you question you’re wondering about how comfortable governments should be working in these spaces or-- ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Or maybe just taking for granted that people in some countries are not going to feel comfortable or free and open to express their views and that some
  22. 22. governments are going to be very concerned about free and open expression. Certainly, China is an example of a country that has placed a lot of controls on internet activities cross-border. I personally am a lot less familiar with what’s going on in countries in the Middle East or other Islamic countries. JOSH FOUTS: Each country has its own internet restrictions. When we were in Doha, in Qatar, in February at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum, we experienced even some limitations on how YouTube is being filtered, and I certainly saw that in China a year ago as well. I think that the governments as a whole are--because Second Life is still relatively new, there’s a window of opportunity to explore it, and governments, hopefully, aren’t censoring it too much. It’s a country by country kind of thing. But my hope is that the opportunity and potential for good and also for commerce that you see in places like Second Life will counterbalance what countries who might want to restrict their citizens from the more free form of communication that Second Life offers. I think that so much of the world is interested in economic exchange, particularly in an era now where we’re feeling an economic tightening, particularly in the United States. Second Life is being championed as a place where the new economy is evolving and moving, and certainly your show is a great example of focusing on that. So censorship is something that continues to exist and is pervasive and pernicious and exists in the United States, I mean, just as much--I had a friend who’s a Captain in the U.S. Navy, who shared with me an anecdote that’s peripherally relevant to this, but certainly made the point that the United States is just as restrictive [in the notion?]. He sent an email
  23. 23. via his Yahoo! account to some colleagues in the Navy, saying that he was going to be on such and such a ship going to such and such a location. Before his colleagues had even responded to his email or even read his email on a personal Yahoo account, he was actually approached by security officers at the base, asking him not to use his Yahoo account to mention the names of ships or destinations. So there’s lots of censoring going on in places that we might not suspect it. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: That’s a fascinating topic. Too bad we’re so close to the end of the hour. Because I want to talk a little bit about some of the other projects that you have going on. I should say as we end this topic, let me just say that those of you who are outside the U.S. in places like Iraq or elsewhere, who would be willing to talk with me on Metanomics about what Virtual World technology means to you, please contact me directly, and let’s make that happen. Rita, I’d like to ask you about a couple other projects before we close. So now we’re turning more to the straightforward business side of Dancing Ink Productions. You’ve worked with Manpower Incorporated and IBM, to write reports, and you’ve seen how these large corporations use Virtual Worlds to create communities and how they deal with the communities that arise naturally when their employees are in Virtual Worlds. We really don’t have much time, but what are the key lessons that you take away about community, collaboration and leadership from these studies? RITA KING: Well, I think the main thing is that there really is no distinction between Virtual Worlds and the physical world, in that everything that happens in both is really unfolding
  24. 24. from your mind, from your brain. And working in these spaces together, especially for large corporations that have employees that are working in remote outposts, often not even in offices, and sometimes never meet many of the people who are on the teams that they work with, I’ve seen people readjust their circadian rhythm. Scientists at IBM readjusting so that they can work on, for example, protein folding and understand diseases like Alzheimer’s and Mad Cow. So what I would say is right now there are a lot of growing pains of trying to understand their restrictions and the obstacles that need to be overcome and the benefit of these spaces. But it is my belief, as an entrepreneur and an adventurer, that the world has changed in a way that really puts human creativity and collaboration front and center. And the implications of that are vast. That’s what we travel around the world speaking about, the ROI of Virtual Worlds. The obvious fact, I mean, even today, you’ve connected us here with people who will add valuable perspectives to the Understanding Islam project. What is the ROI of Virtual Worlds? Where are you going to have access to global experts in real time and see how they choose to present themselves? How does a person opt to create an identify? This is something I’ve been studying for years. My first job out of college was at America Online as a vulgarity censor. And I wrote a cover story for the Village Voice years ago about the ethical implications of creating an identity--digital anonymity I should say. Now people are creating identities. Well, can society move quickly enough to keep up with the ethical implications? That’s what we’re learning. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Very interesting. And then you’ve got a couple projects that you mentioned are coming up. One is designing a new space in Second Life. The other is more
  25. 25. art focused. Can you tell us a little about those? RITA KING: Yes. We’re in the fledgling beginning of working with the--what else can it be called other than a software rock star, I guess--Grady Booch. We’re designing space for him, and we’re working on actually a variety of projects with a variety of clients, but we really want to stay focused on creativity in art. And the reason I say this is because the whole concept of a starving artist, I believe, is very passé now. If you can have access to the internet, you can figure out a way to monetize your creativity. And this is a huge development. I think because I’m an artist, with whatever degree of business acumen that I have, I hope that Dancing Ink Productions can also serve to mentor artists who are looking for ways to monetize their art. And so that’s something that’s a passion of mine. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And is this the What is Real Life project? RITA KING: Yeah. What we’re collecting right now are images, photos and snapshots and mixed media of all kinds, and the project is called What is Real Life--that’s really kind of the working title, but I guess, since we’re here today talking about it, we’ll stick with that--that just explores the concept of reality, which is often dreamlike in the physical world and often seems shockingly mundane in a Virtual World and vice versa. So I’d really like Dancing Ink Productions to just sort of be a place where people can share their artistic works that are focused on this theme, and we will have an exhibit within six months, to highlight these works. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you very much, Rita King and Josh Fouts of Dancing Ink
  26. 26. Productions. I really appreciate your coming on the show. I see the backchat has been absolutely fascinating, and there are a number of questions in there and comments that we haven’t had a chance to talk about, so I hope to follow up with you and maybe get you to answer some of those just on our website, metanomics.net if you can find the time in between all of these projects you have going on. So thank you-- RITA KING: Thank you. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: --so much, both of you, for coming on the show. RITA KING: We’re happy to come back and talk about the project when we’re done, if you’d like. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Great. Yeah, we’ll keep tabs. Keep tabs. RITA KING: Thanks so much. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you. Now for the last few weeks, we closed out our show with an opinion piece called Connecting The Dots, and, for the last few weeks, that opinion has been mine. Well, this week we have a guest to take the floor, Roland Legrand, newsroom editor of Mediafin in Belgium, a Metaverse evangelist and author of the very interesting blog Mixed Realities. Roland, connect the dots for us. ROLAND LEGRAND: Okay. Thank you for announcing me. I hope that the voice is coming
  27. 27. through from Belgium here. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yes, it sounds great. ROLAND LEGRAND: Okay, it sounds great. So I would like to talk about deconstructing boundaries. One of the very first events I covered as a journalist in Second Life was the opening of the Swedish Embassy. I remind there was a helicopter to bring in the very important persons and a manifestation of avatars outside the building. One of the themes of the protestors was that Second Life should be free from official buildings representing nation states and borders. And a long time before you must know that it was a very remarkable experience to see this manifestation. Now a long time before these first experiences in Second Life, I was studying philosophy, and I’m fascinated by the work of the late French philosopher Jacques Derrida. And one of the key notions in his work is the deconstruction of borders and oppositions. Now deconstruction, mind you, is not demolition nor abolition of borders. Deconstruction means something else. It pursues the meaning of a text to the point of undoing the oppositions on which the text is apparently founded and to the point of showing that the text is irreducibly complex and stable. So this is rather theoretical, but one of the big examples that Derrida gave us is that of the opposition of speech versus writing. In our western tradition, speech is often considered as being superior because of the presence of the speaker, who can always assist their words. It’s a bit like Socrates did when discussing on the marketplace and refusing to write down his teachings. Derrida, my favorite philosopher, showed us in exquisite detail how relative and difficult the so-called immediacy of speaking
  28. 28. is and how the great conversations of Socrates came to us through the carefully crafted texts written by Plato. So this is not to say that speaking and writing are the same. It is to say that it is tricky to define the differences in terms of simple oppositions. And I am really convinced that Virtual Worlds are beautiful examples of this. I speak now to you live, that, in fact I’m here, I’m having texts around me. I can assist my words though I see you as avatars, and I cannot see your physical faces and bodies, I am here in this virtual auditorium, and yet I am far away. Virtuality is safe. It cannot be understood by using simple opposition such as real versus the unreal. Presence and absence, male and female, writing and speech can all be subjected to deconstruction. And trying to speak about those very real differences, but trying to accept also the instability and complexity of those differences. And I am convinced also that the same applies for nation states and cultures. In this very concrete deconstructive environment of Second Life, I often feel like being in the United States. Second Life and the Metaverse at large reminds me of the Wild West of the risks, but also the enthusiasm and opportunities of the frontier states. But, at the same time, it appears that U.S. citizens or North Americans are a minority now in Second Life. Furthermore, the impression I have now is that American friends tend to become a bit more European and European friends more American, just by living and working here in Second Life. So there are differences, and I am glad to feel those differences, but living in a Virtual World constantly reminds me of the deconstruction and that I really should never try to reduce differences to simplistic oppositions.
  29. 29. So, in my view, Virtual Worlds are on a real fundamental level, very interesting places, to engage in a global conversation between cultures and nations. So this was my Connecting The Dots, and, of course, I look forward in hearing other opinions about this topic. Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Roland, thank you very much for being willing to come on and say such interesting things. I too look forward to hearing other people’s opinions. And, if you are interested in connecting some dots for us, just let us know. So, Roland, thanks so much, and congratulations on being the first person on Metanomics to refer to Jacques Derrida and for being one of the few people to talk in any forum about him and still be intelligible. I really appreciate that. ROLAND LEGRAND: Thanks a lot. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I would just like to close this show by making a few announcements of interesting things that are coming up. First of all, we had a great time inviting the co-founders of the new Virtual World, RocketOn, to join us on Metanomics last week. And you may remember that they offered, on the show, to allow our members to join the closed Alpha phase, and I’m holding them to it. So now we can surf the web together and in a pretty imaginative direction. So all you need is to register on the Metanomics website to get access to the sign-up page. We’ll have a link posted on the site, hopefully, by the end of the day. Also, RocketOn has made us another offer. If we can find someone who’s handy with Flash
  30. 30. programming, RocketOn will share with us some templates for making avatars, games and other content. So this could be a nice chance to get in on the ground floor of a pretty interesting business and give Metanomics a new medium in which to interact with people across the globe. So if you’re a Flash developer interested in this opportunity, please let me know as soon as possible. We have a couple of events coming up. First of all, tomorrow evening at 6:00 P.M. Pacific Time, the International Society for Technology in Education, ISTI, will be turning the tables, and I will be the interviewee rather than the interviewer, in a discussion with K.J. Hax and Fleep Tuque on education and what Virtual Worlds and even Metanomics have to offer educators. So do please join us for that. Next week on Metanomics, on Monday, we return the favor and have several K to 12 educators, including superstar Kathy Schrock of Discovery Education, team grid pioneer Peggy Sheehy and Linden Lab’s director of the Boston operations and their academic evangelist, Pathfinder Linden. We’ll also put an ISTI representative on the spot to talk about all the things that they are doing in Virtual Worlds. So thanks to Jane2 McMahan, Rita King, Josh Fouts and Roland Legrand for a great show. See you tomorrow and next week. Bye bye. [END OF AUDIO] Document: cor1024.doc Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer