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
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
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.
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
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
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So you’re Canadian, but--
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
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.
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
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You can pass, if you’d rather.
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?
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]
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:
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,
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you very much, Rita King and Josh Fouts of Dancing Ink
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
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
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
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.
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
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]
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com
Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer