Here we go again with Hamlet nee Linden Au, paid for by Millions of Us, trying to generate the spin cycle this time to a widely-read article in the LA Times, "Virtual World Loses Its Virtues". The virtual world *has* lost its virtues, yet the metaversal myrmidons who contributed to its deflowering are in deep denial. As he's done before, Hamlet tries to offset the impact on public awareness of the issues surrounding Second Life not by seriously grappling with them, but by disparaging the messengers and discounting what critics inside the world say, impugning their numbers, ridiculing and even sneering at them. It's really a shameful display. The most odious thing about Hamlet, for my money, isn't even that he writes this tripe; it's that he actually thinks this way, like some overzealous Soviet propagandist in the Union of Writers, and actually doesn't have to be the house organist on the company payroll, as he used to be at SL, or be on MOU's dime, as he is now, to write what he does.
I'm proud to be an independent, non-paid blogster about Second Life, and as far as I know, the RL newspaper Los Angele Times isn't paid for by any business with an interest in SL, either, though perhaps they have advertisers that might overlap with some corporations with a presence in Second Life. The "firewall" that is supposed to exist between the editorial and the business ides of a media operation is never one that these "new mediacrities' like Hamlet have ever bothered with.
People in Second Life are atomized; there is no mass media within SL; accessing this population is difficult. Um, you don't even access it if you have buttered up Hamlet and gotten to be one of his columnists; the NWN fan club, as FIC as it is, still only numbers 155; contrast that with hundreds of other news, media, etc. groups and you'll see it's a paltry following. What is Hamlet's traffic? Well, he's not telling, and whether or not it's more than the Herald's, as Hamlet would hasten to tell you, traffic isn't necessarily an indication of influence.
Hamlet specializes in the derisive literalist spin on things that don't fit in with his worldview; that's how he can come up with this ridiculous figure of "only 36" people protesting about the Bush signs in SL, as if that can successfully diminish the issue.
First of all, it's safe to say that at the time I personally ran a petition drive to get SL to enforce its own TOS against this spam and disruption, I had hundreds of signatures, numerous cards that we sent in day after day with lists of people -- easily 500 if not 1000. The one card passed to Hamlet to see the text of the appeal had a mere 36. I have the cards in inventory and could go count them, but what's the point? 500 is no more valid than 36 for Hamlet. The point was already burned in to Hamlet by Cocoanut on his original blog about this linked to today's piece, he was corrected, but he still says "36" and will go on sneering "36" for the rest of his days on game conference panels.
And that's becuse, unless it's his handful of beta buddies having a socialist protest against the prim tax that the Lindens themselves already regretted as soon as they imposed it, it doesn't count. For him, protest means merely saying out loud what a Linden has thought or whispered already on the IRC channel -- that's the RCA Victrola dog for you!
REAL protest in SL is really amazing to watch. I saw the anti-Copybot protest take off like wildfire, with hundreds of people shuttering their stores and joining groups. That's not many if you count the people against some fictitious number of 3 million sign-ups
But that's not how to see it. If only 1000 out of the 50,000 land owners -- 2 percent -- are angry about island price-hikes or failure to mitigate CopyBot, that's enough to turn the Lindens around on bad policies, as we've already seen.
At the time that I and others running petition drives surely got at least 500 signers if not many more, how many landowners were there? Well...was it 5000? 10,000? Real, logging, existing, landowners, who would be the people who would care if a spinning, ugly sign marred their view. Obviously try-me unverifieds wouldn't care; landowners would. So if we had 10 percent of the land owners or even five percent, that's significant.
There were many things accomplished by that campaign, which BTW had nothing to do with loving Bush -- 99 percent of the people who hated the signs would have been glad to impeach, or at least not vote for Bush, including myself, but that doesn't mean we should be forced to sign up for extortionist sign griefing making our land unusable.
And let's revisit the Bush Guy controversy, while we're on the subject of corporate presence, shall we? Given that the Lindens always said that companies would be advertising on their own islands, I have to wonder who on earth these Lindens were saving themselves for by taking such a destructive, asshole position on the Bush guy.
It really was unseemly. They allowed businesses struggling within SL before the corporate onslaught to suffer thousands of US dollars of loss. They forced many people to give up their homes and move, or not even be able to sell or rent land. My God, what destruction. They were doing this in the name of some purified civil rights position that totally overlooked how all those people with the goddamn signs in their view destroying it lost their rights to expression and peaceful life on their purchased land. It was the most ideological hidebound thing I've seen since Soviet Russia. Here, we see Lindens not seeing their way clear to applying their ALREADY EXISTING fastidious, anti-merchant "anti-spam" TOS rule, a rule that sends a newbie to the cornfield for innocently sending out 3 queries about pictures he wants to sell to THIS situation, where a sneering, cynical oldbie on alts was crapping up HUNDREDS of sims with spam. Goddamn, I will never forgive them for that.
Despite the Lindens' perfidy -- and it was a good early warning system to understand their perfidy -- we established solidarity, helped each other, got some land sellers never to cut up to 64 m in order to avoid purchase by the Bush Guy; we got people to stand tall and not cave and pay the extortionist prices; we kept raising awareness; at times the Bush Guy would even get banned when he went too far. Ultimately, he was bought out or disappeared, hard to know, the experiment of a cynical asshole programmer with tacit or even enthusiastic Linden support done. Yeah, the population of Second Life will bend over and take it up the ass hard, even if only one ugly corporation wants to put billboards all over Second Life, and will even be willing to make them go away by paying outrageous extortionist sums.
Was that what you wished to prove, Philip Linden? Ok, you proved it. Mission accomplished! Perhaps that was the necessary next step to the corporate takeover of SL, eh?
Still, human solidarity grew stronger, people mitigated this embryonic corporate enslaught called "the Bush Guy Corporation", but most people fled to your more expensive islands and bought there to avoid mainland blight. Was that your purpose all along? "No business but my business."
It's funny, you talk to a journalist for more than an hour, and they pick out what they like. But that's fine, I don't worry about quotes being taken out of context or go into justification overdrive.
Many misread the story in the LA times as me saying (it's actually Urizenus Sklar) that "OMGODZORZZ the car companies came to SL and their gas fumes drove out all the elven folk".
Nothing of the sort literally happened. Wayfinder Wishbringer left, and makes a very good case for leaving, because of SL's poor performance and unstable business environment. He has trouble summing it up this way, because he has many conflicting emotions, and people viewing his situation are very emotional as well. They blame his arrogance or poor leadership, or they blame laggy sims, or they blame SL, when it's a little of all of these things. But all of these things are indeed exacerbated by a profound, deep-seated and zealous belief on the part of many if not all Lindens that the software for producing virtuality is more important than the virtual world itself. That's the root of the problem, and there is no way Hamlet can cover up that ugliness -- it's visible a mile away.
When the LA Times quotes me about elves and the shock of Nissans, it's about a culture shock. It's about the problem of a company ushering in companies who think the software for their applications is more important than the world. It's about a user-made world, uses who designed all kinds of lifestyles and roleplays and artifacts like bows and arrows out of their own imagination, from amateur to professional level, and made it stick, and then Nissan, which is a large, commercial entity with cars that don't really even look like they "fit" in Second Life, even being drawn and produced by a long-time SL-er, because they are meant to look like the real world, not a snail chariot. It's about a clash of values.
And the intrusion of the real world is something that zealous Puritans like Hamlet and others who wave their "It's not a game!" Bible at you every minute want SL to be so that they don't have to feel like loserz and gamerz and dweebs mucking around in virtuality. They need SL to be RL-oriented like oxygen, or they look stupid. If they cover games, they aren't cool. Even covering worlds, well, you can do one summer when you're in your 20s. But if you haven't drawn a serious-game lesson out of SL and written about how it's saving Darfur by the time you are 30, you're sunk, career-wise. Walker, are you sure your save-the-world post count is really where it should be?!
The reality of the virtuality is such that none of these corporations would be here if it weren't for the fantastical and imaginative quality of Second Life. Richard Posner wouldn't be engaged unless he could chuckle at a racoon asking him about cyber-terrorism's equivalent in a virtual world. The IBM people like to be able to tell others that they have people flying into their lectures --literally, on wings. This is all part of the VW's charms.
When I mounted a elfen bow and arrow on my wall the other day in SL, I knew there was a threshold crossed. Before, we were in Africa, exploring. Heck, we even *were* Africans. Now, we are back in our real lives, rightly pronounced as tourists, and merely mounting a trinket of a bygone era, a destroyed primitive way of life that proved actually more resilient and sophisticated than anyone knew...
If there are 1000 elves in Second Life -- about 10 times more than the people who sign up breathlessly for early news of NWN -- so what? It's not about literally eroding or reducing elf culture on sims. They may live, thrive, and expand. The elf is merely an emblem signifying "user-made culture" and what it's being replaced with now -- corporate or sherpa culture -- is merely symbolized by "Nissan" because they're the ones that made this sort of giant, out of place dispenser for cars, combining the absurdity of virtuality (in real life, you could only have a Coke machine dispense something, not a car) with the reality of the look of a Nissan. That's creative -- but it's also intrusive.
The balance has to be kept -- and the equilibrium is probably already hopelessly lost. A stampede of marketing companies coming in to set up shop have to be able to sell something to their clients. What is it they sell? It's not the church basement problem of 40-100 avatars or you violate the fire code. It's not the events -- they lag and crash and get postponed and are frustrating. So what IS it? It's the experience of virtuality itself -- flying, shopping, cybering, communing, exploring. That really is what is for sale here, and stepping on that and crushing it is not in their interests. Stepping and crushing it can be done even subtly -- and that's what I see happening. No one is available from all the top builders anymore to build something inworld, for the world's sake -- they are all subsumed into the maw of corporate contracts building things like AOL Pointe. These people have abandoned all pretense of concern about the bread-and-butter issues of avatars inworld -- traffic, lag, inworld accounts removal, etc. -- because they don't collect micropayments to live themselves.
They really ought to care more about the middle class of SL that does live from micropayments because we're the tier of creators and non-inventoriable content providers, if you will, who make it possible for people to have their presence in SL. But they don't. Someday down the line, they might buy 444 islands, lay them out with condos, and rent them after they find a Russian woman or Indian man to outsource to as the rentals agent and wait on their customers that way. Globalization!
Or else everybody will give up trying to live and move and fly in SL and just use it as a glorified webpage and chat room, especially after the put a lot of it up on the Internet like the groups and such.
What I find especially irritating is the idea that corporations don't have influence merely because they stay on islands -- and islands without high traffic. Here it's laughable that Hamlet tries to take the one embarassing factor about all these corporate builds -- their low traffic -- and converts it to a positive to show that the inworlders don't have to fear anything.
But that's literalist and silly. The corporations have had an overwhelming and largely negative impact on Second Life, at least at this stage, for the following reasons:
1. They've become dependent on the sherpas (the FIC) and enabled a tiny handful of people -- Hamlet among them -- to go on serving as overlords of SL, influencing the feature set, getting the ear of the Lindens, and serving their own interests -- and making the "look" that they adopt as architects be the Empire's look everywhere
2. They sneer at democracy, as Hamlet does, deriding the population of SL merely because they didn't show up to toggle the very seriously broken Features Voting Tool, which, like a Soviet republic, doesn't have any "no" lever to pull. Shame on you, Hamlet, thinking democracy can't or doesn't exist because of the goddamn stupid voting tool, which is a sham of democracy meant to distract and deny! The voting tool was hijacked by Angel Fluffy, and is captive of special interests. It was coded by ideological crowdsourcing Cory Linden in a day or something, and it shows -- it isn't as robust machine that can really help democracy and enhance it, but that's because the Lindens don't want democracy. It has absolutely no admission of *political proposals* or anything that isn't strictly related to the actual coding of features like "push" or "no push". For all the polling you see these marketers do, you don't see them actually attempting to access the public of SL in any meaningful way on the real political issues of SL -- verifieds or unverifieds? make clubs pay for CPU or ban camp chair scripts? etc.
3. They hog the press limelight. That's not their fault exactly if the media covers them, but as they are marketers paid top dollar to do just that, one has to fault them. Second Life news coverage has been unrelieved wall-to-wall corporate propaganda for months and months. No wonder there's a backlash! It's not just all the me-first rollouts, but the constant attempt to position SL as a "business platform" that will assist with "training". As anyone who has been in business or non-profits knows at some level, there is nothing more vastly vacuous, silly, and pointless than this whole corporate concept of "training". "Training" covers a multidue of sins. "Training" can merely be about socializing. "Training" can be just about imposing corporate culture. "Training" is, in SL, more often than not, a session within a social media venue that is about the wonders of social media...which is for...you guessed it, holding corporate training sessions about how cool social media is. It's recursive, reductive, silly, and as my father used to ask pointedly about such things: "When will the money change hands?"
4. A critical eye on the flounderings of the social media meisters is rarely cast, except by Urizenus "You Fucktard" Sklar. I'm glad he put those markers down. A lot of social media is as fatuous as the day is long. It's a time suck and a productivity suck trying to figure out how to make itself less blatantly worthless, and it probably needs to be put in time-outs in the corner more often and do its homework or something. Trying to justify social media's costs, ramp-ups, and time-sucks so often strikes me as similar to the rants of people in the 70s and 80s on coke who said they needed it for artistic inspiration. Social media so often is about...talking to other people about new social media that will enable you to have a workshop about....social media. You do have to wonder, when the mystified and scared big corporations and utopian large foundations get done with experimenting with this, and pull out all the subsidides, what value will be left.
5. Corporate events that have put on so far seem largely staffed by the sherpa cheerleaders and their friendship card networks. When I drop in on them, that's what I see. I see a lot of fluffers and wooters trying to turn out their old friends they used to make places like Neverland with to hypervents, as I call them for their hype ahead of time and their hyperventilation in the media afterward. I mean, did you go and sit on a laggy sim and watch a movie, even a Sundance movie? Well, did you??? You mean *gasp* you decided to go out for a pizza and a beer in RL, screw your girlfriend, and play old Nirvana tunes INSTEAD of sitting in laggy SL watching a movie???? Shame on you! You didn't go to church!
6. Corporate presence in SL, like much of real life people in SL, is sanitized, better looking, seemingly pollution-free. That is, it can make itself look any way it wants to. It covers up somewhat the degree of controversy that corporation might actually be experiencing in the real world, with real-world protesters.
I often comment when I go to cover such demos that the electronic equipment the protesters are hauling and the gadgets and computers they have back at their dorm rooms are enough to power a third-world village. Maybe they need to globalize a little bit of that back, eh?
It's funny how I've come to occupy a position critical of corporations in SL, when in RL, I don't join the idiot throngs at the often violent anti-globalist meetings. Globalism isn't something you stop. It's something you report on. Globalism might acquire more ethics or human rights, as former High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson tries to bring about by working on issues like trade and water in Africa. Globalism is something you might make kinder or gentler through this or that policy, but you cannot end it. Indeed, Karl Marx, sitting in his library centuries ago, was the first anti-globalist as a lot of what drove his theory and writings at the time was the underpricing of German craftsmanship on the world market by capitalists; that's why Communism, among other reasons, has to be understood as profoundly conservative, and not revolutionary.
7. Corporations have a mode of organization that is about the collective, with a board of directors structure using putting a few privileged managers at the top. This mode of organization immediately takes to Second Life, which has all kinds of smarmy utopian ideas about collectivism and social leverage and wisdom of crowds. This stuff needs a much more critical look, and accurate coverage. I have to go find this article I saw on IBM a few weeks ago in which the reporter quoted a seemingly breathless Eightbar guy saying that collectivism was the wave of the future -- he sounded downright giddy. I contacted him inworld to spar with him about what I thought was yet another bad case of British socialist mind-meme disease, but I came to find out that this guy, who works in a big company that is anything but socialist in fact, wasn't the person who actually said this quote -- the journalist mixed it up (waiting for some helpful Twitterer to scavenge this link for me).
I'm not interested in corporate-driven collectivism. Communist collectivism wasn't any fun in the 20th century, with the mass murder of millions. I hardly think "capitalist" (read: corporativist) collectivism in the 21st century will be a day at the beach, either. I'm definitely going to go on rooting for the dignity and meaning of the individual.
So, I could come up with 10 other reasons why Hamlet is all wet (and Philip, too, who uses this "corporations in their silos on islands" argument to claim there is no influence) and you could, too. We all know corporations have landed like huge water buffalo at the pond of Second Life, they are drinking heartily, and while they only seem to take a sip on their own sim, the water tables are going down, down, down. The fabric and feel of Second Life is eroding, changing. We're supposed to always and everywhere "embrace change" and say "change is good" but why is it "change" when all that has happend is that the same overinfluential and unaccountable forces from real life -- namely, corporations -- have invaded our second life? How does that fly? Why is that "a better world"? How come marketing a *brand* for Christ sake's of some sneaker or t-shirt or cell phone could come to *replace creativity and art for yourself and the world* for these sherpas? No cultural change occurred because these corporations bought out the most creative people in Second Life. This is not the Medicis and Michealangelo. This is a car company, trying to sell you an expensive gas-guzzler in real life, that's all.
There isn't really a fix for this, likely, even if corporations tried to do a lot more for social responsibility in SL -- funding the ballet or the newbie educators or sponsoring non-profit events like the breast cancer walks. They ought to do more of that in SL in Lindens and not even do the usual charity stunt. They could do much more to support more inworld indigenous businesses, not relying solely on their few hand-picked sherpas who aren't necessarily the best talent in every field anyway. It won't be near enough to solve the cultural and philosophical problem we face here, which SL has only amplified, having to do with the consumerist and corporate culture of the developed world in general.
The fix for these things lies deeper within ourselves, SL is merely a manifestation, not the worktable to fix it.
Now what of the SLLA? I find this thing as phony as a three-dollar bill. I've written elsewhere that I think it could even be a concoction of the Lindens or some sherpa firm or corporation that wishes to distract from real dissent.
Urizenus and I and a few others make one comment published in the Los Angles times about the corporate influence in Second Life -- which I've outlined here amply -- and the spin cycle goes into overdrive. First, a rash of stories about the SLLA, which helps make dissent quaint, silly, and archaic sounding, a bunch of liberation nuts who think their bombs could actually hurt something in a virtual world.
Next, the backlash backlash specialists like Hamlet -- who himself then cleverly disparages the SLLA (which had in the previous cycle already done the service of disparaging all inworld dissent as a caricature on the same leevl). It only has 70 members -- well, 30 more, guys, and you'll have about as many as NWN group in SL!