If I ever can't quite put my finger on why I don't like Botqirl Questi -- loathe him, in fact -- I don't have to wait long for fresh validation. It's not the gender betrayal (and by that I *don't* mean his making a female avatar; I mean something else: his making a studiously anonymous female avatar, keeping her identity intact, and then deliberately outing her and telling us all it was a whimsy; it's that snotty little "q" in the "girl" instead of "g".)
Now he's got up a post called Creativity and Consumerism and I thought to myself, "Uh, oh, here's that technocommunist train coming down the track, whooo, whooo, watch out..."
I'm of course with cube3 on the concept of Creativity/Community/Commerce (which I guess is why he calls himself c3). Not separating these things out from each other. Not "liberating" content to be "free" and decoupling it from commerce -- so that there can be livelihoods. And not decoupling it from the community by forcing it all up on the wide web or the wide hype-er-grid (where it becomes more available for copyright theft).
There's a certain brand of affluent lefty or "progressive" American (Europeans of course suffer a worse form of this) who become consumed with fear and loathing of consumerism. It's as if they're afraid that if they shop, they might end up like those big fat people with the SUVs pulling up to Wal-Marts to buy 24-packs of Doctor Pepper and giant barrels of Dutch pretzels not to mention gigantic tubs of Turkey Hill icecream. Eeeeek! Help, Popeye, Save Me! (Remember how thin Olive Oil was?)
They HATE the idea of "the masses" and their loathsome "low culture" which is just about "consuming" and "mindlessly buying products they don't need" and so on.
Of course, David Brooks handily got their number in his famous book Bobos in Paradise, in which he shows how all those hippies and California cool types are simply more elaborate and even more stupid consumers (they buy expensive X-country skis and keep them in the garage and never use them because they love the image of themselves as some day going skiing.)
So Botqirl's got the usual fear-ridden, organic-life-hating screed up banging on Second Life for being "consumerist".
First, he commits a grave error and calls the "creators" only those who script, design in PSP or make machinima. Just those skilled or at least semi-skilled professioners or power amateurs in SL who "make stuff". Then there's a huge gulf, and there's those *other* people (*wrinkles nose in distaste*) who are the "consumers". Those masses, well, just consume stuff in this corporativist world -- and of course, mindlessly, right?
You'll see below the letter I wrote to Rodvik (with no answer) -- well, I take a different view. I think many, many people in SL are creative. And I don't say this to start some dopey "differently abled" or "different kinds of intelligences" multiculti claptrap. I mean seriously. They are. They way they use the elements of others' creations to make homes and gardens and farms and stores; they way they make elaborate relationships and families and clans; little internal games; long storyboards of their lives. These might be at the level of the comic book but they are still culture, and have their extraordinary moments.
What bothers Botqirl (one of those sinister haters and underminers of the economy, at the end of the day) is that people buy stuff, and put it in their inventory, and so he imagines, never look at it again. In fact, they have so much trouble looking through it that they buy new stuff just to be able to find it (!).
They are like Imelda Marcos on crack, these putative consumers that makes Botqirl go into a Puritanical preaching frenzy:
Consumerism in the physical world contributes to a number of significant personal and cultural problems. The incessant drive to keep up with the Joneses pushes many people to devote more of their lives to making a living than to living fulfilling lives. It fueled the credit crunch and housing market crash and contributes to the looming ecological crisis. But I think that none of these negative aspects of RL consumerism play out significantly in the virtual world. We can go on shopping binges in Second Life without threatening our credit rating. Virtual vehicles don't deplete our oil reserves or pollute the air. Virtual goods are not created by sweatshop workers in developing countries.
Oops, consumerism -- a bad thing as you can tell -- has already *become a problem* (!).
There is this "drive to keep up with the Jones" that (ostensibly) makes people "earn a living" instead of "leading fulfilling lives" (presumably using copies of Martha Stewart's Simple).
It's a little hard to imagine how the "Jones'" concept plays out in SL, since there isn't quite the same forcibly round of work-home-bar that many people live in real life with only a few blocks or miles radius, without the opportunities for huge variations as in SL.
But let's just suppose that when I see another avatar with those strange clunky puffy boots, that I'll "just have to have them" or have no self-esteem left lol.
Sorry, but I simply refuse to buy the facile lefty notion that "consumerism" and "keeping up with the Jones" really "fueled the recession". I think Botqirl doesn't live in a very real world and see lots of different things. NINJA loans are in part a function of political correctness, the fastness of Internet speed for banking, and the disconnection between banking and communities. I remember fixing the moment in the 1980s when the credit card companies figured out they needed to advertise something very new: "We're taking our credit card to the shopping market," boasted Mastercard in an ad showing a big cart wheeling into view -- the point was that now, you should use credit not just for those big payments for things which we used to buy "on the layaway plan" or "on time" like a refrigerator, but any old thing, a package of hamburger and some Cheerios. (I've just been reading The Birth of the Chaordic Age by Dee Hocker, founder and CEO emeritus of Visa. Fascinating!) This isn't consumerism, when people have to use their credit cards to buy food and medical care; this is a welfare plan for the middle class that companies were willing to pay for to dampen the effects of the 1970s recession and then the crash of the 1990s of the dot.coms.
In fact, in my view, the recession that started in the 1970s was a kind of hidden balloon payment for the wars of the 1930s and 1940s and the payout in the 1950s to returning G.I.s that eventually came due -- and was a recession that in fact continued, but in a kind of masked way. Many families saw their living standards steadily erode over those decades. And there are many things ravaging America. Recently my old aunt and her two old cousins went to visit the family homestead in Virginia from hundreds of years ago on their side of the family -- it was literally a log cabin that in later years got bought by other families who put siding and roofing on it so that you couldn't even tell it was once a cabin -- we have an old sketch of it made probably 150 years ago. The people who once lived in that house in a once thriving mill town where everybody had a job at the mill wound up moving to little ticky tackies or tenements or apartment complexes and in some sense never regained their prosperity. Today, a knock on the door fetches a slatternly young woman with a wisened and scarred face too old for her years and no teeth tugging a toddler in a dirty jumper.
"Meth mouth," my cousin, who is a doctor, made the diagnosis later. It's sad.
The problem of America aren't just about "consumerism," if anything they are about a lack of education, the ravages of the 1960s on institutions, lack of opportunities.
But Botqirl, who in his real life probably consumes lattes and an expensive car and clothes at the best stores and probably has an i-pad and a Kindle and a i-pod, thinks it's *just awful* that people shop in Second Life. Harrible!
But why can't they? I will never forgot what Mayor Guiliani told us to do on 9/12, at his famous press conference. He said we were going to treat the next day like a snow day -- it was a snow day, with alternate side of the street parking, and plows that were going to be removing debris. And he urged us to go shopping. To make sure that the economy didn't freeze and stumble, he urged everyone to go out and buy something, to open up the stores, to keep business in circulation. I remember walking past a long line of hundreds of people with their loved ones' toothbrushes and hair in plastic bags that they were going to turn into the authorities at the hospital staging areas for Ground Zero for DNA. I went to the pet store -- it seemed to be the only thing open. The neighbourhood firemen had said we should buy dog boots to put on the dogs searching for people because the debris was still hot and they were burning their paws. So I went in and bought a bunch of dog booties to donate and a cat box and some duct tape. My father had always said that there were few disasters or accidents in life that weren't improved by having some duct tape on hand.
Botqirl's got it wrong, of course: there *are* virtual sweatshops. There are many, many people in this world who are poor and struggling to make a living out of this virtual stuff -- making dresses as fast as they are copybotted; making furniture and endlessly hustling it with hunts and sales and blogging -- the amount of female labour in SL in particular is absolutely astonishing. One very vast area of creativity that Botqirl (nor few others) wish to concede as a creative field is the sex industry. If you don't think you have to be pretty darn creative to get these stories going to keep the jaded customers coming back! There's an entire creative vain of story-telling, if you will, never acknowledged as a deserving narrative, never winning any awards or machinima contests -- but there it is. And it's work.
Now to Botqirl's didactic and hortatory coda -- hellfire and brimstone awaits the sinner!
As with virtual identity, virtual consumerism provides us with an opportunity to use the mirror of the virtual world to shed light on our behavior in the physical world. We can use our virtual consumerism to notice how what we buy relates to our sense of identity and self-worth. We can notice how long it takes before the thrill of a new purchase dies and we are moved to hit the stores again. Over time, this self-realization can be extended into the physical world and act as an antidote to our happiness-through-consumption mindset.
Wuhl, why? I mean, I don't feel my self-worth diminishes if I visit +mudshake or Drowsy or a fun little art stall by one of my customers. I feel I am helping their lives and enriching my own by that purchase. I decorate a public space in the land preserve or one of my seasonal homes or a landing area -- it's fun. It's great. There is only enrichment. I don't need to hold up a mirror to learn a lesson about real life in any event; I see poverty and misery and stupidity enough, often self-induced, that I don't need to lash myself because I bought a shirt in Second Life, good God. Where do people *get* this kind of Calvinistic approach to live, even as they insist on a fuck-you hedonistic ethos to go with it?! "My Simple Life ascetic aesthetics has to be a reason for you to feel guilty that you have too many shoes in your inventory".
"We can notice how long it takes before the thrill of a new purchase dies and we are moved to hit the stores again," says the Church Lady. Um, we do?! Er, no. I still find a thrill at the little lamps and fountains and paintings I get seeing them now and then as I go around my houses as I did when I got them because they're cool. For example, I would highly recommend going to Mirage in My Mind in Bowfin. It's really neat, it has really well-made little freebies and then some art work for a few hundred that is novel.
Oh, but here it comes, the Lesson in the Homily this Sunday morn, brothers and sisters.
Over time, this self-realization can be extended into the physical world and act as an antidote to our happiness-through-consumption mindset.
Oh? So I'm supposed to buy in SL, become disgusted because I have too many shoes or too many anims that I can't even find anymore, and then suddenly wake up to my "mindless consumerism" in real life. Uh-huh. In a recession. What sort of existence do these feted affluent creatives have?
True to form, the little fangirlz line up to praise this "brilliant" essay lol.
Well, I won't play. I have no problem with consumerism. I really don't mind it. I don't see it as a race to the bottom or even a race. I think it's just ok. Mass culture is not evil. Buying stuff is fun. It's all good. Commerce is really a positive thing. It creates livlihoods and brings joy. Only sour Marxists and jaded affluent SL geeks could find this a bad thing.
So go out and buy something. Preferably in *my store* in Ross.
MY NOTECARD TO RODVIK
I'm not in the SL press group any more, so I thought I would introduce myself.
I'm one of the people you might call "the loyal opposition" in Second Life, one of the major critical bloggers at secondthoughts.typepad.com, about 1500-2000 unique visitors a day.
I was a beta tester in the Sims Online and migrated to Second Life with many of the other people in the SimArts community and transplanted here, and have been here more than six years. I have one of the largest mainland rentals businesses although it is very small compared to the big island empires, and I also run the SL Public Land Preserve, more than 50 sites across 100,000 meters of land open to the public for exploration, recreation, socializing, meditation, and markets.
You, like David Linden, the former vice president, like Philip Linden, the former CEO -- you all talk about creators, creating content -- that 10 percent of the user population that makes the stuff for the other 90 percent. Your statements so far seem to be about enhancing the options for them on the platform with the theory that if they have better tools to create, they will make more content and more people will come.
I'd like you to consider a broader concept than the literalism that geeks often bring to the task of understanding creation -- not scripting and Photoshop and wrangling prims, but the creative impulse that is in fact the heart of the economy and the society of Second Life, the creativity of the imagined life online.
Open up your search and find my latest customer [Jane Avatar]. [Jane Avatar] is [a 35 year old Hispanic woman in Arizona] in real life. In SL, she is a fairy who has a female partner, is pregnant with triplets of simulated babies, and has grandchildren that she takes to the park with her friends in strollers. She collects the breedable fairies and has various fairy accoutrements, as well as her various outfits, elaborate boots or capes or dresses; she has her adventures and her hangouts and her events. Read her story on the "Picks" which is not really "picks" of places (although it's that, too) but a storyboard of an imagined and simulated life with her online simulated Family, friends, heroes.
Your job here is not to roll your eyes or laugh or feel superior or act as if this life, this mass culture made possible by Philip's invention, isn't cool or is strange or is pathetic.
Your job is to study [Jane Avatar], about whom maybe nobody has even told you about so far, and understand what she needs to stay happy, to keep logging on, to bring her friends from real life, and to expand her friends in SL.
Your job is to understand that THIS WOMAN is not only my customer, she's YOUR CUSTOMER, she is YOUR CREATIVE CUSTOMER, and she is the one creating -- not the few hundred designers who grace your top SL Marketplace pages or get special treatment with mass mailings for the Lab or command 6-figure incomes.
She's only a US $2.50 transaction for me this hour, but multiple her by thousands a month for a modest little business, and multiple her by the thousands across the 32,000 islands of SL, and you will see where the money comes from to pay for the servers. The money does not come merely from the guy who scripts the fairy and is a loud and frequent critic on the forums (Dartagnan Shepherd). The money does not come from the girl who makes the elaborate zillion-prim boots and exasperates Linden in Merchant office hours. The money comes from my fairy-collecting tenant who never reads the forums, never posts on the forums, never has talked to a Linden, and never reads a Linden blog unless I tell her to in a mass message, and not even likely then.
Fly around the mainland, and you will see more horse farms than West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York State combined (I grew up next to horse farms -- you have more customers of this sort than from Silicon Valley who are your peers as likeminded). Yes, tracts of suburbia, castles, malls, mass culture -- the sort of thing that John Perry Barlow, who I talked to at a meeting today in New York, called "high fructose corn syrup culture" -- which he scorns on Facebook.
Fly along the Maryport and Ravenglass sims and see the row of maternity clinics, baby stores, furniture stores -- these places do a land office business in simulated babies, toddlers, outfits, etc. This is not something you laugh about or find strange; this is something you facilitate so that you make money and they are happy. That's all. This is a business. It is not a social experiment anymore. Not when you guys took out the voting. So let's not pretend.
Like it or not, Rodvik, THESE ARE YOUR CUSTOMERS. There aren't some OTHER customers. There aren't some people who are geeky, urbane, clever, cutting edge, progressive, metrosexual and cool. That is, there are some like that -- Dusan Writer and Draxtor Despres or Grace McDunnough and Chestnut Rau. But the overwhelming majority are NOT. Go look at the people in the group Ravenglass Rentals. Whether they are German or Japanese or Russian or Brazilian, these are middle class and lower class people of mass tastes. They do not read the Huffington Post or the Guardian. They do not read Vernor Vinges. They read USA Today -- if they read any paper at all, and increasingly, they don't.
I'm someone who sells a US dollar or two of my handmade goods every day (like fairy thimbles or sauna robes) -- a pittance on the marketplace. I suck at Photoshop. But I'm a creator who creates little stupid things that fit with what the customers like and enjoys doing it; I also make rental areas out of prefabs and landscaping kits from other residents who are creators, and I commission builds and items all the time.
So my message to you is that the you must zoom out and have a VERY BROAD notion of creativity that doesn't get stuck in the literalist geek notion of the usual feted inner core (FIC), the 10 percent you like because you think they make the 90 percent.
They do that, but the message is -- the 90 percent make everything, too. Their story boards on their profiles; their lives and fantasies and simulations (really something different than some escapist fantasy, thesimulation is really a different and not so well-studied sociological phenomenon -- I mean the making of families on line, etc.); their horses and houses with their kitchens and bathrooms and curtains utterly unnecessary in the virtual world; their story-telling events and hunts and clubs -- these are all a form of creativity, too. These are people making their own TV, long before Will Wright (whom I very much admire and knew in the Sims as well) thought up his latest Bar Karma project of collective script writing for TV.
Second Life is a girl's game. I can't spell it out to you any more starkly than that. To the extent that you get that it's a girl's game, and it's about playing house and playing store more than playing war, and leave it to girls to run, you will do better. I say this as a transgendered female-to-male in SL myself and as a champion of women's rights.