I read and re-read Fleep Tuque's sort of sad musings on the Metaverse --"Why Anyone Who Cares About the Metaverse Needs to Move Beyond Second Life; Now, Not Later" -- and was waiting until I could write some long treatise, but then I realized that I didn't have that much to say. My first instinct is merely to say -- but there's no hurry. The Metaverse indeed *can* wait. What's the rush? If they build it, they will come...or something. Or as Philip once enthusiastically but impatiently put it to me, when I complained that there hadn't been books in SL until the concocted Cory Doctorow event -- "Someone will make everything!"
Maybe they will, and maybe they won't. What's interesting is that just as Fleep -- having also written a very sad chapter to the saga of SLCC -- is also musing sadly on the Metaverse where people won't play as she wished, Philip is going on the record again saying that he believes Second Life or virtual worlds like it will be ubiquitous.
Well, I think they will. That is, not in "the world as we know it," but some fashion that in fact we are already half immersed in. Virtualization, digitalization, gamification, all those things pressing down and reshaping humanity at least in part. And yet the communal life Philip yearned to make on line and then retreated to as an urban pastoral dream with his cafe grazing is something most people reject as unmodern. What I like most about Second Life unlike Inworldz or Open Sim or Jokaydia or any of these hothouses is that nobody knows you there. It is urban. You can get lost. You don't have to fit in. Nobody has to know your business, even if you are "famous". It's that big, it's that diverse!
I guess I don't feel that romantic about the Metaverse. It's like the Hi-Line. Somebody thought it was a great idea to convert an old abandoned elevated railroad bed above the buildings in New York into a horizontal park. It seemed expensive and nutty to some. I remember one of my old best friends read about it and got all excited about it and took us on a walk in the bitter cold over to 10th Avenue where it was being started years ago. I remember thinking we really were going to get frost-bite. It was one of those things where my friend couldn't quite remember where it was he heard it was going to be, and was stumbling around the West side. And at some point I crapped out around 8th Avenue and said I was going for brunch and holding a place for the others. I think I took one of the kids, or maybe they all went without me, while I went in a diner and tried to unthaw.
Half an hour later, they all came breathless and chilled but ecstatic about the Hi-Line. But this was *years* before it was built. The Hi-Line seemed like an inverse Seward's Folly. I laughed at them for becoming obsessed, and they laughed at me for wimping out. But of course today, there is a Hi-Line, maybe not exactly like the dream because it's overcrowded with people, but dreamy enough -- you get up on it and walk among the trees and art works all the way down to Gansevoort, which itself is transformed with more high-end cafes now because of the Hi-Line. The Hi-Line!
So the Metaverse is a lot like that -- someone will build it, if they find the money, if enough people want it, if they get the permits... But maybe not the Lo-Line, as it has been dubbed, somebody else's dream in the bowels of an abandonded subway train station somewhere on the Lowest East Side. New Yorkers don't mind going up high for their dreams, but they already go down in the earth every day for work, so spending money and enduring the noise and dust of construction for years -- it likely won't happen, although they said that about the Second Avenue Line for the subway, and good Lord, they're threatening now to put that damn thing in.
The Metaverse is not special, it's another human artifact. To be sure, I also endowed it with supernatural capacities and still do, to some extent, the way that oh, electricity or the Internet seemed fantastic at one time, and then they didn't.
You know that song they're sending from Mars? Well, I, of all people, predicted that in a science fiction story I wrote in college, imagine that! Me! Really! I can't prove it because I don't know if that story exists anymore in any box, but I did write a story about how radio waves with songs on them floated to space, froze like ice, and then could become accessible by tapping them -- like clicking on an mp3, of course, although in 1974, there was no Internet and no mp3s. I wrote that Elton John's Benny and the Jets would play from the moon and Mars -- that album was popular that year. And what was that tune of his with "Suffragette!" -- no, not the David Bowie one...
Okay, so as I've explained, there are two factors needed to make a virtual world:
o a sense of place
Now, a sense of place cannot be created unless you *have* a place, and that frankly tends to mean a place that stays put, and doesn't fold up into the cloud when you're using it, and that is contiguous to be felt against other places -- a place of exploration and adventure. And those places have to have a *name*. And they have to be properties that people care for. When they are just "the commons," people don't care for them much.
That is, people can have a feeling about "Ahern," which is a common place maintained by Governor Linden, but to the extent that they have feelings about "The Shelter" or "The Ivory Tower of Prims" or "Ravenglass Hall," it's because somebody owns and maintains the property. These things are all bundled together.
That's exactly what Open Sim tries to disentangle in the name of open source cultism, and that's why I find it artificial and unattractive. And in the discussion at Fleep's blog, you find people with whom I don't agree on other things (like Luna Bliss) pointing out the persistent problem with the open sims -- they expect everybody to be in a collective, to "contribute," that everything has to be "shared," that there's a kind of opprobrium about anyone complaining that their stuff is copied and stolen. Yeah, we get it that Maria Koroleva who is always hyping her Hyper-grid made good on it as soon as the problem of Lilith Heart's trees being stolen was pointed out to her. But the point is that someone came on in the comments and said, "But I can make that, and I will give it to you for free."
It's just like this "You didn't build that" nonsense coming from that old Democratic Socialist of America Barack Obama.
Lilith Heart's trees are valued and people buy them and people value them precisely because they *can* buy them -- they make a world, they give a look to a sim that in fact many share but share by dint of personal decision and payment -- and payment to a person who can then go on creating and having her business.
The open sim gang keeps talking about how they have business, but by that they mean somebody has a sim rental concession; they don't have a concept of making the whole world a marketplace viable for buying and selling by everybody -- they disdain this as "greedy" or "closed" or "old fashioned". Honestly, what's wrong with these people?!
I think the essential principle of the Metaverse has to be freedom and pluralism. I don't feel any pressing need for standards to link up all the worlds and make them standardized and "open source". Why? No one needs this. It evolves as it evolves, MMORPGs over there, thin browser post cards like Cloud Party over here, Second Life, with its richness and depth here. It's all good. Let all kinds of worlds appear and attract people -- or not.
I was talking a bit to Ordinal Malaprop about this. While I can't say I grasped everything she said, she talked about working in Unity not for the sake of making a world, but for some other more narrow purpose. Unity is just an access browser or set of protocols, right? It isn't the world itself, which you still have to make with...whatever. Photoshop? Sunglass? She said that she didn't feel a "transparent" Metaverse was necessary. I asked her what she meant by that, and she said that it meant -- if I understood correctly -- interoperable, accessible to each other. And...why? World of Warcraft isn't Second Life. It's ok if you can't get there from here. Oh, you can, by what we like to call...the Internet! Duh! There already is a standardized highway and you don't have to force everything that appears into the coercive open-source mold. Perhaps Steam, if it has Second Life on it, will be the Bridge Between the Worlds, the backbone of the Metaverse, or lots of things like Steam.
There's always this silly indignation and outrage over the fact that Second Life is proprietary, expensive, rich. So what? They built this city, and people also came along with that "your world, your imagination" stuff, and that's okay!
Seriously, if you REAAAALY think cheaper, open source, no-economy servers are better and a "must have," then put them out and see who shows up. Oh, you did, and they didn't. Only edu-punk "critical" (Marxist) educators. That's nice, but that's not a world. I'll never forget how AWFUL the educators were at SLCC in Boston in 2010. Outraged at a film that told a REAL story about the REALITY of SL virtuality, but it wasn't politically correct, it didn't reflect their utopia, so they were in a rage. A young man working out his dysfunctionalities and achieving insight; a black woman becoming an entrepreneur and lifting herself and her family out of poverty; nothing was good enough, nothing was perfect, nothing was the Marxist dream... Fuck 'em.
I think to achieve that openness and freedom, you have to leave the default as the marketplace -- which is what human beings chose again and again over the millenia always and everywhere, except sometimes when they get nutty and sequester themselves off into illusory utopias, like a 19th century American commune or the Soviet Union, which lasted 70 years and massacred millions of people...
Leave the marketplace, leave the copyright, and if someone wants that sequestered-off sandbox, they have that option. Indeed, they took that option, and now Fleep seems to be grousing that no one is showing up. They won't!
We don't know that this particular brand of virtuality might be like the Polaroid camera. Flashing up seemingly out of nowhere, becoming a "must have" for every family, shaping our lives -- I can't even remember certain life events except as Polaroid photos in their funny greenish hue, which is an odd thing -- that Instagram look before there was Instagram. Then, gradually falling out of use...becoming a kind of collector's item...and then utterly removed from the market.
I don't think the server/land metaphor/business model will go away, however, because it works. It works good enough. It may get cheaper; it may not. There's no sense arguing about it because you do have choice now, although people keep privately telling me that even now, the open sims just don't work well enough to justify the bother. Eventually they may.
The question is whether people really "need" virtuality for anything but niche activities, whether building weird art projects or online adult chat and mutual remote masturbation.
I think they will, because I think we are all slowly being virtualized, and that those of us who pioneered in Second Life and the "Metaverse" will in fact be that much better more acclimatized and can help frame the debates -- and there should be debates that are kept open because it is not necessarily "better."
We have to discard this "betterworldism." Fleep talked about how she thought it would be "Better". It's not "better". If anything, it's worse. How could anything that deprives you of THREE of your senses -- taste, touch and smell -- be better? You are disabled in this world without three of your senses. What's better about that, truly?! To be sure, then you can have enhanced sight and hearing experiences, like any disabled person, and you can adapt, but it's not the same. Let's not pretend it is.
Usually, what the utopians mean by "betterness" is some superior form of humanity, some human being that can become more educated, or more civic, or more progressive, or more...something. I reject this because human nature doesn't change and is not perfectable. It is shaped, to be sure, and it can reach toward perfection as a lifelong task, but machines don't perfect it, and in fact diminish it as we can see by the wasteland portions of Second Life -- and by that I don't mean suburban sprawl but the hideousness of BDSM, annoyance builds, and griefing, not to mention the deception and exploitation in personal relationships, often with gender switcheroos.
This Better World concept of the human acquiring better functions and somehow streamlining or eliminating his economy or way of making a living comes straight out of Marx. Remember this?
Further, the division of labour implies the contradiction between the interest of the separate individual or the individual family and the communal interest of all individuals who have intercourse with one another. And indeed, this communal interest does not exist merely in the imagination, as the “general interest,” but first of all in reality, as the mutual interdependence of the individuals among whom the labour is divided. And finally, the division of labour offers us the first example of how, as long as man remains in natural society, that is, as long as a cleavage exists between the particular and the common interest, as long, therefore, as activity is not voluntarily, but naturally, divided, man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him. For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. This fixation of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to naught our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now.
And so Marx dispenses haughtily with the occupations and professions that form institutions in society and create value, and so he collectivizes all human activity for the nebulous commune which always turns out to fill up with a few exploiters. The division of labor is rational and makes for a higher civilization as not everyone has to be dependent -- selling the services so that others are free to do other things, dividing up labor -- smart! Communism would regress backward to the village, the peasant's mir (the Russian world for "world" or "peace" and also part of the form of communal government). And that's exactly what open sim yearns for -- everybody has to contribute, everybody has to be part of the "commmuuuuuunity".
Marx's famous quote is often only partially quoted without its context of ruination of rational civilization and regression to the village -- it is quoted as if communism frees man from drudgery and enables him to do all sorts of interesting occupations and even have time to write literary criticism at night! It's like Lenin's concept that "every cook shall rule the state". And so they do...
To be sure, I think there are certain "affordances" as the cool kids say about virtual worlds that enable for certain improved elements of communication -- that minds can meet without the hobbling or distraction of all kinds of things from accent to gender to social status to nationality. But in reality, those features always bleed through, or people force them out when they get mad enough.
Yesterday I ran into a newbie at the Moth Temple with an interesting name that illustrated her desire to boldly enter the world. I chatted with her for awhile, and I asked her if she knew what the word "Metaverse" meant -- she'd never heard of it. Later she said she didn't know what "epistimology" meant either -- some other avatar with a pretentious religious name had put that in his list of interests, and I IM'd him flippantly, "epistimology, eh?" and he wrote back snarkily, "and?" and I decided to refrain from writing back, "and, if I missed the opportunity to instantly dislike you the first time I opened up your profile, I can now make up for lost time". I congratulated myself for this snappy repartee but then the other newbie said how wierd the guy was, accusing both of us in fact of knowing each other and being "liars" about who were were. Well, wasn't that *his* problem?
And...it's the generic problem of virtuality, really, in that you just don't know what you're dealing with. I always feel a bit uneasy approaching all those newbies. Half of them are bots. Some of them are hopelessly stupid kids. Perhaps there is some normal curious adult you can help. But this one with the bold name said she had come to Second Life hoping not to spend any money, because she had seen a show on TV about how people "played there" to the exclusion of their real life, i.e. their dishes undone, the kids roaming and whining in dirty diapers, etc. Yes, we know shows like that! And we know people like that!
But you know, among the many tenants I have, there are really very few like that. Most people I know in SL without a moment's thought will say, "real life calls," "AFK, kid's crying". It's very common for people to tell me that they have to refund now, they're off to real life. Busy with other things. Meeting new people. Taking a break! Most people come on for a few hours, shop, chit-chat, and even their love lives aren't so central as you might think. They like to build.
The first thing this newbie asked me was how she could find land and build something. See, they used to tell newbies "you don't need land to have fun". Now I found myself even telling her about Linden Homes -- because it's easier to get the account for $9.95 with the click-through screens on the web than to figure out how to buy the money on the Lindex and then fuss around with rental boxes. The one thing I wish the Lindens would do is make it easier for newbies to easily buy packs of money without having to get subscriptions. You should be able to get a screen that offers you L$1000 for US$3.75 and gets you started. It could be the Shoppers' Account. Wouldn't that be great? Instead of having Supply Linden pay into the LindEx to keep it "under control".
I was explaining this and that to this newbie -- the freebies, how she could hang out in my land preserve and didn't have to rent or buy land, but it was a buyer's paradise now. She said she didn't want to spend money, she was trying to understand it all. I told her about the bots. And then at some point, after teleporting around here and there, and after I told her about $50 Linden Fridays at participating stores, she said, "Wow, this is another world!" I mean, it was a lot of things, but it was partly about the $50 Linden Fridays, too. That people made something called "$50 Linden Fridays," a special institution, yes, homey and shoppy, but so what? That's what makes a world. A sense of place, where there are outfits for $50 Lindens, on Fridays!
I don't really know what Philip expects when he envisions the secondlifification of everything. He used to talk about how wonderful it was that you could make pseudonymous accounts and start a business and fail if you need to, and start over, and you'd have that luxury in virtuality. But it's so unaccountable! How many people have fled their failed businesses in SL leaving their shafted customers!
Fleep's Chilbo is probably the most successful Second Life community that ever was. That's because the other more Linden-celebrated utopia, Neualtenberg, ended in tears and terrorism, with the radical Ulricha Zugzwang vowing to tear down all the buildings she built and the banning of her from her creations. It's successors in the Confederation of Democratic States seem to collapse in a muddle of Islamic fundamentalist romantic nonsense and the suppression of free speech and minorities. What else is there? Gor?
Yet despite its unquestionable success, it didn't make it possible for a simple -- seemingly -- thing to happen. For someone like me to take a course online at my own pace for real credit, for a reasonable fee, easily. Never did anything like that ever appear (you can't count the crazy Canadians because they weren't in Second Life -- it was only some Second Lifers that held some meetings around their nutty course in SL). Even those celebrated "Open Universities" and "critical education theorists" couldn't see their way clear to making courses really available to anyone online without matriculation and heavy costs. Why?
Even so, Chilbo served its purpose, which was to create a community of educators and others interested in sharing knowledge and practice. Fleep called it a "community of practice". I hate that concept, because it is deeply rooted in collectivist and Marxist ideology. I don't like "communities of practice" -- they are stifling and horrid. Whenever I've encountered them, I've found them to be hidebound and self-righteous and Puritanical about open source cultism. No thanks! But it's ok, each to his own, and Chilbo served its users and was a nice place to be. Occasionally I would drop in at the library or the build for that hilariously sectarian massive multiplayer online course in collectivism by those two wacky Canadian professors.
And now Chilbo has to be "privatized," as all collectivized things ultimately have to be (they had to sell the Soviet Union off for a song). Who will tier Town Hall? It's sad, because the collective is then revealed really to be a couple of enthusiasts doing everything.... I just don't think these things are viable. I think with the mainland, especially, you should take advantage of the fact that people can make separate accounts and put tier on them and them join in a group... and no doubt that was done... but...
The saddest thing I read clicking around on Fleep's site is that her little Fleepworld -- a grid of its own that she runs herself with open sim stuff -- was griefed repeatedly, deliberately. And it didn't seem like you could just easily go on a land menu and remove the prims from a list of names. It seemed so much more difficult... Now why are there griefers in this perfect world? Why? And instead of being public about this and open, these open source cultists in her comments wanted her to shut up about this griefing, and not talk about its methods or its mitigations, because then they might "get ideas". Good Lord, when are we going to get over this goddamn omerta over griefing! Only exposure and publication will help.
I just don't know why there is so much fretting about Linden Lab having a lock on the "Metaverse" that it does. There is open sim and its various permutations after all. It's like what the Russian activist said when he heard about this contrived UN-speak "right to development" which was the third-worldist shakedown street. "So nu, develop?" he said. Truly, develop? What's stopping you? Oh, your kleptocratic government and clan wars? Develop! You have open sim, build away!
Your creations are "stuck"? Oh please. Not really. Everyone knows full well there are devices to copy whole builds and sims, and if they're yours, why whine? If they aren't, too bad? This desire to have everything replicated, to have it again -- remember Ransom's insight in C.S. Lewis' Perelandra? The bane of mankind, to have to have everything *again*. It was never enough, just once. It had to be had *again*. The disease of replication. Why can't you just start over again in another world? Isn't that fun? Or use the same name -- that's portable! And textures, and scripts, and grid locations -- all portable! So some prim can't be preserved. So what? Things are moving to sculpties and mesh anyway, aren't they? Isn't that what you wanted? So why are you whining?
Ultimately, the Metaverse is about governance -- and that's where the drama comes in. Isn't it telling that this fabulous Better World has so many problems trying to organize its real-world conventions?! Fleep lays out all of this as well. And that's understandable, because the groups pursuing virtuality are wildly different in culture and values and don't really share the same principles. The founding pioneers refused to accept that. Remember when Cocoanut used to say, "Just wait til the world grows." And it did, thank God, and still does!
FlipperPay Peregrine writes about cutting a $139,000 check, implying this came out of his own pocket. of course it didn't, as it was made up of the fees of participants and the fees of advertisers! And didn't Linden Lab have to bail out the Chicago SLCC to prevent collapse? He mentions a dispute with me, but forgets to write that it was about a decision he took with his pal Jeska Linden, who was not acting in her Linden capacity, supposedly, to ban me from this convention (?!) -- a proposition so absurd that Robert Scoble actually denounced it publicly in a California newspaper at the time. Imagine! Over what...my legitimate critique of those "founding fathers" who had such a hammerlock on the world! I'll never forget how Flipper lobbied and lobbied to gain control over the events list, so that no one would ever *gasp* be able to use it either for commerce and selling things or anything he and his little buddies felt wasn't aesthetic or appropriate enough. Flipper, whose main contribution to SLCC was getting roaring drunk and turning it into a frat party.
The beauty of the Metaverse to me is that you can channel -- you don't have to take the whole person, with all the elements that may not jibe -- but you can surf and meander and pick and choose, and people who have nothing in common can still communicate and collaborate without having to be chained at the hip -- there is the ease of use and communication and creativity that affords all that. It really is the best part. And until it gets better, the Metaverse can wait...