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Avatars react to the first reading…

by on September 19, 2011

Avatar Existential Befuddlement - Murray Introduction to the New Media Reader

A couple of things struck me in particular in the first reading and also during our first meeting discussion. Those are reflected in the quotes I selected for the avatar’s comic dialog bubbles and the boxes.

The first is the recurring theme of the different ways that humanists vs scientist/engineers frame the analysis of the benefits (or problems) of technology in general. I was a chemistry major in college in the late 60s and a chem grad student in the early 1970s. I had very few electives to spend on humanities, and even if I had, the radical changes in thinking about these issues mainly played out from the mid 1970s-90s. If I had stayed purely in my role as a chemistry faculty member, it’s possible that I’d still be fairly clueless.

Chris Roman commented that the NMR introduction read like the story of her life through the 80s and 90s. How fascinating to learn that someone I met through a science visualization conference and who works with emerging technologies in a major Science Center was formerly an English professor. I’m looking forward to more discussions among participants from diverse perspectives as we read the essays that were briefly described in the introduction to the New Media Reader. I’ve read much more broadly since the early 1990s, partly because of my keen interest in theories of learning, learning from visualizations, and the mechanisms of change and reform in higher education. Being inside a disciplinary bubble or perspective is something I’ve come to dread, or at least to fight hard against. The world is quite interestingly complex.

The boxes in the cartoon reflect my thinking about our course setting in the virtual world. The idea of Second Life as a “place” where you are with real people is familiar, but thinking of or reacting to the flat web in that way is a new idea to me. The “spatial properties” and “embodying dimensionality” are palpable in Second Life. Are we on a continuum? Or are the concepts actually different in 2D vs 3D?

The idea of being together in space is introduced in the discussion of The Well and other online text-based communities beginning in the 1980s. Jung Choi commented that the NMR book was published in 2003, before the explosion in the social nature of the web, and that made it dated. Collaboration online is much more on everyone’s minds these days, and the social features in online apps continue to become more mainstream. That’s true, but I think the arc of the storyline that lead us here started much earlier.

Being in Berkeley for grad school, we naturally were aware of Stuart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog. But we left the Bay Area well before the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link (The Well) was formed, and it was 15 more years before I even learned of its existence. I know that many techies in Second Life can trace their online communities back much farther than I can. Compuserve didn’t tempt me in the late 1980s. It took the graphical nature of AOL to get me online in 1989, and I still didn’t have the time for (or desire to pay the cost of) interacting much back there. It took 3D to really suck me in. Now that community I began forming in Second Life in 2007 stretches out across many areas of the 2D web and beyond.

So, there are many interesting strands to pursue. I’m looking forward to it.


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