I caught just the tail end of a mixed-reality panel discussion today on "From
Global to Local: Virtual Worlds, Immigration, and Linguistic Diaspora," taking place both at USC Annenberg Island in Second Life (teleport SLURL) and the Tecnológico de Monterrey Campus Santa Fe, in Mexico City. The panel was to discuss how "the interdependence of our world is highlighted
ever more dramatically by the role the virtual worlds are providing for
social good – especially opportunities to explore new forms democracy,
public diplomacy, migration and intercultural dialogue."
Benjamin Barber of CivWorld gave some very negative commentary what he saw as the disconnect between the commerce and simulated sex in Second Life and the challenge of providing for real human needs. I think he overstated the case, ignoring the reality and the real potential for virtual spaces to revivify the public sphere and spur new kinds of social and charitable engagement, while harping on about "virtual genitalia." Many of the avatars in attendance were incensed, particularly Prokofy Neva. Regardless, it was an interesting focal point for discussion.
More positive were the recorded comments of Brazilian musician and Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil, which you can view (with English subtitles) on DotSub.com. Gil basically presents his vision of virtual worlds as new spaces where different kinds of diasporas — cultural, ethnic, linguistic — can connect with each other in new ways and imagine new ways of living in the future. With the huge upsurge in Brazilian registrations for Second Life accounts over the past few months, Mr. Gil clearly sees that this will be a medium that Brazilian citizens have shown a strong interest in engaging in.
I copy the loose transcription of his remarks below if you are really impatient with the video…
Rough English translation of Gilberto Gil’s comments to Interdependence Day V Conference from DotSub video:
What is the role of virtual worlds in promoting intercultural dialogue and in reconnecting the linguistic diaspora?
It is one of amplifying spaces. Generating another layer. A new noospace. A new layer of knowledge, of information, of affectivity. New possibilities that Second Life and other tools being used on the internet can offer.
The diasporas, there are many. From concrete diasporas, which are contained in the forms of individuals, nations, societies of the world that had to migrate to other places. But it is also cultural diaspora, a linguistic diaspora, as you mentioned. There are languages, world visions, archives, cultural collections that migrated, that left their original places and were dispersed through the world.
Re-connectability is one of the MOST important elements of this new electronic world, especially in this new “LOKA”… in the Sanskrit sense of the world world.. it’s a new planet.
Virtual worlds such as Second Life can rebuild the world of the diasporas in a brand new way. in a more evolved and more advanced way, with other layers of connection that are not yet in real life, but that virtual worlds can offer, with chances of influencing real life itself in the future. Utopian territories… new utopias which can become the future …
I think this is a basic principle guiding the exploration of such a concept: turning future virtual worlds such as Second Life, into a new stimulator, a new instructor, a new informer of real life.
How do you see the possibilities of artists in general using such a platform to present their works? And what about government programs like Cultura Viva and the Cultural Hotspots?
To the artists… they are individuals, autonomous initiators, particularistic and absolutely free. They do what they want, think what they want, and they configure their profiles as they wish. Second Life is there, it is a very nice opportunity, the avatars, these doubles of artists will utilize that space in the way they want. Presenting their musical world, their alternative perspectives, which perhaps could not find space in the real world yet. There, in the virtual worlds, they will find open spaces, unlimited, where all experiences are possible.
For a state, for initiatives of states and governments, virtual worlds such as Second Life should allow a broad adaptability. The space which is being institutionalized, in the case of Second Life, with issues of private territories and more needs to be made compatible with another territoriality which is able to shelter state and governmental processes.
There are requirements and questions … in this case, I think it is Second Life which has to adapt itself obviously. I already have… I am starting to work on my first Second Life avatar. We are formatting him, trying to imagine his moves. It is a very interesting project, that must be open to the great conceptual contributions that come from many places.
I wish that all of you gathered out there, elaborating further on the possibilities of virtual worlds and Second Life, I wish you a fine meeting. Is it in Mexico? In Brazil? Or in virtual worlds?
5 thoughts on “Ben Barber slams Second Life, Brazilian Minister Gilberto Gil argues that it connects diasporas”
Connecting Diasporas… hrm… so how long before a virtual Yasser Arafat claims that Ir Shalom is Muslim Holy Ground and demands a handover of that sim and Nessus?
You, know, more people in the audience were even more incensed than I was at the idea that there *isn’t* “progressive stuff” in SL — when people go to all this trouble to bring it into SL and use SL to pursue their various movements.
It’s not the criticism of SL as “shallow” or “consumerist” or “obsessed with cybersex” etc that is bothersome — that’s true as far as it goes.
It’s the inability to understand that you don’t hold up technological progress on social media and communications just because the poor of the world don’t have broadband and high-end graphic cards and disposable income for pixelated products.
And the inability to understand that this facile and rigid notion that you just supposedly arrange some grand global transfer of wealth to alleviate poverty.
Absolutely no appreciation of the fact that these droves of Brazilians coming into SL and making money there and being creative and successful are all part of what makes opportunity and creates jobs and wealth that is indeed the matrix for helping countries out of poverty. This hatred and scorn of the middle class is really annoying. It’s more than fine to celebrate entertainment and fun and creativity and art and having livlihoods in SL based on these things. This dour Marxist Calvinism is for the birds.
It was very interesting to see the opinions on the MG when Mr. Barber decided to make his comments. I am a TG resident, but I live in Mexico City, so thanks to Global Kids and USC I could attend the conference, so I got to see a bit of the MG on the screen, hah.
In my opinion, the sad thing about it all is not that Mr. Barber thinks that Second Life and a significant part of the digital media are good for nothing; I mean, everyone is entitled to have an opinion. The sad thing for me was that he simply refused to listen to what the panellists had to say because he thinks SL is pointless. As simple as that.
I don’t know how many people on the MG noticed, but six panellists were scheduled to make a presentation (3 offline, 3 in-world), and two of them could not make theirs because of time limitations. Why time limitations? Because Mr. Barber decided he’d make his response to the panel BEFORE the presentations were over – not afterwards. This also caused a series of comments from the audience, to which the offline panellists had to respond. Two of the virtual panellists didn’t get a chance to make the presentations they had already prepared because time was over and Mr. Barber decided that they were not relevant enough for the event to be extended ten minutes (he did not actually say that they were not relevant, though, in case you were wondering).
I don’t think that this comes down to a “SL rocks, SL sucks” thing. It’s an issue of tolerance. The room was filled with major decision makers, world leaders and people who work in the academia of social science, so seeing the immediate support to Mr. Barber’s statements was very disappointing for me (and a thing to write in my “reasons why I won’t study political science when I go to uni” list). They were not given an opportunity to speak while the last panel that day was extended for half an hour (in my opinion, not because of interestingness -at least judging by the number of people who fell asleep or decided to leave during the panel-, but because of the obvious inability to make concise statements and reaching real conclusions).
The panels were interesting (not denying that at all), but it is scary to see refusals of that type to happen in places where everyone but me has spent more than six years in university, and where some have even represented countries in the UN.
Was there anyone there who typically would not be incensed? Those ‘other avatars’ might be interesting to hear about.
Prokofy Neva being incensed is hardly spectacular. In fact, if Prok is quiet and doesn’t cause trouble – write about that. Heh. 🙂
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