Immersionism and Augmentationism Revisited

Where is Gwyneth Llewelyn?

Thanks to Jade Lily, there was an event on “Immersionism vs. Augmentism” on SL’s Orange Island, moderated by Tom Bukowski, our “resident anthropologist”. The discussion was lively — even if necessarily “short”, a lot remained to be said about the subject, as always 🙂 But several bloggers (many of which attended the event) talked about the issue all over again; it’s clear that Henrik Bennetsen’s essay on the subject is still being read and discussed and that there is still a lot to be said about the two philosophies.

I used to be an “Immersionist” way before I knew what that meant. There were good reasons for me not to reveal my real identity back in 2004 (I had been stalked in RL through the Internet before, as people looked me up on blogs and forums I participated). I wished to continue the joy of participating on a vibrant online community that allowed me both to elude eventual stalkers, and a place where I could have some freedom of expression without fear. Second Life allowed all that — nay, back in 2004, it was even mandatory to keep quiet about your RL! — so I was immediately attracted to it. More to the point, I found out several hundreds (or thousands perhaps) of residents that had the same view. These were collectively labeled “Immersionists” later on.

“Immersionism” was a “tag” that we used like, say, “Americans” might use that tag to describe their personal relationship with the USA. People were individually different in their relationship to SL — like obviously no two Americans think the same way about their country and culture. When Philip made his bold statement of “I’m not building a game; I’m building a country”, this hit the mark completely. Thus I like Rheta Shan‘s definition: “Immersionists” are “citizens of the metaverse”, which is the place/country where they spend (part) of their lives; the rest — people who don’t feel any ties/bonds to SL like we do — are “tourists”. In some extreme cases, a tourist that spends a lot of time in SL, even using it as part of their work (and certainly as part of their leisure), might become “immigrants” — tourists that love the place they’re in, spending a lot of time thinking about it and living in it, but still not feeling that special bond that we “metaverse citizens” feel.

Later on, this class of users became labeled as “Augmentationists”. Obviously, again, there are lots of gradations — it’s not a black/white definition, and there are no pure Immersionists or pure Augmentationists. In fact, my hardest decision was to start doing RL work in SL — where, exactly, would be the separation line? When sending out emails to partners, colleagues, and proposals to customers, I sign them with my “pen name” (even many of my colleagues call me “Gwyn” on the phone 🙂 ). But obviously when meeting “in the flesh” (which sometimes is necessary) things are different. Sure, there is a continuum between my pseudonym and my flesh-avatar on the physical world, but where exactly does “Gwyn” stop being a “citizen of the metaverse” and becomes a “citizen of Planet Earth”? Put into other words, when I send out an email to a real company and sign it as Gwyneth Llewelyn, am I being an Immersionist or an Augmentist? It’s tough to draw the line when people cross both worlds, and have bonds and ties to both.

Why, then, the debate? Well, the Internet, as most of you know, exists thanks to a common set of protocols, globally collected on guidelines and rules called “RFCs”. There are RFCs to describe how email, the Web, or DNS works. Most are technical. A few are social — RFC1855, for instance, defines the rules for participation on online communities — Netiquette. And part of Netiquette says disturbing things like:

Don’t badger other users for personal information such as sex, age, or location. […]

If a user is using a nickname alias or pseudonym, respect that user’s desire for anonymity. Even if you and that person are close friends, it is more courteous to use his nickname. Do not use that person’s real name online without permission.

Interesting, isn’t it? Specially because these rules were set up back in October 1995. These quoted paragraphs were targetted at MUD/MOO users and the early MMOGs, but they apply rather well to complex virtual worlds like Second Life, and Linden Lab certainly had them in mind when putting them in their Terms of Service.

Now you might say, “oh, but these are just guidelines, we can safely ignore them if we don’t like them”. Well, yes and no. People “ignore” other RFCs too — that’s why Microsoft’s IE does not comply fully with the RFC establishing how HTML should be rendered. Microsoft is big and powerful enough to be able to push violations of the RFCs as common practice (to be honest, though, IE7 is much more complaint than any other browser that MS released in the past), but, in general, most people and organisations do indeed comply with the thousands of RFCs. If they didn’t, the Internet wouldn’t exist at all — since to voluntarily connect your own network to the Big Internet, you are expected to voluntarily abide by the RFCs — all of them, not only the ones you happen to like! So you should abide by RFC1855 too, even if it is only about social responsibilities and relationships in an online world.

Linden Lab certainly agreed with that view at the beginning of Second Life. This meant that oldtimers like me, used to netiquette and all those old-fashioned concepts, naturally came to Second Life as a “place” where these old-fashioned rules and guidelines were the norm — and were actively enforced, through LL’s terms of service. They were fully “immersed” (pun intended!) in the overall spirit of the Internet.

Still, things change. MySpace, Facebook, Friendster and all those “social networking platforms” introduced a counter-culture to the whole principles of the Old Internet. Here, people would show themselves in their true colours, talk about their real lives, post their real pictures, talk about their real issues. The current mainstream generation of “netizens” are used to bring in their real identities to the online space; they shun anyone that doesn’t do the same; and they seriously suspect about the intentions of anyone using a pseudonym.

It’s undeniable that these two extremes — the ones living pseudonymously on the Internet, faithful to the old principles; the new generation that wants to push their identity to a wide audience — were consolidated in these two philosophies: Augmentism (online communities are communication tools) and Immersionism (“cyberspace” is a place in itself with which we create our own emotional bindings). As time goes by, and the Internet became mainstream (as did Second Life!), it’s obvious that nobody cares about the old Netiquette rules. In 1995-7 I used to teach Netiquette to clients before I taught them how to use email; in 2005, I still taught in-world classes about Netiquette in Virtual Worlds.

But now these relics of the past are pretty much useless. Like we don’t teach people how to use a phone — or how to behave when doing a phone communication — it’s pointless to teach them how to use online communication tools. The rules and guidelines that served in the past to a community that had special views and interests, and a philosophy to back those up, are worthless when new paradigms have completely put the whole issue upside down. Instead of considering unpolite to ask for A/S/L on chatrooms, A/S/L is nowadays almost a requirement to participate — and if you don’t agree in revealing your own personal data (backed up by a webcam, of course), you’re going to be ostracised, labelled as “anti-social”, and become a “weirdo” that is “alienated” from reality. When, in fact, you were just being polite according to old established social norms.

In Second Life, for a while, there was a revivalism of the “old social norms”. Linden Lab certainly embraced them fully, and it’s not very surprising, considering their background. But, like the rest of the Internet community, they realised they were pushing a model of social behaviour that was not consistent with the contemporary philosophy. Thus, things like voice and identification were introduced — requirements for an augmentationist world, where it is essential and necessary to prove your real identity on a virtual space to avoid stigmatism. The next level will probably be a mapping from webcam-captured data onto your avatar’s facial features (a work which is under progress); at some point, however, it’s very likely that all avatars freshly created will have faces from automated replicas of your own face, captured through a webcam (which pretty much every computer has these days). Obviously you might tweak your own avatar afterwards, but people will expect that all newbies at least have “RL avatars” as closely as possible to their RL persona. Augmentationism will, ultimately, win the long battle.

Several bloggers commented that both viewpoints are not really “opposites”. I agree that there is a lot of grey shades, and, like Henrik claims, both extremes are archetypes which don’t really exist in pure form. Even the most die-hard augmentationist will cry when reading a very sad book, thus feeling emotions inside a “virtual” environment (the one described by the author of the book). And even the most die-hard immersionist will, at some point, admit to having a life beyond the Internet and its online communities (although in some cases I seriously suspect they don’t 🙂 ). Most people will struggle with the privacy/identification issues without being “labelled” as immersionists/augmentationists; augmentationists can worry about privacy issues, and immersionists might feel that RL credentials can be often useful to get a job or sustain an argument better.

So why is the issue still being discussed? Linden Lab subtly manipulates our environment by changing the rules. Most of these changes are too subtle to be noticed; others drive residents to dispair. A good example is the banking ban. Other platforms (like Entropia Universe) sold banking licenses to any bank that wished to apply; the creators of EU are interested in regulating the market. Linden Lab simply forced all non-RL banks to close down — an augmentationist victory. The same, of course, happens with voice — LL has invested a lot of time and money in that augmentationist technology, and they know that if they make it the default means of communication, they’ll appeal to the far larger augmentationist culture — the MySpace/Facebook generation which is only concerned about providing as much of their RL personality into online environments. The compromise is hard to meet, but at least people have an option to self-segregate themselves into the ghettos of obscurity, walling themselves away from the dominant culture. Linden Lab is not happy about this evolution — if they were, they would be pushing for it much harder — mostly because many of them are strong Netiquette believers and come from a different online culture. But they’re slowly giving up the fight. Take Torley as an example — perhaps one of the best examples of a “pure Immersionist” that slowly moved over to the “other camp”. Torley Linden, née Torgesson, started as a purely virtual construct — obviously immersed in Second Life as deep as no other. He earned the motto “The Soul of Second Life” since he embodied all the good that Second Life had to offer – immersion, privacy, creativity, communication, relationships, friendship, eagerness, exploration, fun, and an incredible open mind towards all types of people and their philosophies. Torley started using his own voice on his videos a year ago or so; and nowadays, you can see his RL pictures and RL image on the videos as well. He abandoned Immersionism gradually, step by step, and is now at the bridge between the two philosophies. I think that he is still the Soul of Second Life — mostly, he is showing everybody else that the “old philosophies” are slowly fading out of this world, and that all Immersionists have to understand that they live on an evolved environment, one where things like “immersion” and “privacy” are far less important than “identity” and self-promotion of your “real” identity. But, in purely Torley-esque fashion, he does all of this in the most friendly and fun way possible. Moving over to Augmentism does not need to be hurtful; it can be entertaining and fullfilling, too. It will hurt less and less as people open their minds and sever their ties to the virtual world and start thinking of it as a bridge between many people, many cultures, many philosophies.

So will we still talk about this issue in, say, a decade? I think so. A whole new generation has popped up, away from the old Netiquette and the new MySpace-in-your-face generations, and they are exploring the notion of “cyberspace as a country”. They have new ideas and are experimenting with new things. They’re, for instance, the landowners and content creators that never opened up a business in real life, but that are successful businesspersons in Second Life, and amazed at drawing an income from it. They are the philosophers that meet with similar-minded people, and that understand that things like reputation in a virtual world does not require credentials from Harvard, Yale, the MIT or Cornell, or being born in the Kennedy family, or being reviewed by the New York Times or Washington Post. The virtual environment of Second Life, with its 13 million residents (sure, only a part are active; but isn’t that the same in real life, too?), provides a breeding ground for its own rules — its own models of defining success; its own reputation; its own business models. Like “tourists” going out into a different country with a different culture, and sometimes returning back and back because they like what they see, becoming immigrants, and then full citizens as they feel themselves “immersed” in a country’s own, peculiar, culture, the same happens to this “new generation” (and obviously affects many of the SL veteran residents too).

In Second Life, we’re not Americans, Europeans, Australians, Brazilians, Japanese, all sharing the same environment, tolerating each other’s views and cultures, and getting together for inter-cultural discussion, friendship, and business. We’re so much more than that: we’re Second Life Residents, and we have our own culture, our own way to establish relationships and make business. The ones that accept that they are residents are, indeed, Immersionists. The “tourists” are Augmentationist visitors, that we can only hope they find here what they like, and become Immersionists after a while. Does this really happen, or is it just wishful thinking? Well, I rest my case by using IBM as an example. They looked at SL, and liked what they saw, and started exploring it (like a good, Augmentationist company). Now they’re part of the community and accepted as such. “Outsiders” look at what IBM is doing and ask themselves for how long Big Blue can waste money, time, and effort to stay in SL. But the residents just see a company that has “immersed” itself in Second Life, like they have “immersed” themselves so successfully in a hundred countries or so in the past half century — and thus become an example for others to follow. These things happen. Slowly — mostly with anedoctal evidence — but they’re being explored right now as we speak.

So there is still much to discuss and learn from the Second Life experience. By contrast, MySpace is actually “no space at all” — it’s just self-promoting identities in an online environment. Second Life can certainly be just that — but it offers a lot more. And while we reflect on what that “much more” actually is, and how our own feelings, emotions, and relationships (both personal and business) are changed by it, we continue to keep the Immersionist vs. Augmentist debate alive.

Disclaimer: the “tourist” analogy is a brilliant concept from Rheta Shan in her blog entry so appropriately named “The world Philip made

Many thanks to Insula for her lovely picture of Praça do Comércio in Lisbon that I used as background for this article!

CC BY 4.0 Immersionism and Augmentationism Revisited by Gwyneth Llewelyn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

About Gwyneth Llewelyn

I'm just a virtual girl in a virtual world...

  • Ahem… While tourist as concept may be only implicit in SL, it is reality for ages in Active Worlds. And honestly, if Linden Lab would be dare enough, they would make that concept as basic reality from first entrance too. But then it would be difficult to manipulate adjust percent rate of neofits into Church of Immersionism… argh, I mean level of regular visitors statistics for VCs and prospective corporate customers 😀

  • Interesting post, ma’am. I’m going to skip over the immersion/augmentation part and get to the part I took some issue with.

    Honestly, this article saddened me, and I’m speaking from those feelings when I write this. That may not be the best way to respond, but I think I have some rational differences with your statements as well, so here goes…

    all Immersionists have to understand that they live on an evolved environment, one where things like “immersion” and “privacy” are far less important than “identity” and self-promotion of your “real” identity.

    That may definitely be true in SL of late, but I don’t think it represents some monolithic cultural prerogative, and I don’t think it means we all have to toe the line and make the supposedly “painless” transition to augmentationism.

    Sure, you and Torley may have slid slowly towards one end of the spectrum, but does that mean it’s the only valid point on the spectrum to occupy?

    There are still people out there now who feel as you did then

    I wished to continue the joy of participating on a vibrant online community that allowed me both to elude eventual stalkers, and a place where I could have some freedom of expression without fear.

    So…if someone enters virtual worlds now, will they find that this is now an invalid stance?

    People play everything from chess to online MUDs, even though we have World of Warcraft, and there are still people who ride bicycles, even though we have cars. The world has hundreds of religions, thousands of customs. Some have died out (Have you met any Albigensians lately?), but many have continued long after they were deemed passe by the enlightened elite who knew how things would “ultimately” turn out.

    And…there will always be people who enjoy living another life, in another world. Exploring, building, making clothes, learning, teaching…all of it inside that world. Always.

    I know this, because I am one of those people. I like who I am. And you may be able to argue that being a Digital Person is passe, you can never argue that I myself don’t enjoy being one.

    And as long as there are enough of us, and software and infrastructure to support us (and I think there will be), the world will go on. Maybe not in SL, where customs are shifting, but somewhere. We may end up like the Amish, but we’re sure as hell not going to end up like the American Indians.

    It’s not a ghetto if you can meet your basic needs. It’s not a ghetto if you have friends and family. It’s not a ghetto if you are not alone. It’s not a ghetto if you all believe it’s not.

    We will not go gentle into that good night, ma’am. We will not.

  • Argent, I’m glad to see that a few are still eager to resist the change 😉

    I’m personally quite disappointed myself. It has been a long fight, and I’m not sure if it was worth fighting it at all. It’s like trying to stop a whole dam from breaking apart with just your finger… and, worse than that, everybody insisting that you remove it!

    For the record, I think I’m the first person in my country that managed to give a class in a RL university giving my avatar name to their internal Moodle… a few students never even learned my real name. Which was sort of weird, but — it seems to be possible if you try hard enough.

    The final chime of hope is the one I added about IBM. IBM is what I call an “immersionist company”. They’re in SL as IBM, of course, but they’re “fitting” in the overall scheme of things. They are believers in virtuality. They seem to understand that, like setting up a company on another country, they need to adapt to the “special rules” in SL. And these few rules that we have — ToS, Community Standards, Netiquette — have come from the old Immersionists.

    So there is a sliver of hope here. Who knows what the future might bring. The worst case scenario is the one you’ve described: we’re all going to be herded into some sort of ghetto. Even if we paint it in bright colours and declare it’s not a ghetto at all — but OurSpace™.

  • Ma’am, let me apologize for not giving you the most charitable reading. Some statements in here lead me to read this as a blanket death sentence for the values of old SL, whereas now it reads more like the sad recollection of a weary battle.

    Honestly, I don’t even feel that much need to extend myself into First Life. Some of us are pushing on that front and trying to do business in First Life, but that is outside my sphere. I just like the feeling that SL is a world serves itself first and FL second. And…I like being me when I am here, not my First Life self. Escapism? Maybe, but by those rights escapism was the norm here not too long ago.

    And again…it’s not a ghetto if we have full and rewarding experiences there and are free to be ourselves…it’s a community. ^_^

    So, don’t write things off yet, and don’t despair. Every generation breeds new things, sometimes old ideas return with greater vigor than before, and people will always need to dream.

  • A great post, Gwyn. I’m going to return to this and read through it again.

  • To augment and to immerse are not to be opposed things to do, they have nothing to do with each other. Sure, it was necessary to have that false dichotomy in the old days but, as you said,times are changing and we now have to polish our terms and (accordingly) our thinking about the world we live in/use. Problem here is not that there are two camps, problem is that camps are bad defined and that a whole lot of other terms are being connected deliberately. Usually, those are privacy and anonymity. Anonymity is usually connected with immersionism and opposed to augmentation. Well, that makes not much sense if one think a bit. One can be fully immersed without keeping the name from the ID card, Torley and IBM are good examples. On the other hand, one can augment, extend into virtual environment, without giving any of data tourists are insisting on. It is just that tourists are insisting on something that is strange in the land they came to. It is like insisting to use your local driver’s license in the foreign country. In the metaverse, dandellion Kimban is my name. It is unique (which is something that meatspace names are not) and it is connected to particular avatar and a particular human! Thanks to LL’s database, that name can be traced (in the case of law breaking) to a human with a first life name, address and credit card number. In the metaverse, it is less anonymous and less “fake” than if I tell somebody my first life name and even show the scan of my ID card. Sure, data that connects “dandellion Kimban” to particular human in the meatspace are (hopefully) well protected in LL’s databases. That is the question of security. The best thing LL could do to please all those tourists whose argument is that anonymity is bad for biz is to offer a possibility of, on avatar’s written request, giving that data to the interested party. LL or some other trustworthy company if we can find it. Privacy is yet an another issue. I feel old-fashioned in my thirties, saying that this whole world has gone mad with that facebook trend of giving names, photos and personal calendars in public. The whole internet is turning to one big reality show. Which is ok as long as all the participants are consent about that. Though we might use a bit of education for the reasons of security. It is not my first life data being public that keeps our kids safe, it is that our kids, and ourselves, knowing what (and with whom) should be shared online. Sure, there are many groups that have interest in revealing as much as possible about ourselves. But is it really wise to go with the focus groups of the marketing companies flow? And for what reasons?

    Argent, if just basic needs are satisfied and a group is pressed in just one part of the available space without much opportunity to live and work outside of that space, then it is a ghetto.

    What I don’t understand here is why both Argent and Gwyn are feeling so low like world is changing for bad. It is changing, that is for sure, but if it is going to be for bad depends on us. For the start, I don’t feel that Torley and IBM are moving towards tourism. Yes, Torley introduced voice, but was that a step against immersion really? Some of you had the pleasure of listening one of the good DJ’s in SL. Fully immersed, post-roleplayer, transgendered avie… who is using voice. And, if I may notice, that is one of the most persuasive avatars I have a pleasure to talk to. That is not a step back to tourism and revealing the “real human” behind, let alone anti-immersion step. On contrary.

    Biz will have a significant role in the outcome of this battle. But, biz is not against immersion. Biz will stay on the side that is better for business. Simple as that. And, in virtual environments immersion is very good for biz. If we know how to play our game.

    For the record (one more) I am pretty sure I am the first person (in country and probably broader that that) that showed up in 11 0’clock new on a national television with both human and the avatar signed by avatar name. :p

  • IYan Writer

    @dandellion iAlja was on the 7pm news in august 😉

  • Gwyneth, The RFC rule is a little out of place here, no one demands or expects your (real) name, unless you are in a situation where you need verification/context to build trust. This means it becomes the choice of the person using the name of the avatar, not a demand from the other party.

    The transaction of information on a University requires a level of trust, but you are able to provide context and thus establish reasonable trust with your virtual name, assuming the line of work related to your name is what you came to speak about – I’d be more sceptical if you used this alias and claimed you where the Beatles manager, or say, asking me to invest a substantial amount of money.

    Another advantage you have is ‘trusted peer verification’. You could point to certain members that are verifiable, and have earned a certain amount of trust and let their ‘testimony’ act as collateral.

    The third advantage is I gathered you where present in the flesh, using yourself as collateral and expanding the level of trust by verifying personality, age, location, skills, as opposed to strictly virtual communication.

    Fourthly, should you need to have signed an NDA I doubt they would have let you get away with Gwyneth, the system is just not ready for that. The legal procedures are another obstacle.

    People choosing the virtual persona to represent them with no verifications/collateral will have a hard time earning trust, and I do not expect this to become any easier anytime soon, though there is promise in ‘trusted peer relations’ – linkedIn is a great tool here. But that is really their choice.

    _______________ also… _________________

    IBM has a number of metaverse enthusiasts employed, but it’s hardly accurate to judge the multinational based on this and call them ‘an immersive company that moved to the tourist side’… You have to look at the individuals here, IBM has R&D projects everywhere and are now ‘in bed’ with the ‘communityless’ whitelabel world of Active Worlds which focusses 100% on the augmentative side of Virtual Worlds.

  • Extropia DaSilva

    ‘Who is the strongest?
    Who is the best?
    Who holds the aces,
    The East or the West?
    This is the crap,
    Our children are learning.
    But, oh, the tide is turning’-Roger Waters.

    Ah, you can never mention the words ‘immersionist’ or ‘augmentist’ without including the word ‘versus’. Like ‘herbivore’ versus ‘carnivore’, they are locked in mortal combat.

    Of course, for all their desire to turn some grass-eating animal into breakfast, carnivores form a symbiotic relationship with herbivores, such that the extinction of one would inevitably cause the extinction of the other. Evolution is NOT all about competition, and technological progress definitely qualifies as an evolutionary process.

    If you look back on the history of IT, it becomes aparrent that ‘immersionism’ emerges from ‘augmentism’ and vice versa in cyclic events as software and hardware tools are developed from the cummulative knowledge of past experience.

    The Internet began life as a communication platform that could withstand nuclear war. It was, therefore, originally an augmentist technology.

    But, as Gwyn has pointed out, the development of the Web etc later allowed the formation of virtual communities, of which MMORPGS, MUDS, MOOs and now SL are the most blatent example of immersionism. This would not have been possible, were it not for the augmentist communication tool that is the Internet.

    Most recently, the pendulum has started to swing the other way, with Web 2.0 software tools allowing social networking, mashups and lots of other powerful ways of sharing RL information with your peers. Increasingly, these are being integrated into SL, and I am pretty sure the whole Web 2.0 phenomena depended upon the prior development of the ‘immersionist’ tools of web 1.0 (as they in turn emerged from the AUGMENTIST Internet).

    Now, at this point Gwyn would have you believe the pendulum will swing all the way over to ‘augmentist’..and stop.

    However, we have only just begun to see technologies that allow a person to document their life, and vastly more effective and powerful tools are now in development.

    These new technologies will enable us to compile ENORMOUS amounts of information about our daily life, largely through completely automatic and unobtrusive means. But, such will be the complexity and size of this ‘lifelogging’, that artificial intelligence capable of performing the pattern-recognition-based forms of intelligence that defines human smartness will be absolutely necessary. We simply won’t be able to efficiently search this data without it.

    Now, artificial general intelligence is more notable for its past failures than its success, but this can be attributed to three factors:

    One: Lack of raw power (up until the 1990s AI had computing power equal to an insect brain into which they tried to squeeze HUMAN intelligence).

    TWO: Lack of information about how the brain works (prior to MRI and CAT scans we simply didn’t know how LIVING brains worked at all).

    THREE: Lack of stimulating environments with which to develop AI minds (robots were trained in environments with very litte environmental ‘noise’).

    All three problems have been, and continue to be, addressed by the continual development of IT software and hardware tools. The consequence of this is that future AUGMENTIST technologies will be managed by increasingly capable artificial intelligences. We will come to rely on these, first as mere tools to organise our data, then as assistants with personalities that act with increasing autonomy as the mind is reverse engineered.

    Eventually, it may well be possible for ‘Extropia DaSilva’ (or any other ‘avatar’) to run WITHOUT ANY HUMAN BEHIND THE SCENES. And, obviously, being a GENUINE citizen of cyberspace that makes these ‘mind children’ bona fide immersionists.

    It will be intersting to see what augmentist tools then emerge from the technological basis of uploading and Singularity.

  • I wonder now – when you were presenting in your local university, was it presentation in Portuguese or English? how did they react for SL name?

  • Thanks to everybody for your incredibly insightful comments; some day I might start by asking you all about your opinions first, and only write about issues after reading your answers!

    For A.T.’s sake — the presentation was in Portuguese, and since most people registered for the workshop with their avatar names, they really didn’t ‘react’ much. Ironically, I was teaching them how to do programming in Second Life — while in real life, a company I work with rejected me as programmer because I’m “too slow” and “too unexperienced”, thus validating the old rule: “if you don’t know something, teach it” 🙂

    For Digado’s sake… yes, I’ve signed some NDAs as Gwyneth Llewelyn, but, then again, that’s also my (locally registered) pseudonym and a trademark I own; and I’ve certainly accepted NDAs signed by pseudonyms, too. In that we’re not different as, say, Marilyn Monroe signing a contract under her artistic name (minus the glamour, of course 🙂 ). The whole issue of “reputation” is based on good faith and trust. If you don’t have good faith in signing a contract, it’s irrelevant if you do sign it with blood, a dozen witnesses, inside a church/template, and with a hand over a holy book of your preference. Reputation is not really tied to “external signs” and fancy ceremonies…

  • “If you don’t have good faith in signing a contract, it’s irrelevant if you do sign it with blood, a dozen witnesses, inside a church/template, and with a hand over a holy book of your preference.”

    That’s nonsense and very naive. I don’t know where these rituals came in, but trust (‘good faith’) can be gained but also be broken. In case of the latter there are consequences someone could legally be held accountable for.

    This is the one thing that seems to get looked over a lot – simple accountability. If your ‘artist pseudonym’ suffices legally it’s all the same, but this is only because you have been verified – to register the trademark you did have to give your real name – which was exactly my point to begin with…

  • I used the internet back in the mid/late 1990s, and I never understood then the popularity with false names – to the extent that I use my real name in FPS games.

    In SecondLife, it makes more sense than in, say, a chatroom or a web page, to use a pseudonym since one way of interacting with the environment is to treat it as an entirely separate realm in the way that one does with films or novels or computer games.

    No doubt, that approach is deliberately encouraged by the policy of having to choose from a list of somewhat fanciful surnames: one is forced to assume a psudonym. I wonder how many people, if they had the choice, even back when SecondLife was new, would simply have chosen their real name as their avatar name?

  • Addendum: It is to be noted that revealing real-life personal details on the public internet is not a strictly 2000s phenomenon, inexorably tied to the rise of the automated social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook – in the 1990s, we had things called personal home pages, where people would create web pages manually, from scratch (rather than automatically as with ‘blogs or social networking sites), to tell the world about themselves and their cats/dogs and their children and their garden sheds.

    In those days, of course, the web pages would sit dormant, with garish green hit counters registering “00012”, and with an italicised note reading “This website was last updated on: 3rd of July 1997” when the page was still there in 1999. It would likely only be seen by the person’s friends or immediate family to whom the creator had e-mailed the link, and those who managed to find the page on AltaVista and Excite and Infoseek and the other search engines of the day – assuming that the creator had used the then all-important meta-tags.

    Of course, in the old days, updating web pages was hard, because it all had to be done by hand (even using WYSIWYG editors, one had to update the organisation manually, adding new links to all the other pages and otherwise rearranging the existing content whenever new content was added).

    The same was true, of course, of all websites, not just the then-trendy “personal homepage”, but commercial websites, or websites for groups of people interested in something in particular had more content to update, and more people serious about updating it. It just wasn’t worth the hassle to edit HTML just to tell the world that one had finished the second coat of varnish on one’s new garden shed, so personal homages, unlike commercial and special interest websites, remained a little-used novelty, partly because they were not reliably connected to each other, and partly because they were difficult to update (and some of the garish designs used in those days were also more than a little offputting).

    Then, slowly, things began to change: websites became automated. The Java applet and ActiveX never took off in the way that they were originally supposed to have done, but, in their place, the CGI, Javascript and Flash (in chronological order of substantial impact) made web-pages that automated design and organisation, and required manual input only of content. The guestbook, the trendiest part of the personal home page, evolved into the forum – the HTML version of the old newsgroups.

    As people returned to websites, the forums became the busiest places, as being the most frequently updated (because anyone could post content – and easily), and, little by little, forums grew from being guestbook-like sideshows to the focus of the site. Many websites now are all – or almost all – forums.

    People did sometimes use nicknames in forums and guestbooks, but that depended on the topic – forums discussing technology itself were permeated by “raz0r”s and “TallMonkeyBoy”s and the like, but forums about more prosaic things that did not have their own internet-specific in-culture tended to use such terms, and people used their real names.

    Forums evolved into social networking sites (first of all basic ones such as Yahoo! Clubs, and later more sophisticated ones such as MySpace and the more mainstream and adult Facebook), and photo and video sharing sites such as Flickr and YouTube, and, what forums had done for text, media-sharing sites did for pictures and video, and social networking sites did for a whole complicated array of personal information.

    Wheraes once it was difficult to update one’s personal home page, and hardly worth bothering, since the chances of being found on a Webcrawler search by somebody actually interested in looking at the page before the next potential update were usually close to zero, now, users can with very little effort indeed create a highly professional, easy to use but personalised profile, with photographs and text, and have it linked to lots of friends’ profiles and have everybody know automatically whenever it is updated so that they remember to check back and keep the interaction cycle going by means of technologically-induced, apathy-busting positive feedback.

    Meanwhile, in the late 1990s, another social phenomenon was emerging on the internet: the instant messenger application. Pioneered by ICQ (where, quaintly by to-day’s standards, everybody had a number with which to identify themselves – just like a telephone), it allowed a whole new kind of automated, instantaneous social interaction: much easier than website chatrooms or IRC, because the application could sit in the background while one was doing other things, and alert one, by a noise, and a flashing icon in the system tray, whenever a friend came online or sent a message. Social behaviours (regularly, as in every day or two, text-chatting to people online) that were hitherto not worthwhile except for die-hard chat fanatics because of the amount of effort involved compared to the benefit became easily accessible for everyone.

    Of course, some people used their real names, and some people used nicknames. But most people used shortened versions of their real names, and, for example, gave their first names, but not surnames – just enough for the person at the other end to know who they are, but not enough to be able to be stalked. Nonetheless, in the late 1990s, there were a significant number of people using social interaction tools on the internet without any desire to create an entirely new, internet-specific personality, or understanding “cyberspace” to mean treating the internet as a distinct place, rather than just a then-trendy term for the internet in general.

    The numbers, and, crucially, the proportion of people using the internet has also risen vastly since the 1990s. Then, it was noteworthy when one spoke to somebody else (in the flesh) who regularly used the internet: it was a subculture, of sorts, distant from mainstream culture, and treated somewhat suspiciously by it. Note, for instance, that mainstream characters in 1990s sitcoms and soap operas were not depicted as regularly using the internet. The characters from “Friends”, for instance, never even had computers in their apartments.

    Now, of course, nearly everyone uses the internet: one’s boss, one’s parents, one’s siblings, one’s grandparents – a person who claims not to use the internet at all is now regarded with some suspicion, as an anachronism, like a person who had no telephone at home was viewed in the 1990s.

    With such rising proportions, not only is the internet more culturally mainstream, but, crucially, one does not have to forge an internet-specific social network when using the internet: one can just talk to one’s existing friends; and, of course, there is no point in adopting a pseudonym to do that: one’s real friends already know one’s name! Nobody will think of one as odd for using the internet, and so there is no real need to hide one’s identity – indeed, if one is hiding one’s identity in such a climate, one is driven to wonder why.

    So, in conclusion, the drivers behind the changes to which Gwyneth refers are essentially economic and technological in nature: as more people use the internet, and as the technology makes it far easier to organise and distribute content, so the circumstances arise in which sharing personal information on the internet becomes the accepted norm, and there is no longer a need, as there was at least perceived to be when the internet was counter-cultural, rather than mainstream, to create and/or be part of an independent, isolated subculture of the sort where adopting a psudonym makes sense.

    It is not so much that there was anything fundamentally different about the users of the Old Internet, the internet of 1997, that made them all behave very differently to the way in which users behave now: the reality was that there were just (or nearly) as high a proportion of people then who were inclined to behave as internet users do now about personal data, but, because of the technological and economic constraints that have since been vanquished, those behaviours went largely unnoticed in seldom-read and even more seldom-updated personal homepages and private conversations on instant messengers, whilst the counter-culturalists mixed largely with others like themselves and thought of the whole internet as working in the same way. Perhaps the only difference is now that there is a far greater parity between the amount of time that mainstream and other users of the internet actually spend online.

    In summary, it is not so much that people have changed their attitudes since the 1990s, but that people who always had the attitudes that they do now have more of an impact on the internet now than they did then.

  • Extropia DaSilva

    ‘I wonder how many people, if they had the choice, even back when SecondLife was new, would simply have chosen their real name as their avatar name…there is no real need to hide one’s identity’.

    Well, one good reason is that every person out in RL is going to drop dead. So why should I waste my time getting to know the ‘real’ Ashcroft Burnham? Like any avatar, Ashcroft is a particular pattern of information and there are no end of technologies in the pipeline that could copy and run that pattern. Why should my friends in SL have to expire just because somebody I never met nor care to meet went and died? So long as A) the pattern of information that describes us is deemed valuable enough to preserve and B) there is some kind of information processing capability in place to seamlessly take over the job of modelling our thoughts and feelings, each and every avatar would have a life that went way beyond some meatbag’s.

    Tying a mind child’s identity to one particular human amounts to nothing less than a death sentence.

  • Extropia,

    I know that you are very interested in bionic, digitised immortality, but that technology, if it ever were to be developed, is extremely far away: SecondLife is no more significant a step towards such a thing as the invention of drawing by hand was towards the existence of computer generated 3d graphics.

    As things stand at present, and for the foreseeable future, the avatar will simply be a superficial representation of a person – a means of communication, no more embodying the individual’s personality than her or his telephone or pen. It is the mind that you are getting to know, and, within our lifetimes, and probably those of our immediate descendants and their immediate descendants, that mind exists exclusively within the human body of the person controlling the avatar.

    Your vision may indeed come true in the extreme distant future (or, alternatively, it might not), but the theoretical possibility of such a distant advance in technology is not by itself something that has a significant effect on a significant number of people’s behaviour in virtual worlds.

  • Gwyn: the “Internet of old” was a very nice place. I am an old timer like you and remember it very well: very interesting content, no ads, and there only people with an intellectual level and manners much above average. No racism, no homophobia, no incitations to violence…

    But then we have a very small and homogeneous sample of people on the Net, not representative of humanity at large by any means. Now we see racist jokes on the Net because, you see, people do make racist jokes. It is bad, but the other side of the coin is good: now the Net is inhabited by a much more diversified population. And we must accept he fact that pseudonymity is not an important requirement for must of today’s Net users.

    The Net could not have realized its potential for a deep cognitive evolution of our species without the participation of everyone. And there is still a lot to do (hints – if you cannot read you cannot have an online life; if you must work 16 hours a day you cannot have an online life). We have been pioneers and must be proud of that, but now “the street” must take charge.

    Extropia and Ashburn: I am more optimist than Ashburn (I would say “far away” but not “extremely far away”, and I think we may see some significal development in the first half of the centuty), but basically agree with his matter-of-factly “As things stand at present, and for the foreseeable future, the avatar will simply be a superficial representation…”. At the same time I defend the right of Extropia to exist and think Digital Persons are pioneers who are taking (or at least considering) the first baby steps towards decoupling lives from bodies. I am not too persuaded by current experiments in “extreme lifelogging” as a means to generate mindfiles than can be later brought to life by human-equivalent computer power, in such a way as to ensure the continuity of cousciousness. I am not persuaded because I think the volume and texture of information stored at today’s low bandwidth is much too low – but you never know.

  • Extropia DaSilva

    ‘I know that you are very interested in bionic, digitised immortality, but that technology, if it ever were to be developed, is extremely far away: SecondLife is no more significant a step towards such a thing as the invention of drawing by hand was towards the existence of computer generated 3d graphics’.

    While speculations based on mind uploading and artificial general intelligence do form a central part of my ‘Mind Child’ worldview, a rather more ancient technology also forms the basis for my approach to Augmentism and Immersionism. (The following was originally written by me in reply to a Hamlet Au essay).

    ‘A person unfamilar with SL but who has heard about ‘augmentism’ and ‘immersionsism’ may want these terms explained to them, and the best way to do that is to compare it to something they may well be familiar with: Namely, literature.

    An augmentist is somewhat similar to a writer of an autobiography or a diary, in that the ‘character’ is their RL self.

    An immersionist is akin to a writer of novels, whose characters don’t have any physical existence outside of the printed word.

    This just goes to show that inventing a character who may not bare any resemblence to the RL self is not some weird new activity create by oddballs with no life beyond the computer screen, but rather is a continuation of a very old tradition of understanding what real life is/ could be through the medium of storytelling.

    It should be immediately clear that it is innappropriate to ask ‘which is the correct use of the written medium: The autobiography or the novel?’. One is no more or less a legitimate use of pen and ink than the other.

    But which is more trustworthy, the autobiography or the novel? The latter deals with fiction, the very opposite of fact. Is it, therefore, just a bunch of lies?

    I think we need to be careful before jumping to that conclusion. Every writer of fiction must draw on some real life experience in order to create compelling characters; there is always some truth in fiction. To what extent is Orwell’s ‘1984’ just a bunch of made up stuff with no relation to real life events and no important lessons to teach us? As for autobiographies, given the innacuracy of human memory and our tendency towards prejudice, I think a strong case can be made regarding the rejection of the idea that any diary/autobiography is 100% factual.

    In short, there is always some fiction in an autobiography and there is always some fact in a novel.

    And I think that is just as true with SL. Despite all this talk about people being divided up into augmentists or immersionists, I suspect that it is actually the case that most are some mixture of the two. I would be very skeptical of anyone who claims the presence they have in SL is a 100% true portrait of their RL self- the temptation to go beyond RL constraints is just too great. And I would be just as skeptical of anybody claiming to be 100% SEPARATE from their RL self- creating a convincing personae with no reliance on RL experience is just too difficult’.

    Someone called Doreen Garrigus supplied this beautiful description that neatly sums up my novel/autobiography analogy:

    ‘The autobiography is constructed of fact, as remembered, whereas the novel is constructed of truth, as perceived. Each tells you very different things about the author. Although the autobiography does it more directly, you mostly only get what the author wants you to know. A novel, on the other hand, reveals all sorts of things about the author’s sensibility and perception of the world that he or she may not have intended you to see’.

    But the comparison of an SL resident to a literary character goes only so far. To me, the main difference is that an author can exert nearly Godlike control over every character in the novel. But, in SL, the ‘story’ emerges as a collaborative effort of everybody involved. Is it fair to say that people like Gwyn Llewewlyn, Jamie Marlin and Khannea Suntzu are almost as important as ‘the primary’ in shaping the ongoing story of Extro DaSilva? I would say so.

    It’s interesting to note that all authors of literary fiction, even those whose preferred writing style is the 1st person, invariably talk about their characters in the THIRD person. Everybody knows J.K Rowling CREATED ‘Harry Potter’ but at the same time nobody would say J.K Rowling IS ‘Harry Potter’. But in SL, where one person really cannot claim to have anywhere near the Godlike control over an avatar that the author has, there is the tendency to claim ‘Avatar A’ IS ‘person X’!

    There’s actually a lot more to be said about this issue, so much in fact that I constantly wonder how one might pack it all into a book, let alone an essay;)

  • Extropia,

    as ever, a fascinating post 🙂 Where I differ from your analysis, however, is in the question of whether I, when I am interacting through my avatar, “Aschroft Burnham”, can be said to be creating a “portrait of myself”, rather than just plain being myself, any more than I do so when talking on the telephone or writing an e-mail.

    It is certainly possible for a person in SecondLife to attempt to create a specific persona that is specific to SecondLife, but, as you hint in your comparisons to literature, that is not new in itself: I can go around the town wearing a disguise pretending to be somebody completely different, or I can act in a play and pretend to be Prospero or Jack Worthing. That does not by itself mean that when I am not pretending to be somebody else or playing a fictional character in a play I am pretending to be myself: there is a difference, as I am sure that you will appreciate, between a person playing her or himself in a play or film (as might occur in an autobiographical play or film), and just simply being her or himself.

    In short, my point is that adopting a persona and interacting with other people through any medium of communication (be it SecondLife, e-mail, telephone or message in a bottle) are two wholly separate things which have no necessary connexion. It is possible either to be oneself in person or when using media of communication; similarly, it is possible to adopt a false persona either in person or using media of communication.

    If I am not a specific “telephone-me” when I am using the telephone or “e-mail-me” when I am sending e-mails, why should I be “SecondLife-me” when I am using SecondLife? The fact that SecondLife makes it far easier than the other media of communication, or acting in person, to create a convincing and separate persona, that does not mean that any use of SecondLife necessarily involves creating a persona, nor that using SecondLife and not consciously creating a separate persona involves the same sort of self-interpretation as is involved when writing an autobiography.

    So, I do not think that the difference between the typical immersionist and typical augmentationist (incidentally, I agree with you that most people are somewhere in between) is the difference between a character in a fiction novel and a the way that an author portrays her or himself in an autobiography, but the difference between a person when acting in a play (whether an autobiographical play or not) and that same or a different person going about her or his ordinary affairs, without acting: in the latter case, one is not pretending to be oneself – there is no pretence involved.

    An autobiographer, writing about her or himself, is recalling, recounting and interpreting events that are distant from the act of writing itself: those elements of recalling, recounting and interpreting are absent when a person is simply interacting with another person in real time, as is the distance.

    A person might behave differently in different contexts (a teacher, for instance, would behave very differently when teaching a class of children to when socialising with friends), but that variability is an integral part of a person’s personality, not evidence that there are two, distinct people that can properly be afforded their own identities residing within the one human body, one of which, if it is operated exclusively through some electronic medium, can exist independently of that body through that electronic medium.

  • Extropia DaSilva

    ‘I can act in a play and pretend to be Prospero or Jack Worthing. That does not by itself mean that when I am not pretending to be somebody else or playing a fictional character in a play I am pretending to be myself: there is a difference, as I am sure that you will appreciate, between a person playing her or himself in a play or film (as might occur in an autobiographical play or film), and just simply being her or himself’.

    There is, however, an essential difference between a character brought to life through the medium of acting, and one created through literature.

    Many different actors have played ‘James Bond’. If an actor is good at his profession and portrays the character in a convincing way, the audience should soon stop thinking ‘that’s Daniel Craig’ and start thinking ‘That’s James Bond’. But what they will NOT think is ‘That’s Sean Connery/George Lazenby/Roger Moore..Clearly, that is not the case.

    But, now imagine a scenario in which Ian Flemming stopped writing Bond books. Or, more to the point, imagine that the name of Bond’s original author never appeared on the books. Over time, different authors wrote Bond stories, always maintaining a consistent narrative style, always ensuring that the character of ‘Bond’ behaved in a manner that was recognizably ‘him’. In this scenario, people might well suppose that the ‘Bond’ books were always penned by the same author (whose identity is never known).

    Now, the same thing could work for me. Nobody knows who ‘the primary’ is and, although it actually always has been the same individual, in principle it could be anybody with the ‘right stuff’ to convincingly portray me.

    The original ‘primary’ was inspired to create me after having read certain books, and 99% of what I do in Sl can also be said to have originated from ‘the primary’ coming across certain information. Let us suppose, then, that other people have encountered the same information. Furthermore, suppose that some had the same emotional and intellectual reaction to that information. Such people agreed with the same parts as ‘the primary’, ditto with disagreement.

    Right, now suppose one of those other people logs into SL as ‘Extropia DaSilva’. In a very real sense, they have something very much like the pattern that embodies me encoded on their brains, just as it is woven into the neural frabric of the original ‘primary’s’ brain.

    Obviously this person must know they are not the original ‘primary’. But for the sake of argument, let’s suppose this is a fact they keep to themselves and they just get on with the job of ‘being’ Extropia DaSilva. Who else in SL would be aware that this is not the same ‘Extro’ they have encountered on previous occasions? If ‘I’ am acting in a consistant manner, recognisable from my past actions, how COULD they know ‘the primary’ is now a different person entirely?

    Going a bit ‘futurist’ now, suppose this ‘new’ primary is aided by ‘SuperNeatExtroLifeloggingSearchEnginePro 5.6’ which lurks in the background, quietly and efficently retrieving vital information about ‘my’ past whenever it’s needed. For instance, my sister Jamie Marlin sends ‘me’ an IM about something we did together last month. The new ‘primary’ doesn’t know what that is but it’s ok because ‘SuperNeatExtroLifeloggingSearchEnginePro 5.6’ finds out. So Jamie Marlin finds ‘Extropia’ responding to her IM in a manner recognizably ‘me’. Why then, would she suppose it is NOT ‘me’?

    Really, it IS ‘me’ because I am a particular pattern of information being processed in a consistant manner. So long as that pattern is deemed valuable and worth preserving, and so long as there is someone or something able to do that, ‘Extropia DaSilva’ would have an existance above and beyond any particular ‘primary’.

    (Please be aware that I understand that what I just wrote has virtually no chance of ever actually happening).

  • Gwyngwyngwyn! I have a post I was gonna do on my personal blog closely related to this… it should be up in a few days. Thanks for mentioning me, you’re spot-on about my transition.

  • ^ Oh and that’s Torley!

  • *hugs* Torley 🙂 Yes, you’ve definitely been a “switcher” (borrowing the expression from Apple 🙂 ).

    Yay, it seems that WordPress now allows Yahoo OpenIDs — thanks for testing! Now to make sure that these will also correctly retrieve the name and the Gravatar, that will be something I’ll spend some time with on the next weekend…

  • Gomez

    Thanks for the article on Immersionism and Augmentationism. its a such wonderful article.

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