Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Henry Jenkins: Benchmarks of Civic Participation

This post is 1 of 2 in the 3x3 discussion on Second Life and virtual worlds between Clay Shirky, Henry Jenkins, and myself. Click here if you want to go to the top of the responses or here for Jenkins’ full-text post.

Henry Jenkins: …Second Life may have cultural importance even for people who have never been there because it embodies a particular model of civic participation and cultural production.


Beth Coleman: At the most reduced level, one can understand Jenkins stating that people with no direct experience of Second Life are justified in having an opinion about it. That might seem like a crazy talk, but Jenkins tenders such an analysis artfully. User numbers, subjective experience, as well as a cultural “it” factor are all part of a barometer of value. In other words, he suggests that “civic participation” in the discussion of Second Life offers something to the culture as a whole. This greater design function of a computer-based platform is what Sherry Turkle might describe as an “object to think with.” Jenkins’ gauge is not contingent on popular adoption for a certain kind of viability (perhaps not the kind of viability that interests businesses, but that’s a different discussion). That said, one of the particularities of this medium, the Internet, and more specifically a virtual world, is that things and events can be counted. OK, we are not robots. The relationship between clicks of a mouse and an understanding of human behavior is not a one-to-one. Yet, “cultural production” here is network production, which calls for parallel processing of modes of distribution, interactivity, design, adoption, and “it-ness.”

HJ: The numbers matter if we are asking whether Second Life represents "the future of the web" but personally, I have never believed that SL is going to be a mass movement in any meaningful sense of the term. As I stated last time, I do not buy the whole nonsense that immersive worlds represent web 3.0 and will in any way displace the existing information structures that exist in the web, any more than I think audio-visual communications is going to replace written communications anytime soon.

BC: Notwithstanding
Benchmark’s investment and the rumors of Google’s interest in consuming the platform, Second Life has light years to traverse before it becomes an operating system of sorts, before it becomes Google in fact. We, as a network commons, have got time to wait on this. We still have WoW and Facebook and IM, etc., etc.

Rich-media and avatar-oriented platforms are already large sectors of Internet use. Korea has made the case for what happens when ubiquitous broadband is combined with a rich-media connected populous. If Tim Berners-Lee’s
Semantic Web is the what we will inherit with Web 3.0 that does not preclude a metaverse-like Internet à la Stephenson. Audio-visual communications with not “replace” written communications. They have already altered the status of written communication.

1. Audio-visual communications broadened the spectrum within which we communicate
2. Audio-visual communications are the basis of popularly used site. Does Flickr or Youtube ring a bell?

The hegemony of email is long gone. It is one system among many. Call me crazy, but there is no reason the continuously evolving system that is the Internet and the people who populate it will stick with a priority of text-based information. We are animals who sign, and emoticons are fun. Jenkins is missing his own message of convergence in under estimating what the graphical-spatial dimensions are of human communications.

HJ: Some have dismissed SL as a costume party -- I see it more as carnival in the medieval sense of the term -- as a time and place within which normal rules of interactions are suspended, roles can be swapped or transformed, hierarchies can be reordered, and we can step out of normal reality into a "magic circle" or "green world" which can be highly generative for the imagination.

BC: The
Bakhtinian carnival analysis is strongly limited here. If a platform such as Second Life is an augmented reality to our daily lives then the transitory nature of carnival and the “performance” of upending power hierarchies do not have so much to do with what is going on here. The social currency must have a sustainable value that translates between spheres of influence, particularly if such platforms are going to make it to maturity. “Fantasy life” does not quite cover it either. As Tim O’Reilly posted on Google Earth vs. Second Life: “Real and virtual are definitely on a collision course. I'm hoping that we can get more interoperability between the two, so that the streams of innovation merge like hydrazine and liquid oxygen, fueling a rocket to the future.”