Week One Journal

Very much excited to be a part of a course that I expect well become a milestone in the evolution of digital and analog lifestyle convergence, I was extremely happy to find a high level of energy among the participants of this course.

The first lecture, was in a sense, Prof. Nesson’s own intellectual “hectoring” of some sorts (an insider joke). Unlike his daughter, whose manner of speech and gestures was natural, the senior Nesson gave a very well-prepared lecture bound to certain formalities that are often torn down in cyber world. This striking difference, while seeming ironic (and most like unintended), illustrated yet another aspect of the current phase in which we stand – a shifting era where digital and analog elements coexist, but are like drops of water and oil,  in a tumbler. For some, the tumbler is more shaken up than others.

I most satisfyingly read about cosmopolitanism, concluding that I was one, and noting how much the magazine Cosmopolitan does injustice to the beautiful meaning of the word. Regarding Barlow’s “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” however, I only felt that this person had only been drifting on the outskirts of cyberspace and like a blind man touching an elephant, is unable to see the whole.

Like any society, how can one be so brash as to generalize the characteristics of the people in that a certain group? I don’t understand where Barlow gets his boldness from. Most of the reasons that he gave on why cyberspace is ungovernable, for instance, could easily be refuted by simple examples. His core values, as well, may apply to the Internet community that he knows, but could he speak for people accessing the Internet from various parts of the world? Barlow, certainly, is not a cosmopolitan person, despite trying to sound like he understands situations in other countries.

Also, people may think that the Internet is independent, but unlike conventional means of communicating with pen and paper, accessing the Internet requires a technological link – a fixed-line, optical cable, satellite, or whatever sort of connection service that is provided by a company. Bandwidths are controlled by governments and global organizations. The latter is influenced by major corporations and larger countries. Even search engines like Google are not entirely fair or accurate.

These issues were addressed further in the second session. My thoughts on not only Wikipedia, but all online content in general, is that cyberspace provides more quantitative and qualitative content, but it is up to users to figure out which information is good.

While that may seem to be like a better deal, we should also question why we want to spend more time than we wish to do that. Since time cannot be bought with money, the process of filtering through an ocean of information on the Web is costing us something that cannot even be measured in figures of dollars and cents. Which is why we still need organizations like Merriam Webster with its review panel. They may have flaws, but they have at least done the “dirty work,” which, if one chooses, one can use as a first source and seek other sources for confirmation through the Web or other means.

Why do we read newspapers like The New York Times when there are blogs of people living in Manhattan? Why do we choose major dailies over tabloids when wanting to read straight news? Those papers may not always have their facts correct, but they have their own system of filtering and investigating and we can trust to a certain extent, their credibility. When I look these days at how newspapers are running out of business, it is sad, but at the same time, it is also scary, because a lot of reporters that write for online publications don’t have the same ethics codes or self guidelines for accuracy when they write, but those are the stories that major portal sites choose to publish. But then, that is another story.

While I am overall very happy about the class and how it is developing, I admit, however, that I was a bit disappointed in what seemed to be a fine line drawn between Harvard Extension and Harvard Law, separating genuine communication between the two groups. Although the objectives of taking the class may be different, I don’t understand why there shouldn’t be more interaction and whether the lack of this is because the intellectual level of the Harvard Extension students are not on par with those students of Harvard Law. Or perhaps this only provides further proof to my previous disagreement with Barlow’s claim that cyberspace is an independent world. For I see Harvard Extension students as the public opinion and Harvard Law students as the court, and like offline courts, this online platform is not exactly a cocktail party for the two parties. The bar on our Weeks Pages may not be made of oak or mahogany, but they exist all the same.

[Feedback from Rebecca] 

Hi Yvette,

Good work on this week’s journal. I have also wondered about this aspect of Second Life. It is often easy to tell an expensive avatar from a cheap one. However, I am not sure it is so stark as you put it. Since we all have the means to create textures and contours ourselves with a little bit of study, we also find in SL that there are lots of very good things available for free or for very little money. The quality of an avatar is reflected as much in the amount of time spent on it as in how much money is spend on it. (Which may also be so with people in RL who spend a lot of time in the gym getting that skinniness that is so coveted and still can’t completely be bought.) At each stage of development in SL, more and more things that must have once been fancy become freely available, pushing the edge of fashion design to new places in order for people to be able to create things that people are willing to spend on. It is not clear to me that this is a bad thing.

One has to wonder where the style comes from. Granting that you are right that there is something of style that comes from the prestige of having something expensive, the question remains about what makes something stylish in SL.

I would like to pose to you the question of whether it is wrong for there to be such a capitalist bent in SL. We are not proposing a complete shift away from a capitalist system, but rather one in which there is more of a balance between the for-profit and non-market sectors of our economy. We see this in SL with the vast array of objects that are offered under different rights set ups and at different prices. Possibly SL has a better balance in this regard than the US economy.

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