Posts Tagged ‘sf’

immersed in abstraction

I’ve tried before and I’ll probably try again, but I can’t get immersed in Second Life. It’s the lack of story there. You make yourself look how you want (or find you’re unable to) and then you stand around listening to music or whatever. A few years ago on my second attempt to get into it I signed up to go to a reading of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Snow Crash is a novel about the kind of immersive second world SL is trying to be, but it all feels so clunky, so much more about just being in SL than about what’s going on.

I guess it comes down to my gripes about content in the social mediasphere. I find myself agreeing with the lack of Big Ideas in social media (though one of my classmates noted that some of the thinkers quoted in that article are also on Twitter).

Scott McCloud in his talking about comics has a bit about how characters are drawn and how that affects us as readers. A very detailed drawing gives us information about that specific person, whereas a more abstract drawing lets the reader put more of herself into it, to fill in more of the gaps. Immersive environments like Second Life are mixing those up. The more detailed your avatar can be the more the gaps between what’s happening to it and to you become visible.

I remember back in the ’90s my first time playing a MUSH. It was based on Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. I went in expecting to have slots to fill in and skills to work on so I could become whatever kind of character it was possible for me to be in that world. The fact that I could be a Thief-Taker, just by saying I was and acting like I was, was so astounding to me I was immediately intimidated by the freedom. I still feel that way now when I’m staring at a blank page to fill with text. Anything at all can go there. You don’t have to fit into CPU cycles when you’re dealing with text. Your immersion is based on skills with language that humans have been working on for thousands of years.

That’s why I can get immersed in the flow of information on Twitter. It’s text. I’m a text person. Doing photos and screencasts using avatars and all of that doesn’t excite me. I don’t feel I’m part of a world I’m not helping to create in my mind. I love the old text-based computer games, even though the limits were very apparent. You had to learn the rules so you knew that “Take Boat” wasn’t the kind of language it wanted. Working within limitations becomes immersive once you’ve really taken it up.

Now this isn’t to say I don’t get immersed in videogames. Once it gets out of the way and I’m taking part in telling a story, I’m there. I played Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas not for the random gratuitous violence (yes, you’d go off on a five-star wanted rampage every once in a while but that wasn’t the point), but because it was a classic gangster story. That’s what I want out of any environment, really. Hell, I love the stories embedded in the numbers in baseball boxscores. That’s what I need for immersion, characters instead of customizable avatars.

This is, of course, good to know. Because if I’m like me, there might be more. And that’s why if I’m bringing a library into a space it’s to tell a story, and to help our users tell a story and imagine one. Not just about the library but about the community it’s a part of (be that physical or digital).

computational literacy and the gibsonesque present

After an 8am class on instruction in which we started to learn about treating lessons as products to be designed, I attended a colloquium by Michael Twidale about Computational Literacy & Metacognition (here are my rough notes).

It was a pretty excellent talk about the way we teach people how to do computery things. What I liked best about it was that Dr. Twidale was coming at this from what he called an Engineering point of view as opposed to a Science point of view. The idea that rapid prototyping in research might be more useful than studying precisely how things work at a point in time is something I’m very sympathetic to. I especially loved how he discussed the unintended effects of different technologies that go beyond what their designers had in mind, such as Twitter revolutions and large touch-screens enhancing learnability and interaction because of their poor usability for one person. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the famous William Gibson line from Burning Chrome “…but the street finds its own uses for things.”
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