Thursday, July 5, 2007
The Falling Flowers
The are the blossoms of a long spring, that cling to twisted twigs and brazen branches. They are the pink that showers to the ground like April snow from earth bound clouds. Sa-ku-ra a voice intones in famous opening of famous song. The flowers, the flowers, they are falling falling. They fall each and every year, and they fall again.
Old SL is, I feign, like old Japan, or old China. Old China is being destroyed now, brick by brick, block by block, houtong by houtong. The one marked by gentile arrogant delicate perfection of a time when devotion to craft and sense of quietude could rule a nation with iron grip, the second a pillar of proud poverty, of endless ageless time, time without time, time beyond time. And the first is gone, but not forgotten. And the second is forgotten, but not gone.
In our small world, the same turning of the seasons is coming, and there are cries of pain, horror and anguish. The old, like the men with brushes and their calligraphy, the hand pushed boats on murky canals, the tresses and layers of silken kimonos, embroidered by hand, the folded swords, the horse crossed plains, the geishas and pleasure domes with their concubines, the silk worms harvested by hands, the rattles to scare the Shinto spirits, the incense filled temples with great statues to myriad gods and goddesses.
The laments for the old SL, and its world of words without sounds, is a topic on the fingertips of many. The power of symbol, without the hot fast live now clatter of sound, is not to be denied, if only we can be still enough to feel it.
But they are all still with us too. Old SL is now going to be placed along side a sleek new SL. Voice will be the turning point, not voice chat the feature, which is still clunky and in quiet even in the most crowded of places, but voice to voice connection, at the moment, by Skype. Vox will come to escorting, to meetings, to every day connections. We will want to know our friend by voice, many of us already do. If marriages can come out of IRC and dating sites that begin with emails tossed into the void, then so too will SL be the soil out of which love and friendship grows.
However, the co-existence of old and new is never easy, it is never gifted a smooth transition from one world to the next, for a whole world. I have read and reread Gone with the Wind, and the movie, is my mother's favorite movie, without competition, question or equivocation. It is about a world that passes, its fall, and what happens to the people who are in it, how some rise, some fall, and others merely endure.
The rites of old SL, and the advantages of old SL, are centered on the differences between symbolic text, and iconic voice. One is mediated through eyes and hands and many parts of the brain and body. As a result, it is fully fluid. Many people can be another self in text, speaking a different language, having an insulation between the second life and the first. This insulation allows them to be their fantasy, to live in a culture of their self-expression, without disturbing and disrupting their real self.
The people who have made old SL, are not people who do not have a first life, but people who do. And they do not want that first life erased by the fumblings of people who either do not have a first life, or whose second life is so thin and throw away, as to be, not an existence, but a weapon, eager to spurt its payload all over the face of the old.
A person who speaks no English can, in old SL, reach out to the wider world. A person whose speaking is difficult and slow, can reach out to the wider world, and the wider world can reach into them. The old SL is more international, and internationalist. When I worked Sexcino , I managed a staff in 7 languages. I could not do that in voice, I doubt very many people could, and not command rates much higher than SL could pay. Old SL's connections are many, varied, textured. The 60 year old woman and the 20 year old man can dance, meet, be lovers, and yet go back to their other lives.
And the old SL has its rites and rituals. Escorting, in its full text, animation and object sense, is the art of love of old SL. The easy connection of casual sex chat, naughty IMs, and the ability to be in a private bubble anywhere in the world, makes old SL, like a book, a gate way into another universe, just waiting to be opened.
The old SL, by being a realm that could both fit next to, and slide away from, a person's real life, meant that they were not tethered to it to any degree that they did not want to be tethered to it. So it is for the falling flowers, and crashing houtongs. I have heard more than one person say that if voice becomes the standard, that is the end of them, the end of their SL. They say it as if a part of them will die.
I think instead that those who cannot live in a world with a new SL at all will go to the next place, one with better graphics and animation, one with other features, and a different way of playing. But are those who will die, utterly and totally, with the new SL's co-existence really so many?
If I were to write as an academic, I would talk about the transition from feudalism, which is the old SL, with its personal bonds of loyalty and decentralized hierarchical structure, and also feudalism chaotic market place, variable crafts, closed and secretive guilds, to instead aristocracy, with its loyalties of money, its schools for imposing style on art, dance and every aspect. With its collapse into mobs of poor searching to scratch out day labor and a few privileged who touch the river of real money.
I could talk about the movement of social structures, but the truth of the matter would be so wildly unpopular, that I think it will have to wait for someone with tenure to say it. And you know the joke, "something so obvious even a tenured professor can say it."
But I am not writing as an academic, but as, perhaps a failed poet, who looks back and sees the rich textured fantasy life of text, which stretches deep and far back, far beyond my days and years, and into the earliest moments when people sought to unchain themselves from the idiosyncratic nature of time, place, physicality and physics themselves, and connect through a stream of symbols. From Zork and Adventure and many steps in between that I do not know the names of, countless hours spent staring at screens. From talk programs and irc , where people dial their expectation of interaction down to a crawl, so that they may feel the droplets of distant contact on the tip of the fingers, and taste the moisture in parched desert.
Voice, by being the rock that breaks the fragile community and credibility creating forms of old SL, is what will drive this change in many ways. However, while the changes will be volcanic, they will not cover all and drown out the old SL, just as Geisha navigate the streets of Tokyo, and the yearly pilgrimage to the cherry blossoms brings Japan to a halt for a week of contemplation. May holiday in China is the same, the world, simply, stops.
The world of symbol then, this world, of floating words that glow of the light of a cold sun, that body which we face when in the cyber lands, is the world out of which SL grows.
The passing of this world is not going to be an earthquake. They say that Rome was not built in a day, and it did not fall in a day either.
The houses of the old rites of SL will go on, precisely because they go on. The person who tears into SL looking for a fast fuck or rill relationship, leaves soon there afterward. I went ballroom dancing the other night, and the person I danced with was extremely rude, constantly trying to pry into my rl, wanted to take me to "some place quiet" before we had even danced, and haranguing me for not popping forth answers to his questions at double time. This is a relatively common pattern for people just in SL to get someone and get out of here.
The people of old SL, by contrast, are not going away, because they are not here to take something away in the first place. They might meet someone, fall in love, and do all those things that people do, but because the fantasy world is not, and never can be, the real world. Or perhaps it is very unlikely to displace the real world. So these people stay. They deal with problems in world, and they deal with people in world. They stay, because there is no place like old SL out there.
The new SL is sleek and exciting, there is nothing like making voice connection, the heart soars and the mind expands, and there is another room that is next to your own, and within it, you can hear it, a beating heart.
This burning liveness will drive voice into the corners of SL, and adapt. People will do voice, but voice with select people, their friends, the ones they know well. The risk of voice will come with the reward of closeness.
The violent anger and fear over voice chat is not displaced, however, it is not vox humana, but the vorgification of sound. It exposes people without their consent, without their ability to deal with it. How can you respond to an accusation in voice, unless you are on voice? Even if you do not want to use voice, you have to listen just to protect yourself. Consider the situation of someone slandering you to the sim owner by voice if you have voice off, you could be ejected and banned before you even know what was wrong. It is a vorgy, hence my private name: vorgifone. It is something which, blah blah blah phallocentrism is imposed like rape upon us, and the exposure it creates, the sense of vulnerability, is something I have seen in IMs to me, posts, private emails and comments. Only someone with no sense what so ever of the danger of being exposed in the online world, would have made voice chat the way it is made. It is a tool for griefers , frustrated broadcasters and people who will generate one newbie after another to get a chance to scream "fuck!" in public. If voice is the warm touch, then vorgifone is being pawed in a crowded subway car.
This is one of the reasons that new SL is not going to displace old SL and even when it exists, it will weave in strange ways with the old sl. Namely voice and touch are powerful, and therefore hard to control. The features to deal with the problems are not there. Something simple, as an example. I can set scripts, object creation and other features to be for a group only. But not voice chat. Half the vorgifone problems would go away, if only parcel owners could set voice chat to be only a specific group or level of membership of a specific group, the way, say, buying land for group is. That way, a club could have its VIP members list, and one of the privileges of trusted membership, would be voice chat. Another thing that would be useful would be able to have a "mixing board" to turn up and down different voice groups. So, for example, performers could be heard loudly over a whole parcel, while private conversations would be close. And too many people, from executives to ordinary people, have pointed out that having some way of limiting who hears a voice conference which is not cumbersome would be useful.
So do not mourn, yet, the falling flowers. Old SL will remain the soul of SL for quite sometime, because it is made up of people who have made a second life that rests aside their first. It is the soul of SL creatively, and the center of the engine willing to weed through the problems of SL. We will be here today, tomorrow and the next month, because we cannot be lured out. We are also the web the binds SL together, across languages, times and places. It is we who accept the inner life, and do not want to impose the outer life on it. This web of bonds is the credibility of SL . Who would want to voice escort someone who is one day old with a throw away name? Only someone who is a professional phone sex girl, who expects no other living.
Old SL then, like old China, and old Japan, and even the old West and old World, is a breathing growing thing, which while its time as the only SL is coming to a close, will flower again and again, because it is the part of SL which blows, grows, changes.
But never dies. For old SL is the womb from which springs, that which others desire to enter into.