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alt7 : culture, media, politics, technology, edited by Dean Terry

May 30, 2006

A Virtual Religion

Blake Attempts to Pray

Blake Wake, my avatar in Second Life, is becoming more and more interested in the spiritual aspects of virtual space. Is it possible that spirituality may be mediated via computer networks and 3d graphics the way it is via text, the plastic jesus, and tel evangelism? Maybe even more profoundly because it is already non-physical and disembodied? (That is assuming spirituality requires these two things).

Blake Wake visits Pixel Jesus in a CaveThe first premise is that if physical communities are on the decline and people are looking to virtual spaces for community and spending more and more time there, there needs to be a spiritual component. The second premise is that virtual worlds are a new kind of place, related to but different in kind than real space. Our relationship to the spiritual there is also different. Simply importing real world religions into the space is somehow unsatisfactory. Is it possible to create a new religion, or a major variant, in virtual space? Is it inevitable?

One of the problems is that many people in virtual worlds are there to forget about the real world and any spiritual matters they may otherwise be concerned with. And there is a tendency of many involved with technology to be fairly secular, with religions instincts channeled into the wondrous magic of the latest gadgets and the next wave of advancements.

Blake Wake went exploring what religious areas that do exist in Second Life recently. Early results with photos and comments are in the Metaverse set on flickr.

Posted by Dean Terry at 12:01 AM Link

May 15, 2006

Thus Spake Blake Wake

Blake Wake Second LifeI've been working on my avatar in Second Life. His name is Blake Wake (and he just bought a virtual island from Anshe Chung for some reason).

There are two basic approaches to this. One is to develop a character that more or less mimics your real life persona. The purpose of this is to represent yourself in 3pointd space for often pragmatic reasons: the journalist or entrepreneur that needs to maintain a level of transparency and develop trusted relationships that transcend a particular virtual world.

The other approach - one which I find much more compelling - is to develop an alternate persona. The could-have-been or the wish-I could or simply a doppelganger with better hair and fewer skin imperfections.

In my case I am fancying the idea of developing an avatar or two that represent a set of ideas particular to the virtual world. Unfortunately most of the ideas in virtual worlds are shovelware - ideas shoveled from the real world into virtual space. Some have argued this is jut what we should do - create virtual version of real world people, events, and transactions. Certainly there is a role for this, but I'm more interested in the imaginative possibilities of these spaces.

There are two areas that are of interest. One is architecture and the other is religion. On the architecture front Blake Wake is, er, I am working on a "theory of virtual architecture." Or maybe it is a theory of place making. Either way, someone needs to do something. Most of the building going on in Second Life mimics real life structures. Now much of this is due to the fact that SL has modeled itself on the real world, even down to the problematic land ownership structure. Yes there is still an up and a down, and avatars look like humans, but you can fly and teleport yourself anywhere instantly. your buildings can float. Right now coming up with a "theory" is basically ridiculous considering the size of SL. But this is an early adopter playground and at some point in the near future there will be a metaverse and people will build places. The question is what to take from thousands of years of place making and what to jettison and develop new ideas appropriate for the varying rules of virtual spaces. Stay tuned for Blake Wake's ideas.

Blake Wake AvatarThe other area of interest is religion, and many of the comments above apply here as well. If you think that SL and the metaverse should mostly be a place that RE-presents (read presents again) the real world, then having churches and praying to Jesus makes some kind of sense - even though there are so many layers of mediation going on it is befuddling. On the other hand - and its way to early for this - there amy be a kind of religious experience that can only be mediated through virtual space. If not only, then substantially. A virtual church is no more abstract and no less symbolic than a real one. More on this later as well.

Of course the contrast I present here is in many cases much more of a blur. The typical MySpace or Facebook profile is in some sense an avatar, and a selective, online version of the person. The question is whether avatars like Blake Wake, insofar as I decide to distinguish him from my real life person, are substantial, meaningful entities. Right now they are attached to games and worlds like Second Life, but this will change.


Posted by Dean Terry at 09:49 PM Link

April 23, 2006

Second Life Makes Business Week Cover

Second Life Virtual World

Virtual land ownership and Second Life made it to the cover of Business Week. Cat's out of the bag folks.

SL is doing a lot of things right. For one thing it's not really a "game." And like the best of new web content it is generated by its participants. But it is not governed by its participants. This is because SL is a private space - which in my view means is it an interim world. Open worlds are the future of virtual places.

As public space disappears and becomes privatized it makes open virtual spaces all the more important.

Posted by Dean Terry at 10:15 PM Link

April 14, 2006

Subdivided Clip: McMansions & Community

Posted by Dean Terry at 08:38 PM Link

April 12, 2006

aVaTar Documentary Starting

The Subdivided documentary is in the final editing stages. But that of course has not stopped me from starting another one. The new project is tentatively titled aVaTar. It's follows the theme of community building from Subdivided into the online space. My contention is that in the near future immersive, shared online spaces will no longer be restricted to games, or even to private spaces like Second Life, but will be legitimate spaces for culture and commerce. We will move in and out of them the same way we move from web page to web page. The film asks the question: what lessons can we learn from what's going on now in spaces like WOW, Everquest, and the social networking sites? What does it mean to have an avatar?

So... We went to our first event at Fan Faire in Atlanta over the weekend. It's the Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) Fan Event for Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies and other properties. And apart from a truly crappy hotel - one rated four stars on Travelocity but which in reality was a two star hotel - the experience was immersive, exhausting, and very satisfying from a documentary experience. After a day of making our presence known and getting folks comfortable with the fact that there were two guys running around sticking giant cameras in their faces, we felt like we were part of the crowd. The SOE folks were particularly helpful accommodated our numerous requests for interviews, space, light, etc. I felt like I was there for a week, and it was just over two days.

We'll be placing some footage from the event up on the aVaTar site later this week, including the costume contest and interview snippets. Sign up for the newsletter and we'll send you an update.

Continue reading "aVaTar Documentary Starting"

Posted by Dean Terry at 12:02 PM Link

April 01, 2006

A Sprawl Tax in Texas

This from the Project for Public Spaces:

In a move that stunned political observers from El Paso to Texarkana, Governor Rick Perry announced a bold move to revitalize Texas communities by creating thousands of town squares modeled on Mexican plazas throughout the state.

"Let's face it," the governor announced in a surprise press conference at the Alamo in San Antonio, "we may have whupped the Mexicans to win our independence but we sure lost the battle to make great places. Mexican towns and villages have lively plazas and zocalos, where everyone can gather in the evenings. They've got street life, damn it. We're stuck with a bunch of Wal-Marts and strip malls. Ay Caramba!"

Perry said that his ambitious public space plan, which includes grants of up to $1000 per resident for any neighborhood or town wanting to create a plaza, will be paid for by his new sprawl tax on stores and offices that are not pedestrian-friendly.

Happy April Fools day... More from PPS.

Posted by Dean Terry at 06:11 PM Link

March 23, 2006


Suburban Peephole

This is what I see when I look out the peephole in my front door. I'm tempted to look out before I open the door not for security reasons, but because I'm trying to avoid my neighbors.

Why? Because it has become so uncomfortable always having to pretend they are not there. Talking in the street goes against the weltanshuung of the neighborhood. The rule is: minimal human interaction.

There are only so many ways of ignoring people you see frequently. It gets old. So instead, I spy on them, and only go out when no one is outside. Luckily, that is most of the time.


Posted by Dean Terry at 10:18 AM Link

March 15, 2006

Subdivided to Screen in McKinney

A "fine cut" of Subdivided: Isolation and Community in America will play at the Heard Museum in McKinney this coming Tuesday night @ 7:30.The event will include a Q&A and should be completed by 9PM. It costs $5, or $2 for students. Here are directions.

Thanks to the Dallas Video Festival for hosting this event!


Posted by Dean Terry at 02:31 PM Link

March 06, 2006

No Anything

No Anything
Originally uploaded by Dean Terry.
In other words - no youth transportation allowed.

There are no areas for kids to go and be kids, so they go to the leftover spaces between and behind things. In the back another shopping strip near here I found a group of teenagers skateboarding on the pavement of the loading docks.

There's a similar sign in the local mall that says "no dancing."

Posted by Dean Terry at 04:03 PM Link

January 31, 2006



You are not supposed to pay attention to the parking structures that sit next to (rather than under) suburban office buildings such as this one in Addison Texas. These structures built for automobiles are supposed to be invisible, not part of the official design of the primary structure. Sometimes it's hard to figure out which one is uglier.

While I was interviewing him in Addison Circle, Andres Duany looked at these structures and said "it couldn't have taken more than 15 minutes to design the whole facade."

Pretty generous of him, I thought.


Posted by Dean Terry at 09:12 PM Link

January 28, 2006

Memory Bench

Benches and chairs have become decorative. They are like vestigial relics of a time when people really did sit in front of their houses.

Posted by Dean Terry at 05:56 PM Link

January 22, 2006

Bubble 2.0

OK this is funny. I played a part in Bubble 1.0 and if we are in a Bubble 2.0 - there certainly is a frenzy over social software - then this image may have it down pat. One thing that was lacking in Bubble 1.0 was irony, not to mention doubt. We were all caught in this mass hallucination that looked something like the cover of The Robb Report, except younger and with email.

After the sales of myspace and flickr, a lot of people raised their heads from their gmail and went "hmmmm. So people really do want to connect with other people?" Well of course they do - at least via the mediation of a screen. Most of the built environment precludes opportunities for interrelations. We all get to have our stuff, our houses, and our cars, all of which keeps us at increasing distances from one another. And a good deal of recent technology is itself to blame for the spiral of disconnectedness.

As I finish my film Subdivided I am continually reminded how no matter how violently some societal forces push us away from one another, we always find ways to connect, even if it's just recreational groping in Second Life ;-)


Posted by Dean Terry at 09:08 PM Link

January 16, 2006

A Little Tree on a Concrete Island

This is a sad little tree behind a new shopping center in Frisco, Texas. We can thank thoughtful zoning rules for this lovely scene. Everything was scraped away, paved and cemented, and then they made a little island for this lonely, pathetic tree.

Still image from the documentary film "Subdivided" - to be released this year.

Posted by Dean Terry at 12:55 PM Link

January 13, 2006

Welcome to Second Life, Let's Grope


Second Life Online Virtual WorldWelcome to your Second Life, your new virtual world awaits you! The hope of a new life, free from all the real people you know and the sorry state of your own appearance. You can look like you've always wanted to look! Plus, no smells!

Oh, but wait. First this guy wants to put his hand in your pants.

And this is just what happened to a student of mine as he entered Second Life for the first time. Second Life is an online world that allows you to own virtual land and engage in various business and interpersonal activities: flirting, gambling, building things, groping, etc.

While I'm not opposed to groping in an of itself, and I'm certainly not against online worlds, this quite common event shows just how far these worlds still need to go.

In the near future most people will have multiple avatars in multiple, interconnected worlds engaged in all manner of activities - not just games and diversions.

And just as the pornography industry blazed many an Internet trail, so too will they work out the kinks (so to speak) in online worlds. In Second Life you can go to stripper bars and watch naked pixel women writhe before you in all their herky jerky, motion captured glory. If you give them Second Life currency, they will do other things for you.

One of the big problems with these worlds at the present time is that they are all privately owned, commercial ventures. Yes this will move the technology and the ecology of virtual culture forward, but certain areas will be ignored, such as shared spaces. The immersive digital commons.

For this we need an open-source movement in virtual worlds. One they are available, people will want virtual "rooms" and they will want to interconnect them, just the way they interconnect now with flickr and facebook, and all the other social software tools. People will connect their spaces organically, like the blogosphere, free from any overarching dictator - which is exactly how online worlds are governed now.

Once we have real public space in online worlds then we'll have an online world worth entering.


Posted by Dean Terry at 08:55 PM Link

December 10, 2005

Pinter, The Nobel Prize, and the Frozen Pool


Harold Pinter, on receiving his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize on Wednesday, spoke in an unadulterated voice rarely heard in the US. This from a NYT report:

He returned to the theme of language as an obscurer of reality, saying that American leaders use it to anesthetize the public. "It's a scintillating stratagem," Mr. Pinter said. "Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable."

This idea of language as an "obscurer of reality" is a potent one. Warm, fuzzy, easy conceptions keep us a managed population, as Curtis White has described. The fuzziness makes criticisms and harsh truths seem fantastic and truly out of this world. "This world" is a carefully manufactured set of safe, simple mental way points that keep away troubling thoughts about some of the assumptions that form the foundation of modern western consumer culture, and its leadership by the United States. As Pinter says, it is "a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis."

Continue reading "Pinter, The Nobel Prize, and the Frozen Pool"

Posted by Dean Terry at 02:46 PM Link




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