Welcome to Second Loop

“We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.” – Marshall McLuhan

“[T]he mirror stage is a phenomenon to which I assign a twofold value. In the first place, it has historical value as it marks a decisive turning-point in the mental development of the child. In the second place, it typifies an essential libidinal relationship with the body-image” – Jacques Lacan

Hi. I’m Azdel Slade. I wanted to call this blog dreams of life, but it was taken. In a way, Second Life is a lot like a dream, an expression of desires and fears, of the unconscious. It is also in a lot of ways like a nightmare. And, the way we see ourselves in our dreams, in both senses of sleeptime dreams and hopes and dreams, effects how we shape ourselves. I’ll be writing here about my explorations in Second Life. There will be writing on lots of different topics such as identity, avatars, economics, politics, gender, sex. Why here? When I started thinking about blogging about SL, I quickly realized that I don’t necessarily want my avatar tied to my RL identity, at least not yet. I still want to be able to play “in world” and write about it here without everyone knowing all about my RL. You might have figured out who I am, but maybe you can keep it to yourself for a bit while I use this space for writing and experimenting.

What happens after Macluhan’s quote, where our tools shape us? What happens in the feedback loop where we shape our tools and our tools shape us and then we shape our tools again? Or when we shape our avatars and our avatars shape us and we keep shaping our avatars? What does Second Life do to us? Lacan wrote about the Mirror Stage, which he claimed was an important part of subjectivity itself. Basically the idea is that a baby sees itself in a mirror, being held up by its parents, and imagines that it knows how to walk. Then, when it tries to walk, it fails, but it continues to hold that image of itself in its head and work towards it. Can avatars work like that? Can constructions of imagined social structures work like that?

Is SL merely escapism? Or is it an experiment that might lead to more freedom? Is it just a bad copy of the worst parts of the “real” world, sexism, western beauty standards, racism, exclusion? Or is it a possible place to work out how we might envision the world we want to see? To practice constructing utopias? How can we understand identity as a feedback loop, as a social process of an individual act, a response from the other and reflection on that response which gets incorporated into the next act.

I’ll be writing more on this blog as I go. I’ve only been “in world” for a few months and have only really begun to learn how to use it well enough to enjoy it for a few weeks. But here are some initial notes I jotted down recently:

When I first told my housemates, and activist friends, about my idea to use SL to make art, they said “why in SL?”, and went on to say how SL is just for rich white yuppies. which made me wonder, who really is using second life? Now i think its more a mix of people who are looking for social stimulation but find it hard to get in real life, young people, geeks, queer people, disabled people. I’m sure there are others there, but i suspect that a lot of the people in sl are people who are targetsof some kind off discrimination in rl (real life). i surely fit into that category. in a metafilter post, a lot of the othered social categories and the animosity towards them was summed up in this comment:

People still use Second Life?

Serveral hundred overcredulous tech journalists, Warren Ellis, assorted furries, trannies, and S&M enthusiasts and him off of Boing Boing. ” http://www.metafilter.com/71318/Second-Life-Twitter-Typewriter

Also, the stats that Linden Labs publish show that US users are only about 25% of people on SL and there are people from many, many other countries outside of the US.

When I first bought a furry avatar, i still had to choose male or female, they are still totally gendered… This brought me to thinking about the limits of gender. Does gender have to contain some reference to male and female? Or just to characteristics that people usually consider male or female? How can we imagine new genders?

My first time having sex in sl involved me flirting with a woman av who seemed to imply that she was no expert at sex in sl, but when we went to her place, she owned a bed, tons of poseballs (none for sex, actually, most for cuddling and kissing) and after hanging out for a bit she “discovered” that she had an s&m cross and a whip. a few days later when i learned to look at profiles, i found that she’s part of about 10 s&m groups and has places like lesbian sex clubs in her list of favorite places in her profile.

Politics in SL are bubbling about prim limits, which may infringe on number of prims in your avatar, licensing and land usage. one article said something like “you can take my land before you take my [designer name here] shoes!” SL dissention and the SL liberation army are very active right now. also, someone supposedly hacked the SL atm system, but i’m not sure what the ramifications were.


3 Responses to “Welcome to Second Loop”

  1. 1 argotechnica
    June 1, 2008 at 6:27 am

    I suppose these concerns with Lacan & McLuhan are relevant to social networking sites too, no?

    When we Photoshop our profile photo galleries, for example, is it just so that our peers can see us better, or are we trying to see ourselves better, too? And how about that awkward feeling when one gets excited to “put that on my profile”: are we really only real inasmuch as our profile says we are? I guess that such a moment is especially true in SL — “I” really am (is?) only as real as the avatar… but, then, what is the relationship between I and My Avatar? Profile?

    Too, I think these concerns with the limitations put in place by social technologies need to be explored more. What happens, in Lessig’s “code is law” formulation, to the “unlawful input” of gender, sexuality and other variance?

    Bla bla, at any rate, please continue! I opened a blog yesterday myself (still very much under construction — cory.artgot.com) to start thinking about things like this I guess, too. Best of luck to us both. 🙂

  2. 2 secondloop
    June 2, 2008 at 1:22 am

    I absolutely think these concerns are related to social networking sites like Facebook and myspace. not just in photoshopping images, but in the very act of photographing, trying to find the right angle, the right lighting, or to pick the right photo, or to smile for the camera, these are all acts of creating a virtual self and then compiling them and presenting them on facebook creates that entity that is your facebook identity.

    is it you? only in that you are multiple.

    is it the real you? does it even make sense to ask this question anymore?

  3. 3 secondloop
    June 2, 2008 at 3:53 am

    on the sillyness of my own comment above about male and female restricting our imaginations, i stumbled across this quote today

    “There is an apocryphal story of an American anthropologist who visited a remote island where natives had 17 genders. Upon his return, he reported to the anthropological society that, ‘like all others we’ve studied, this culture has only men and women.'”
    – Genderqueer: Voics from beyond the sexual binary, edited by Joan Nestle, Clare Howell and Riki Wilchins

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