Christopher Walsh

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“Doctor Bradley and the Dungeon of Funding” takes to heart the comment that people like a fight, combining action, humor, and visuals with argument to try and keep people entertained while making its points. It also combines several of the styles of empathic argument that we have discussed in class. Doctor Bradley himself tries to understand and address the arguments of his opponents, with greater and lesser degrees of success. The Zombie begins by using the eminem approach of acknowledging his opponent’s arguments, which leads to a compromise between him and the Doctor. I chose to put the zombie encounter first in the storyline so that the Doctor would be seen as reasonable and willing to compromise – the “most reasonable person in the room” argument. Finally, the entire film is supposed to be seen as acknowledging the three categories of objections I addressed and, if not solving all disagreement, at least demonstrating a respect and understanding for those viewpoints. Balancing desires for humor and respect, the characters are all equally ridiculous and hopefully likable in their own ways. The movie also envisions a congenial resolution of the three disputes. One of my favorite aspects of the course was the fact that representatives of diametrically opposing interests were not only represented in the classroom but would engage one another in a friendly way. The movie takes this a step further, bringing people who at first see themselves as opponents into coalition.

There are two major interests that the movie does not empathize with, partially due to time constraints and concerns about the attention span of the audience, but also motivated by an awareness of the audience demographic. The two viewpoints not represented are religious objections to changing what God has made and pro-patent perspectives on human modification technology. I think it could be detrimental to the message to make a kitchen-sink argument that brought in every viewpoint at once. The movie as it stands hopefully serves to bring together the first alliance of interests, addressing concerns that might be held by people who could possibly become sympathetic to the cause as a strategic move, before addressing less reconcilable viewpoints. The next move is to address the pro-IP arguments with alternative technological development incentives combined with a philosophical/policy argument about why the current structure is inappropriate for these technologies – a harder argument than for genes, but an important one that essentially tries to draw a line at integral technology as opposed to, say, blackberries and PCs. This next portion of the argument will be the focus of my Petrie-Flom research this year.

While making the video I learned an important lesson about distinguishing between your message and your medium and budgeting your time appropriately. This was the largest machinima project I have undertaken, and the first that I have dubbed, and if I were to do it over again it would be as a miniseries of short machinima clips (1-2 minutes) and podcasts. While I first reached this conclusion after the sheer number of audio clips crashed my machinima program, I do have more principled reasons as well.

First, there are long segments of dialogue with no action, which could have been done much more easily as podcasts without detracting from the product, saving animation and audio synchronization time and preventing the reuse of a limited number of animations. It would be especially appropriate here, where there is a semi-episodic element already: “Doctor Bradley explores and is surprised by some threat,” and “Doctor Bradley confronts the threat.” With a little rescripting I could put all of the interesting visuals into the exploration part of each segment and the conversations could be audio clips.

Second, podcasts are more accessible to people in terms of file size. By limiting the total size of my project I could have helped make it easier for people to view. I took steps to do this by rendering at a lower quality than usual, but ten minutes of video is still pretty large. Ultimately, I was concerned that splitting the file would make it difficult for the audience to follow – I thought I would have to spend time setting the stage for each segment. However, I think the channel structure on blip.tv would solve this problem for me by keeping the files associated with one another, and not flying around the internet independently, as I was imagining.

Accessibility has been one of my primary concerns over the course. In a few places, especially Second Life, I think the sophistication of the medium has actually been harmful. We have used Second Life primarily as a chat client (with two exceptions: as an inspiring example of an open-source world and to enhance the extension school experience by making them feel as if they were in a virtual law school). For purposes of chatting with at-large participants and augmenting the in-class discussion, I think a simple text chat program would work better (and most of them enable file-sharing, too, as in Second Life). My laptop, which is fairly capable, cannot run Second Life, so I couldn’t go to Berkman Island during the last few classes and there was a barrier to logging in at other times that could have been eliminated with a lighter client. I also imagine it would improve at-large participation to lower this barrier. Fortunately, this may be one of those rare cases where we can get the best of both worlds, since I suspect it would be possible to program an object in Second Life that communicates with a text-based messaging system, relaying things said in one forum to the other and vice versa.

I think there are other reasons that the online community aspect of the course did not pan out, some of which can be remedied. It’s hard to create an online community from whole cloth, especially when many of the key members are already very busy. Personally, my membership in online communities vanished after middle school, due mostly to moving close enough to my meat world friends to interact with them, instead, and not having vast stretches of social down time. I think the tool we needed for low-effort interaction was a message board: a forum where one can easily check for new posts and contribute meaningfully even with only ten minutes on the site once or twice a week. Something like that could crop up on a wiki, but would require a lot of time setup, and casual wiki users often generate fairly unreadable content in terms of formatting (see e.g. the grading discussion in the old evidence wiki). I think the larger moral is that law students don’t have the time to casually take advantage of the most flexible tools, so giving them the simpler tools (while making them aware of the flexible tools) is probably the way to go. Scratch was a successful example of this principle in action, and I think simple text clients and message boards would work well, too.

In conclusion, thank you for the class. I definitely appreciated the cooperative ethic and the theme of learning from one another, and I hope my comments are helpful in building on the experience.