Online Journal for the CyberOne class

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The Questions

The purpose of these journals will be to evaluate the characteristics of the particular technology as a medium of expression. Is it easy to use? What kind of expression does it encourage? What kind of expression does it discourage? Is it a useful tool for education? That sort of question and whatever else you find interesting about it.

My Thoughts on Wiki

First off, I was shocked how easy Wiki is to use. The only thing I have to compare it to is Google's blogger software, and it seems much easier than that. For example, I was impressed that all I had to do was put double brackets around a word to create a new page. Similarly, a link to another page was created with a single bracket. As is evident in my wiki profile, I got carried away with the links, just because it was so easy.

In fact, the simplicity of the software actually fostered my creativity, and encouraged me to provide a lot more information than I otherwise would have. Usually when I have to write a profile of myself, it's for normal print media. So I give the requisite boring details, and that's it. With my Wiki Profile, I linked a few obvious things like Stanford and Harvard, and was having so much fun linking that my creative process changed. Rather than trying to think of facts that I should include in a biography, I began trying to think of things that I wanted to link to, and I created the biography around those links.

What was fun about writing the Wiki was the thought that it could become an authoritative source on "me." Just like people go to Wikipedia for a complete take on any topic under the sun, they could come to my Wiki Profile to learn all about me. That's assuming, of course, that this site is going to survive the semester. But I could imagine it becoming something that is worth investing a considerable amount of time in, because I could continue to build on it in the future.

As far as Wiki goes as a teaching tool, I think it could be fantastic for group collaboration. It would be a lot better than constantly passing around "the" project and each adding to it, or having to get together to produce something, as we did in high school.

I do see some potential problems with Wiki as a teaching tool, though. Chief among them is the interplay between real-life interpersonal dynamics and cyberworld interpersonal dynamics. What makes Wikipedia so effective as a tool of collaboration is that the normal rules of etiquette don't exist. And that's good, because they'd get in the way. There are different rules of etiquette there, which have developed and are appropriate to that space.

For example, if I were working on a project with peers in real life, I would expend a lot of energy doing a song-and-dance about respecting their opinion, even if I thought they were dead wrong. I would even sacrifice the quality of the final project just to preserve relationships. On Wikipedia, on the other hand, people can hide behind the internet. If they disagree with something someone wrote, they just delete it and write something better. They don't worry about hurt feelings. They only care about the integrity and accuracy of the final product. The niceties of manners don't get in the way.

So, in CyberOne, we have both dynamics, and I fear the intersection will be awkward. I predict that the pages where we signed up to work as a team to summarize a week's reading will be less effective (as far as the optimum use of Wiki goes) than the project to petition the administration to make the course pass/fail. Why? Because the small groups are comprised of people who are friends in real life, or who at least know each other's real names. So they won't be as willing to just slash and burn other peoples' work. It'll be a lot more like a real-life interaction, with the attendant manners. Since the group working to petition the administration is voluntary and ad-hoc, people don't have to be as polite.

Anyway, I guess the insight I'm trying to articulate is that Wiki works best when it's anonymous, because real-life manners get in the way. It's better to keep the real world and the Cyber world separate, so that the Cyber world can develop its own regulations (laws?) that suit it best.

  • nesson here: it will be interesting to watch, whether you continue to think the wiki works best when it's anonymous. you express yourself the pleasure of using the wiki to express identity.

My Thoughts on Scratch

I really understand the concept of "code as law" now that I have tried to code a game.

It seems the overriding law in this space is "be specific." It's just like the peanut butter and jelly sandwich example. If I don't say exactly what I mean, it will do exactly what I say anyway. Its logic is relentless. As a result, there's no "spirit of the law" fuzziness in the cyberworld. There's not some judge waiting to reform your contract based on what you meant. If you don't get it right, it shows up wrong. So, when trying to express yourself in the cyberworld, you are very much constrained by this "law of PB&J".

Scratch is a useful way to learn these lessons because you get feedback instantly. I write code, push the green flag, and immediately my sprite starts doing something. If it does it in a way that I don't like, I can see that immediately, and go back and fix it.

What was sometimes frustrating about the Scratch experience is that its language is limited. So my ability to express my idea was limited. I wanted to say "If I receive a broadcast of XYZ..." but that's just not possible. If you want to have your sprite do something based on receipt of a broadcast, that has to be the start of a script, not in the middle as a condition. That limited what I was able to do with my game, unless I found another way to get around it. This seems reminiscent of bureaucracy in the world of atoms. You know there are better ways to do things, but you can't change the language being used by the lady behind the desk. She will only listen to you if you fill out this form, even if this form doesn't fit exactly what you're trying to say.

The beauty of the cyberworld, though, is that I CAN change the language if I have the will to do so. I could write to the Scratch people at MIT and get on their team, or just write the code myself once they make it opensource. So, laws are much easier to re-write in the cyberworld.

In that way, using Scratch encourages different levels of expression. You realize what goes into the games we play (through which we express ourselves as consumers/players). When trying to write those games, we express a vision of what the game ought to look like as authors/creators. And then, when we realize the limitations of Scratch itself as a tool, we desire to express ourselves as meta-creators, as if we are creators of a human language itself. Those layers are kind of like in the world of atoms: as citizens, we are consumers of promulgated law. Once we run into a problem with that law, we sue or we lobby to get the law written in a way we like by judges or Congress. But if the system won't allow that vision to be expressed, we can go back to Constitutional amendment or even a constitutional convention to fix it at the most basic level.

In law and in Scratch, digging one level deeper encourages us to keep digging another level deeper.

  • nesson here.
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My Thoughts on Second Life

Wow. What an experience that was! I honestly expected that my reaction would be that it is totally dorky and lame. Anytime there's a revolution in technology, I assume it's the geekiest of the geeky that have discovered it and are using it. And from there, my poor logic makes me assume it'll be something that only geeky people would like. For example, we always used to make fun of the computer guru kid down the block who bought big speakers for his computer. "Why," we asked, "so you can hear all the beeps and buzzes louder?" At that time, we didn't foresee the revolution in media delivery that the internet was about to spawn. But he did! So we made fun of him, but now he's a millionaire executive at Yahoo.

Anyway, I was SO impressed with Second Life. Having arrived on Berkman Island, it blew me away to see Austin Hall and be able to walk around in it. Obviously it isn't an exact reproduction, but I can see the potential of the medium. With enough effort, somebody could COMPLETELY recreate anything in real life. For example, the White House. Since we're no longer allowed in there for tours, somebody could build a replica in Second Life, and even charge admission. And, next door, somebody could build one of the White House when Adams moved in for the first time, to see how it was different. And another one to see the damage after the War of 1812. How exciting it would be to "walk around" in the White House 200 years ago. I am disappointed that my kids will never get a chance to tour the White House like I did as a child. But this is a way they can do it, without even having to leave their rooms.

Another potential for SL that really struck me was the ability of people who, because of a handicap or whatever other reason, can't get around themselves in real life. It allows them to enjoy a very rich social life. They can shop, walk, take tours, take classes, build, play music, and even fly. How wonderful!

One thing we discussed in class (or maybe it was the articles) was the equality of opportunity provided by SL. Everybody starts out with one outfit, in the same place. You can choose any gender, skin color, and size you want. You are not hampered by disease, nor are you benefitted by social connections. Theoretically, it offers an inner city teenager the same opportunities as the Queen of England.

Even apart from the obvious fact that real world advantages DO creep into SL in that you can "buy" SL money using real money, it's still not really equal. What got me thinking about this was the fact that the first few times I signed in and began moving around, my computer crashed. So, what makes it unequal is that it's only available to those who have high quality video cards and a fast internet connection. And even a 2-year-old IBM laptop and the HLS dorm connection wasn't good enough! So what that basically means is that only the relatively wealthy can enjoy it.

That's not a fault of the designers of SL. It's just an observation that it's not as deep a democratization as it would be nice to imagine it could be. So, it's not the Queen of England conversing on equal terms with someone in an Indonesian jail, it's the Queen conversing with an American college student. That's still cool. It's just not as exciting. It just means we need to get our act together and get all types of people connected to these technologies if they're really going to enable revolutionary new ways to communicate.

Once again, I'm stuck on the idea of identity on the internet. We weren't really anonymous because we signed up to be there and our names can/will be traced back to our real identities. But most people in SL are basically anonymous. Or, pseudonymous, I guess. They create a persona, and can be whoever they want. Some people in real life try to differentiate themselves by dying their hair or getting tattoos or wearing special clothes. In SL, you can change ANYTHING to fit your true sense of self. It would be interesting to do a psychological study to see if people develop new "isms" in SL, or whether they end up more tolerant on average. For example, will people who are racist against a particular other race feel the same way when they see a person portraying that race in SL? Or will they realize that the person could be their own mother, just dressed up as another race? I guess the question I'm trying to ask is, will people be able to separate their real-life feelings and beliefs from their SL feelings and beliefs? Will people develop an affinity (akin to family solidarity) for other people who look like sharks, or other people with the last name "Burrito?"

Manners in SL are interesting. How will we develop a system of behavior that is appropriate to that space? In real life, if we're talking to somebody and our cell phone rings, we say excuse me and turn around and answer it. And the other person can SEE that we are, indeed, talking on the phone. In SL, we could be standing talking to someone and our cell phone rings in REAL LIFE. What do you do in SL? Do you have to say excuse me? Do you have to step away from the group because you're no longer participating in the conversation? Or can you just stop talking and moving in SL for 20 minutes while you're on the phone? Is that rude?

Or, similarly, if you decide to sign out of SL, do you have to say goodbye to the people you just met, even though you know you'll probably never see them again and it doesn't matter whether they think you're rude? I know that when I'm in a normal chat room, I don't excuse myself when I sign out. I just leave. Is it somehow different because of the visual nature of SL?

I know that when I first got to our class meeting on Thursday night on Berkman Island, I wasn't very good at walking. So I kept bumping into people. Should I say I'm sorry, even though it didn't really bother them? If somebody repeatedly bumps into me and irritates me, should I have some "cause of action" akin to battery against them in some SL "court"?

It's fascinating to think about how all these things will play out. Will we ever develop a single accepted way of behaving? Will it necessarily reflect real life norms? Will there develop different cultures among differen pockets of SL folk?