Collaboration, Education in Virtual Worlds, Second Life

Program or Be Programmed: Education, Virtual Worlds and Our Lives Online

It may seem like a stretch to say that 5,000 educators and trainers coming together in a virtual world represents the leading edge of how we can come to an accommodation with technology’s power over our lives, but that’s what struck me about the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) conference.

Karl Kapp wrote a follow-up piece in which he claimed he had seen the “future of conferences” and while that may be true to some degree I was instead reminded of what Tom Boellstorff said during my interview of him on Saturday: that as we CREATE we both construct and embed ideas in those constructions.

He reiterated the point he made in his book Coming of Age in Second Life: virtual worlds powerfully represent a broader return to ‘techne’ as compared to ‘episteme’, the return of craft over formalized knowledge structures, and that through our use of the tools available to us we are creating new cultures and ways of understanding.

Tom goes further and says that in Second Life, not only do we have the visible manifestation of the concept of techne, or craft, versus episteme – but the techne is embedded WITHIN techne.

A conference in a virtual world achieves the obvious: it brings people together who might not be able to otherwise; it overcomes the barriers of geography (and with 48 straight hours of content, it overcame the barriers of time, to a degree at VWBPE); it saves costs on travel; and it allows access to expertise that we might not otherwise have.

But it does something further, and as I’ve said elsewhere, the power of virtual worlds isn’t simply in the creation of an immersive 3D space which allows both a sense of presence and space. The power of Second Life rests in its ability to represent ideas that are tangibly represented in a real-time collaborative environment.

Second Life is a massive, shared, editable, growing, changing world, but it’s also object oriented programming made accessible to, well, nearly everyone. This is significant because it provides access to a set of technological tools that are readily accessible (although not always easily mastered) with which we not only create 3D objects or environments, but the articulation of the ideas and cultural symbols with which we can endow them.

I honestly believe that this is what was ‘embedded’ in VWBPE – not the fact that participants could join each other and listen to speeches from a distance, but rather that they were able to remind each other that knowledge is constructed from the granular components of craft….that in a world in which the accumulation of knowledge is increasingly based upon techne as compared to episteme, we are ability to connect with each other, share, and manifest our ideas and connections in a way that simply was not possible 5 years ago or 10.

While 5,000 people were proving the truth of this craft, Douglas Rushkoff, who recently appeared on Metanomics, was reminding us that technology is NOT all from the podium at SWSX and proposed ‘Ten New Commands for the Digital World’.

And the Tenth Command was the following: Program or be programmed. From a live report from SXSW:

This is a fascinating concept. Culture at large thinks about technology in terms of what can it do for us, rather than what can we make it do. Rushkoff says this is a false trade-off. Companies are telling us, well if you want that, then we can’t really make it dependable. They try to appease us with minimal customization. He says that if we are looking at the Net as a product we consume rather than something we create with, we are doomed.

The education community proved not that you can bring people together from a distance. They proved that there are already people out there who are finding their own accommodation with digital domains which would much RATHER we consume (or fertilize our crops, but still consume nonetheless) than create, and who have instead said:

“No. I’ll rez a few prims and come up with a few ideas and maybe I’ll stumble across a few other people who do the same. There’s no aggregation, there are no channels, there are no portals, there are no uber-brands or politics that I should rely on to do it for me – there’s simply the ever-widening circle of our ideas, and in our refusal to be programmed, we’ll craft a program of our own.”

An excerpt from Rushkoff’s keynote at SWSX:


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