SWIP in cyberspace

It’s been a big week for the Society for Women in Philosophy, Cyberspace Division. First Sally Haslanger set up a Facebook group for SWIP, and now Anne Jacobson is offering SWIP the use of her virtual office in Second Life. She writes:

Apparently some companies use it for training sessions; I’ve been to a conference and seen a pretty good photography exhibit. I have met up with people (my avatar has talked to theirs with my words); that’s as good as instant messaging. Presumably, everyone with a microphone can talk to or at others. If SWIP were interested, we could get together avatars from Europe and North American to discuss having a conference or starting an online journal, for example. And a feminist presence in Second Life would be a good thing, I think.

I’m extremely ignorant of what can be done with these technologies, and I’m hoping some of you may be more knowledgeable. What does Facebook give us that we don’t get through having web pages? An easy way to find other SWIP members? More? And what about Second Life? Is the virtual office basically a chat room? What can be done with these, either in terms of philosophy or activism? What has been done? I know that there are some actual university courses being offered in second life– what do these get someone that they can’t get by more traditional online learning? I know there are also political groups in Second Life. Is there a feminist presence? With SWIP, of course, there are further complications. It’s a Society for *Women* in Philosophy, and I don’t think non-women members are allowed in any divisions. All-women spaces already raise lots of issues regarding sex and gender identity when decisions have to be made about who is a woman. But in Second Life, as I understand it, anyone can have a woman avatar. What do we do about membership there? Another thought, given Second Life flexibility regarding gender, is that it could be used (to some limited extent) to help men learn what it’s like to be a woman, and to help women learn what it’s like to be a man. (Apparently, it’s been successfully used to help show trainee psychiatrists what schizophrenia feels like.) All thoughts very welcome. As I said, I’m totally out of my depth on this stuff.

6 thoughts on “SWIP in cyberspace

  1. I can’t speak to the Second Life issue, but Facebook is a very helpful networking tool for students and junior faculty. It’s popular, informal and easy to use, and the format is such that one can easily contact folks with similar interests. Funnily enough, I created a similar Facebook group days before Haslanger did and invited some of my female grad student friends. Great minds. :-)

    Of course, this popularity, informality and ease-of-use has been described as something of a double-edged sword (particularly, I think, for young women.) One danger that has been mentioned is the practice that companies (and graduate programs?) have of “background checking” students on Facebook. I know that at least anecdotally, the threat of this has prompted caution among some of my friends about the content of their profiles (particularly photographs in which they’re “tagged”).

  2. I think Second Life could be considered a visual chatroom. So part of what it adds to ordinary chatrooms is the visual element. There is a lot of extreme nastiness on the net, and since a strong hypothesis has that due in part to the fact that one has so little in the way of cues, maybe discussions in second life would be more civil. I don’t know if that’s so, but I bet there’s research going on.

    I suspect the visual adds more than social moderation. It is possible to share visual experiences with others and to comment on them. For example, someone teaching a class in photography could upload images and have people look at them and discuss them with her. Or she can run a film and discuss it.

    You can also use a picture of yourself to create your avatar’s face, so it is possible to introduce a bit of realism.

    Finally, my own brief experience with Second Life has suggested that the visual adds a psychological dimension that I certainly don’t yet understand. One important thing about our vision is that it is easy to recalibrate it, at least for short periods of time. That’s how a lot of visual illusions are created, such as the one in which you see a solid wall as flowing because you’ve looked at some flowing water. Virtual objects in second life are created from visual elements and this is pretty present visually. For a short period after being in Second Life, I can see real objects as sort of divided up.

    Let me finally pick up on the idea of trying on a different gender. Have trotted around Second Life for several days in a body that looks MUCH younger than mine, I noticed a disconnect between what people expect and how I act. And I also realized a difference in myself that I was surprised by. For example, I met up with an acquaintance who was engaged in an argument with some (seemingly!) attractive young men with quite conservative points of view. I just thought that it was boring and I didn’t have time for it. I’m willing to bet my younger self was much more accommodating.

  3. Thanks for these! Rachel- (1) Yes, I can see the netwirking value; (2) does ‘tagged’ mean something technical? JJ- (1) Really odd about the perceptual stuff in 2nd life, fascinating; (2) Does one really get useful visual cues from avatars? How does that work?

  4. Jender, I haven’t quite made it work, but an avatar has potentially a wide range of expressions that one can assign to various keys on the keybord. YOu can laugh, cry, shrug, look bored and so on. One can also just turn away from someone. I don’t know if this would make for a very nuanced social exchange, but it might moderate some of the nastiness that can go on with discussions on the web.

    By the nastiness I have in mind, eg.,

    Oh, fuck off, you condescending prick.
    Really. Just go fuck yourself.

    From Dailykos.com. And that’s no where near as bad as it can get. It might be harder to talk to a familiar humanoid figure like that. Or not; I really don’t know.

  5. ‘Tagging’ someone in a Facebook photo is a way of sharing photos with them — if you and your friend take a picture together, you can upload it and add links to both of your profiles on the picture page. It’s sort of like the idea behind <a href=”http://www.flickr.com”flickr.com , but since more people have Facebook profiles, you can connect to more people.

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