Another Sunday afternoon hoping to read Cory Ondreijka's Collapsing Geography more thoroughly, and distracted again, by the actual virtual living out of "Collapsing Geography" that you experience in Second Life, which is of course, where he got the idea in the first place, being part of the team that coded the 3-D virtual world.
In my rentals business in Second Life, my customers reflect the international nature of this virtual world, which is said to have about 40 percent U.S. now and the rest from South America, Europe, and Asia -- but the list of countries is extraordinary (you wonder how somebody is actually logging on from Afghanistan or North Korea, or whether those are joke entries).
Cory's notion seems to me a bit of a conceit. That is, it's a kind of technolibertarian fancy, that the contiguous space supposedly interfering between real-life cultures, when removed in a virtual world and mapped in miniature and with more flexibility (teleporting, flying, IMing, groups), will simply melt away and we can all hold hands and sing "Kumbayah" or something. This is a kind of whimsy that is a sort of "geeks of the world will unite" -- because the geeks on the outer edges of their countries and cultures will find it easier to make bridges to each other and collaborate than the geeks might find even with people within their own country.
I saw this phenomenon in the international human rights movement a lot. The people who were human rights advocates, often members of minorities or classes of people who were victimized, would find it easier to contact, communicate with, and collaborate with people in other countries who matched their status of advocacy, minority, discriminated class, victim. They could talk to *each other* easier than they would with the other classes, let along ruling groups of their countries.
International peace movements (some of them built on the Comintern methods and politics, of course) would also use this hands-across-the-sea that actually amounted to a campfire with themselves. Still, it had its poignancy and attraction, and I think those holding their hands around these campfires who had found each other sometimes drew in larger circles. That's why when E.P. Thompson, who tried to lead the charge against the cold war and its military structures in the 1980s European Nuclear Disarmament campaign, resonated so deeply when he coined its slogan: "We must be faithful not to East or West, but to each other."
I think this phenomenon of hands-across-the-sea can give you a false sense of internationality that in fact might prevent dialogue not only within your own country with people in different groups but also prevent all of you in your new-found internationalism from ever gaining any significant following.
There is always this theory that if you can get people to stop paying homage to some national superstructure, that some ideology will declare as inhibitive, constricting, even malicious, that you will Unite People. There was a parody of this idea, of course, with the spoof of the old Trotsky song, "Unite for unity..." Unite merely for unity's sake, and chloriform yourself to the consequences.
The reality is that there are some cultures and religions and belief systems that are by their nature more inclusive and tolerant of the other or the foreigner. It seems to be their lot that there are always gaggles of rabble-rousers to claim that they are intolerant, but the fact that those rabble-rousers aren't dead yet or expelled from the country is part of the chuckling acknowledgement you have to make that yes, indeed, there are some cultures that are more tolerant than others.
Second Life is no different than real life in creating a rich matrix of clashing cultures, and indeed, even a clash of civilizations in accelerated form, although, of course, there are some who deny such a thing is possible.
I found this with two incidents recently in Second Life -- they're frequent, and typical.
In the first, I flew to the international section of Info Island to check out the build and info there -- and was a bit disappointed. No one was there, there wasn't much literature, and I had to laugh a bit at what I found there: that grand gesture of international hospitality, the American donut. Somebody, likely David Therein at Kitchen Korner, had gotten up very early and said it was "time to make the donuts" and this little setting was the result. The combination of the coffee klatch and the Cubist home built by my old Sims Online friend Barnesworth Anubis somehow conspired to make the whole experience funny and eerie at the same time.
Suddenly, in walks -- flies -- a young woman from Germany, and I seize upon her for my first experience in conscious international uh...donut-giving lol. She seemed a little baffled (I seem to remember they have lots of cold cuts and black bread and tomatoes and such for breakfast in Germany, not donuts), but we chatted and she told me she was a librarian in real life and her boss was "making" her come in SL and she seemed rather wary.
I was startled. SL was such a creative and voluntary thing, I couldn't imagine what it would be like to be "forced" to go into it for work, like making a boring Powerpoint. She seemed apprehensive about the building in particular, which she was being asked to do. I gave her some landmarks with tips, tutorials etc and talked about good camera angles and how Barnes, as wonderful as his houses were, had never really gotten into the value of living inside the house like a real cybering avatar, and so his staircase was very cramped in this house, and he also had failed to provide lockable doors and tintable windows. The house was more like an open-ended book case to perch avatars on and have meetings. Which we were doing.
So, here we were, collapsing geography, but nothing in common, really, with people not only very different in culture and outlook and jobs and such (although I used to work in a library) but in expectations and plans for SL. We were brought together perched over this...picture, this 3-D manifestation of a guy from suburban Colorado's concept of what "modern" and "cubism" might mean, and another guy's donut both of them likely uninformed by any "year abroad" lol. Moments like that challenge the suspension of disbelief.
We went downstairs, and discussed some more landmark places, and then I couldn't help gushing something about "isn't it amazing that we found ourselves here just as I was thinking about this collapsing geography stuff," whereupon the frightened librarian from Germany fled -- thinking I was going to hit on her or something. Sigh. Um, let's pull open that collapsible travel cup again, shall we? And have another go at the pixel coffee...
The next incident came with a group of tenants with a store who had been given a low-cost rental and help in setting up and a free search ad included, and I also tried to promote them when I could. One lot was reduced in price. They people stayed there for many months and worked hard and had a respectable number in traffic.
Several odd things happened on the sim, where people told me they couldn't put their house out, and I thought it was a rolling restart problem. Finally today one woman said she couldn't get more than a certain number of prims out and then all the prims on the entire sim seemed used up, and she was irritated. I suffered through the usual annoying round of suspicion, where the tenant thought I was "up to something".
I checked the sim and found the other tenants had put out 3,000 prims instead of the 1500 or so they were entitled to. So they had been mooching 1500 prims for weeks. I wondered why they seemed to be so busy putting out stuff but I didn't immediately put the whole thing together.
What ensued is something that has happened many times with people from other countries, but also with people from other classes or cultures in SL. Basically, it comes down to what people do when they are caught breaking the rules, deceiving, taking advantage, in the wrong. It comes down to morality: whether you say you are sorry, whether you can admit you are wrong, whether you have a notion of remedy and regret, or whether you have to beligerently keep finding fault with the person who has found fault with you, whether you can accept that a law is larger than you, and for the benefit of all, and it's not just your selfish entitlement and sense of expansion.
Normally, I try to give people notice when their prims are over to give them a chance to pick up the excess without risking loss or disruption. But here, with this many prims over, I was forced to return the prims because I now had 2 tenants complaining that they couldn't use the prims they paid for. The leases clearly state you must keep track of your prims and it is your responsibility. I realized that this situation had actually been going on for weeks, as I recalled that more furniture seemed to be put out than usual, but I was in a hurry, and figured it was sculpties, not prims or something.
I'm a big believer in the rule of law and trying to give fair notice. But it's not possible to go on at length in a lease about what happens if you put out such a huge overage like double or triple, using up the entire sim. Still, the lease is clear: it does tell you that you're responsible for your prim usage and going over takes them from others.
This problem of the "tragedy of the commons" is managed by rules and limits and courtesy and cooperation -- but it breaks when someone begins to get porky and defensive and entitlement-happy.
So, this tenant decided to take the indignant route first, and decided to say I was "absurd" with this notice. It turned out that he had a certain grounds for saying this, after I sent him screenshots of what I was seeing on the console. His non-English SL viewer actually showed a strange thing: a parcel with a different "objects this parcel supports" and "0" prims on it. Wow, that was weird. I never knew that was possible. Never seen it.
Well, I said, proof of my version being "correct" is that 2 other people can't put out anything, which clearly shows the prims have run out.
He continued to deny he was in the wrong for another few minutes, until finally I said, but look, you put out dozens of pieces of things, each 20 or 50 or 100 prims, so multiple them, and surely you can see that you had 3000 items that way. This was tacitly conceded, and the guy seemed close to admitting he was caught and to just make amends, but he decided to keep trying to portray himself as in the right.
OK, sure, he was caught, but...I should have notified him and given him a chance to fix things, he kept saying in outrage. Well, that's debatable, frankly. It's clear this guy has a clear realization -- he was not born yesterday -- that he has put out double the prims. Why? Because for months, he never *did* put out so many prims, and was always under the limit. Now, suddenly, in recent weeks, figuring no one noticed, or figured his glitch on his browser could give him an alibi, he put out loads more. That was the context.
Meanwhile, I now had 2 tenants IMing me, one new and irate, who was going to refund and leave if she didn't get her house out. So I had to free up the minimal space for her. It's not pleasant to get things back in inventory, but surely as they were being put out, there had to have been some realization that this 100 prim thing or this 10 or 50 prim thing was going to ad up!
This man, stuck in the macho groove, kept griping and griping. I was absurd. I was wrong. I should have told him. Blah blah blah. Nobody likes to get 1,500 prims back in inventory. But...these people weren't born yesterday, knew what was up, and were trying to put something over -- and then hide behind a cultural screen -- "my browser," or "I don't speak English," or "you didn't tell me" or "you are absurd and rude".
How often have we all had this experience in SL, not only from "foreigners," but those in our own country from a different class or generation, that does not value the law, admitting one is wrong, and making remedy, but makes endless entitlement the norm?
I told a few other residents of this story, and was shocked to get a slew of feedback, even hatred. This particular country and that particular country was now getting a rep in SL as "thieves, users, exploiters, liars, rip-off artists, content stealers." I thought over my experience with these folks -- and found that it was mixed, as with all people -- some good, some bad, some decent, some users. And yet in this clash of civilizations in SL, the acts of a few were going to stand for the many. I'd like to stop here with this hopeful bromide. But I can't. Because what is happening in SL is that it is very visible -- it's the acts of *quite a few* standing for the *not so many*.