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Miles Metcalfe :: Blog :: On pre-event activities

January 24, 2008

I read through the pre-event activities, and set them aside. I decide to do other things. Signing up to second life is pissing me off.

I spent some time thinking about my reaction. I'm signed up to a fair few social software services. I was an early adopter of Flickr. I like Flickr. I pay for an account, so I don't get the risk of advertising. I was irked when I had to switch my Flickr ID for a Yahoo! ID, and thought about leaving the service - but several of my friends are quite active on Flickr, and I don't see them as much as I'd like to, and their photostreams are a regular source of interest, comfort, and amusement. Flickr is useful to me as a place to stick my snaps, but, more, it is socially useful because my friends use it too. So I stayed on. The Yahoo! ID thing isn't too annoying if I don't think too deeply about it, and recently it looks like Yahoo! embracing OpenID, so maybe they are headed in the right direction after all.

 If I am honest, I find the commodification and monetisation of friendships and other social relationships on the headline social networking sites such as Facebook deeply unsettling. I understand that my clicks, my tags, my attention is being monetised by Flickr as much as it is by Facebook. But this is like Tesco's club card. If it's evil, it's with a small "e" - and I can monkey around with Tesco's profiling by offering to swap shopping with my sister now and then. In a perverse kind of way, I'm almost happy with the profiling. It grants me, if not immortality, a certain longevity in zeros and ones. Perhaps it may be sufficient to inscribe "Google me" on my tombstone, at least for a few years after I die...

What does bother me is how social networking sites commodify human relationships, creating the kind of "marketing personality" that Oliver James describes in his book, Affluenza. There's no doubt that, to use James's terms, they are vectors of the Affluenza virus, and they have a pernicious, corrosive effect on human relationships, for all the benefits they bring. I get round my discomfort by trying to not play the game. I try not to fall into the commodification traps these sites set. I suspect with only limited success.

Second Life is another thing entirely. Intended to be "immersive", you are bound by its rules, its grating insistence on the triumph of capitalism, its banalisation of the imagination, its reification of the pabula of Hollywood. The rules are not up for negotiation. In Second Life, exploring new social models is reduced to casual sex with dinosaurs. Confronted with SL, I come over all William Blake - "I will not cease from mental fight, Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand".

Overview for Keywords: affluenza, contrarian, rant, second life, social networking, social software, william blake

Blogs with Keywords: affluenza, contrarian, rant, second life, social networking, social software, william blake

Posted by Miles Metcalfe


  1. Hi Miles

    I have a lot of sympathy with your position, having written about Facebook in particular here (http://my-world.typepad.com/rworld/2007/10/facebook-the-in.html). With SecondLife, I find I have to separate two things: the social networking (commodification of identity) aspect and 3d animation and modelling. What SecondLife has done - for some - is, as DTP democratised and then transformed typesetting and pre-press practice, SL has democratised 3d modelling. Admittedly few people "build" in SL and of those who do, some puerile souls build genitalia (as a 5 year-old boy might "enhance" his Action Man). Sure, SL is not yet as powerful as stand-alone 3d modelling toolkits but it has made virtual shared spaces available to all. There are other MUVEs emerging that are not as overtly commercial as SL and, as Graham Attwell noted (http://www.pontydysgu.org/2007/01/second-life-goes-open-source/), SL has gone open source. Have a look at the metaverse roadmap (http://www.metaverseroadmap.org/overview/), which really deserves a post of its own.

    George RobertsGeorge Roberts on Thursday, 24 January 2008, 08:19 GMT # |

  2. Hi George

    Thanks for the very interesting comment!

    I take your point about democratising 3D modelling - though in terms of a DTP analogy, I think Google Sketchup does a better job. Sketchup+Google Earth doesn't have immersive environment, so lacks the visceral appeal of SL. On the other hand, it's easier simply to dabble with Sketchup. In other words, there are alternatives to SL if democratic 3D is what you are after. If SL were the only alternative, it might be that the democratising capability outweighs the negative. Perhaps for some, SL is less of a negative, given Google's plans for world domination :)

    A friend of my - someone who trades financial instruments (whatever they are) for a living - writes: "the idea that there's an economic model with clearly defined inputs, processes and outputs is just fantasy". SL creates an environment where this is not true - where the set of opinions that make up late capitalism become "the model". 

    Miles MetcalfeMiles Metcalfe on Thursday, 24 January 2008, 08:51 GMT # |

  3. I share some of your responses to SL - I don't recognise myself - and I don't want to recognise myself - in the options they offer.  It is a real barrier to me - and even when I gritted my teeth and pushed on for the event I found it bounced me out right at the end anyway as it had reached some sort of quota for allocation.  Hope I am not too disempowered at the York event as a result....

    Rebecca O'RourkeRebecca O'Rourke on Thursday, 24 January 2008, 14:46 GMT # |

  4. Are we disempowered when we stand outside a place we would never go? Maybe SL users have a view?

    Miles MetcalfeMiles Metcalfe on Thursday, 24 January 2008, 15:50 GMT # |

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