Thursday, September 24, 2009

Nature Never Wears A Mean Appearance

I’m prepared for autumn. I collect apples and press a riot of leaves between the pages of unread books. Autumn is for Emily Dickinson, whose grave I used to sit on to make diary entries, and Ralph Waldo Emerson and his transcendentalists. Transcendentalism is linked to German romanticism and Buddhism. It believes in the soul’s intuition, inspired, in part, by poetical experience, of nature as the most awe inspiring work of art. “Indeed the river is a perpetual gala, and boasts each month a new ornament”, Emerson writes in his essay Nature, 1836. The transcendentalists experimented with a utopian community called Brook Farm, begun in 1841 by Unitarian minister George Ripley. The mission of the farm was to “insure a more natural union between intellectual and manual labor ... guarantee the highest mental freedom, by providing all with labor...” In other words, everyone, at all levels of society, could share the workload, ideally giving everyone the same opportunity to pursue leisure activities. Brook Farm failed – no one wanted to give up their leisure time to harvest the hay (Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote “Thank God, my soul is not utterly buried under a dung-heap.”) - But still, society experiments with idealist communities.

Burning Man is one such experiment. Founder Larry Harvey explains:

“If technology itself is left to dictate our ends, then I think we can look forward to an increasingly disassociated way of living. Real community can only be attained through the experience of certain primal unities in the physical world....For the past 12 years I have directed Burning Man—a project dedicated to discovering those optimal forms of community which will produce human culture in the conditions of our post-modern mass society. Within a desert wilderness we build a city, a model world composed of people who attend our event from all over the globe. This virtual community is demographically diverse. It is multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and represents a wide range of age groups. It is formed in the image of the great ecumenical world that surrounds us; a teeming population of uprooted individuals. In other words, this intentional community that we create from nothing, and that returns to nothing when we leave, has been 'liberated' from nearly every context of ordinary life.”

Sound familiar?

Autumn is also for Burning Life (beginning October 17th) which is a microcosm of the Second Life experience itself and is modeled on the RL Burning Man event. Run by a slew of volunteer builders, musicians, artists and others, a temporary city and entertainments will be created, a testament to the power of the ephemeral. Write the organizers, “Together, we will build a city, and we voluntarily accept many of the same restrictions that Nature imposes on the real thing. We do this to see how creative we can be with the same palette of materials and to revel in the beauty of simplicity.” The most remarkable thing to see at both events is to watch how a city grows out of a blank canvas, and disappears again. The abbreviated life of anything transient, such as Burning Life, adds to its remarkable allure.

Perhaps the most successful communes are those that are ephemeral. At least in SL, you may choose to avoid being mired in the dung.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Manifold Destiny

I’ve mentioned before that I feel rather like a tethered traveler. I like to be on the move, and SL often offers a feeling of adventure, of chance encounters; the imagination is stimulated. We work hard in our real lives to get to “that certain place”. That’s what we’re meant to do, yes? But it’s funny, once you get to that place, there’s a little itch that makes you want to tear it up a bit, toss aside the careful planning and see what might happen. The documentary film Alfred and Jakobine is a story about my friend’s parents, who took a chance with their lives and literally took to the a taxi. Alfred is an anthropologist, Jakobine, an artist. In 1953 they made their way to Casablanca and found themselves smitten with a nearly ruined 1953 London taxi which they used to adventure around the world. The film ought to teach us all a few lessons about getting up, getting out, staying put...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ready, Aim...

Today I thought I’d share with you a little about stone slinging. I’ve practiced slinging in rl, an ancient but still active sport in the Balearic Islands. El foners (slingshot warriors) use a sling (fona), made of cord or leather. First, you gently place a stone onto the pouch. Next, hold both ends of the cord in one hand. Finally, very carefully, begin to spin it above your head, take aim, and *snap*, release one end of the cord and set your projectile flying. It’s really satisfying to hear the crack of the cord as you release it. It’s also really painful if you tangle yourself up in it. Slinging was historically used for hunting and defense. Now it’s a sport, rather male dominated, with annual competitions held in Mallorca. I practiced shooting my rocks into the Mediterranean, over the heads of unsuspecting sunbathers in Deya, and would duck into the spiky bushes when I missed the sea.

I was in the mood to hurl some rocks today so I searched on the slexchange for a slingshot. Among the scary flossy thongs also known as slingshots (very Borat), I found a catapult styled weapon at a Gorean supply shop but can’t figure out how to use I need to go to Telnus? Would I be collared if I went? Surely I can’t go unless I know how to defend myself, so a bit of shooting practice first. I typically don’t play video games unless I’m waiting at the movie theatre (Lethal Enforcer, thank you very much), but Dangerous Geisha at Grossglockner is a great place for a gal to let off some steam without being bothered by obnoxious bling covered brutes thinking they're the Terminator. The games are free and, if you're a primitive like I am, they offer a bow and arrow to shoot with. Later, I took to the sims for some in-the-field target practice, and found a suitable spot at Aught, shooting projectiles among the ruins.

For more about slinging, look here and here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I Want My Portal of Civilization!

I read an unsettling article the other day about the Cushing Academy, a prep school for children and young adults, that is eliminating its library of 20,000 books. The headmaster, Dr. James Tracy justified his decision this way: “You know [holding up a book], if I look at this book I am struck by how limited it is. This is pretty bulky. I don’t mean to belittle or disparage it. I love books, and I love the representation of culture that they embody, but, from an information perspective, this is a very, very bulky way to reposit data by today’s standards.” A book is too bulky? Has anyone tried to snuggle into bed with a Kindle?

Instead of books Tracy will provide computers which he has named “Portals of Civilization”. I hope you understand, dear readers, that the information you seek is chosen for you - as in any analog collection. But many of your online sources are chosen by Google and other filters. And if we’re talking books, for example, they have to be copyright free. You'll need to supplement! While it may seem convenient as you sit in front of the laptop eating crackers over the keyboard, nothing beats the serendipity (there’s that word again, MM ;) ) of browsing in the stacks. Here’s an interesting study taken from student discussion groups across the country. Some of their observations about research in the digital age describe how students waste time online not knowing what to look for, yet still sift through articles trying to make them fit their needs, or try to figure out if an article is up to date, or whether something is from a credible source. This article, “Google Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars” ought to give an institution pause before hurling themselves fully into the digital zone without the infrastructure to support the idea. Google makes mistakes, the article tells us, my favorite being a misattribution of the following book, The Mosaic Navigator: The Essential Guide to the Internet Interface, which Google dates 1939 and attributes to Sigmund Freud and Katherine Jones.

In place of the stacks the Cushing Academy spent $42,000 on 3 flat screen tvs that will project data from the internet. The reference desk was removed to make way for a $12,000 cappuccino machine. When I was 13, I did not drink coffee, and the last place I wanted to hang out socially was in school. But school and city libraries were always an escape, a place to explore books in peace. They are the most comforting places in the world to me, libraries, full of possibility, imagination, offering answers to all my questions, or raising questions, which is even better. In a time when most of us are tethered to our computers and gadgets, the physical sensation of turning a well-worn page offers a form of respite that cannot be replaced. There's also plenty to admire in the physical, like the well-worn publisher's binding of something other than a mass market paperback. As a friend's shrink used to say, I think what we're looking for here is a balance. The Cushing Library states that few of their books were checked out. I think it's up to the Cushing Library to make their library truly relevant to their students.

As for online resources, I know Teen Second Life has got some wonderful projects that would put Dr. Tracy in a happy technological flutter. And, for you older folks, our Second Life libraries can be great…just visit the Alliance Library blog for access to a variety of in-world collections. I look forward to how online collections will develop. A really fine afternoon can be spent at the R.F. Burton Library in New Babbage (shown in the photo above). Click on the stacks and you’ll have immediate access to a wide of subjects (online books from credible sources!) having to do with Steampunk and Victorian history and literature, domestic science, and spiritualism. I’m particularly proud to be a member of the Caledon Libraries, who set the bar for sharing access to library collections.

There are so many different ways to uncover information and become literate, and you students of life and students of schools have to know how to find stuff in a myriad of ways. But remember, as my friend Matthew says, no one beats the book’s terms of service.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

City (Los Angeles)

I lived in London a few years back – got used to the soot and the tea breaks and the football (ah footie)! After a year, work demanded I take a short trip to the heart of America – Los Angeles - which I’d never been to. What a contrast! In LA, the sun always shone, the smiles were gleaming white, the streets were so smooth and wide. The moment I landed in LA, strangers, in line at Starbucks, at the gas station, in the middle of a crowded gig, just about everywhere, would embrace, shout “Hiya!” Call me!” and hand over a business card (often with no business described). But beneath their sunny smiles was a slight desperation. Making a living in LA was tough. Most visitors don’t see the back side of the Hollywood sign, the side left unairbrushed.

In City (Los Angeles), presented by the Brooklyn is Watching project, Miso Susanowa wants us to appreciate the real LA, its gritty, overwhelming side, the LA beyond the starry sidewalks. Susanowa recorded the sounds of the night outside her apartment window in LA at Hollywood and La Brea Avenues. Photographs of Hollywood Blvd. make up a three sided box in which Susanowa invites the viewer to sit among a moving grid of disorienting “snapshots” showing nameless, featureless faces. The chaotic sounds of the LA night is amplified all around. Viewing the installation in mouselook allows the viewer to become tangled in the grid.

As much as Susanowa wants to illustrate the dark side of her city, there is something rather beautiful about the installation whilst you’re immersed in it. The screen shots I took look like some kind of technofied marblized paper.

While the people I met in LA may have been struggling in their tiny run-down houses, they had fresh fruit to eat every day, dropping off the trees in their back gardens. Susanowa has captured LA as a city of contradictions.

Visit City here.

Pacific Theme by Broken Social Scene.