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Robert J. Sawyer in Extropia!

We've had a lot of wonderful guests in Extropia, but next Sunday we're going to have a very special visitor! 

Robert J. Sawyer (SF Writer in SL) will be joining us for a discussion of his novels and his visions of the future, in life extension, robotics, artificial intelligence, SETI, inter-species ethics and many more fascinating topics. And, he'll be sticking around afterwards to join the Extropia Book Club in a discussion of his latest novel, Rollback,  just named as a finalist for the Hugo Award!

Please join us at noon, in the Central Nexus in Extropia Core, Extropia, Second Life!

Robert J. Sawyer — called "the dean of Canadian science fiction" by The Ottawa Citizen and "just about the best science-fiction writer out there these days" by The Denver Rocky Mountain News — is one of only seven writers in history to win all three of the science-fiction field's top honors for best novel of the year:

Rob is also the only writer in history to win the top SF awards in the United States, China, Japan, France, and Spain. In addition, he's won an Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada as well as nine Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards ("Auroras").

Maclean's: Canada's Weekly Newsmagazine says, "By any reckoning, Sawyer is among the most successful Canadian authors ever," and Barnes and Noble calls him "the leader of SF's next-generation pack."

Rob's novels are top-ten national mainstream bestsellers in Canada, appearing on the Globe and Mail and Maclean's bestsellers' lists, and they've hit #1 on the bestsellers' list published by Locus, the U.S. trade journal of the SF field. His seventeen novels include Frameshift, Factoring Humanity, Flashforward, Calculating God, and the popular "Neanderthal Parallax" trilogy consisting of Hominids, Humans, and Hybrids.

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Happy Birthday, and an event ahead!

Happy Birthday to jenshikami, one of SL's most talented and generous designers!

If you like wings at all (and, *kaff,* I do...), you've *got* to stock up on Jen's brilliant creations at Seven's Selections in Flotsam Beach. Each of her very reasonably priced wing packets includes a good dozen color variations, and for each, a menu gets you dozens more options, from size to position, with separate settings for in-flight and on the ground.

I've been wearing Jen's wings almost exclusively for ages now: they're perfect for making a dramatic impression in flight and then tucking away under my hair in a crowded lecture hall.

And, Jen's running a huge wing festival!

New personal blog!

I've got a new blog, Sophtopia. It's on Blogger, and it'll be for personal, gossipy, social stuff.  I'll keep Finding Sophrosyne here focused as it's been on Salon news and the occasional think-piece.

Yes, I'll be using LiveJournal for blogging and Blogger for social networking. I know it looks backwards, but -

I'm not paying LJ's new corporate owners $20/year for the same functionality I can for free from any number of other services. There's virtually no overlap between the SL and LJ communities, so there's no reason at all for me to pay for another blog here. OTOH, I have a year's worth of musings about Digital Personhood and Salon info here, so it seems wise to take advantage of continuity, and keep building on those things in this blog.

I'd like to separate the personal from the business and political. It's felt odd to mix the social blogging I started with here on LJ with the politics, philosophy and marketing that this blog's become filled with, and so I've stopped blogging about my life.  I want to go back to social blogging, to remind myself - and others! - that I'm not a disembodied radical activist crank mind, and to celebrate the family, friends and community that are the true foundation of meaning and of joy in my life.

So, friends and family, come seek me out on Sophtopia!
Please join us Saturday, March 22 from 1-3pm SLT at the Central Nexus in Extropia Core for Sophrosyne's Saturday Salon!  Our Spotlight Guest will be futurist, community builder and blogger DavidOrban Agnon (David Orban) for an exploration of The New Renaissance.

DavidOrban is:
  • Founder of OpenSpime, Inc.: their technology enables individuals and corporations to better understand their environment, through the use of a series of GPS-enabled sensors. They provide a set of open APIs and communication protocols to manage the data collected;
  • Founder of Vulcano, an online community in Second Life, whose aim is to explore the rich opportunities that the metaverse offers in new types of social organization, education, entertainment, and business;
  • Founder of the Singularity Institute Europe;
  • "What is the question that I should be asking?" is my motto. Meta-analyses, and meta-rules are the tools of the trade when going breadth first is an advantage. The new renaissance is also about cutting across the limits of deep specialization. Tolerating high levels of pressure, and frequent mistakes, accelerating cycles of invention and innovation build the new worlds ahead of us.

Yesterday's Salon, "Religion, Spirituality And The Avatar," with Soren Ferlinghetti (Dr. Robert M. Geraci) was one of the best, and best-attended Salons to date, with a peak concurrency of 45 and a total attendance of over 60. Soren shared his research and insights into religion in SL, while our discussion was wide-ranging, clever, intense and respectful of a diversity of views. Special thanks to SL-Transhumanists and The Al-Andalus Project for inviting their members to join us!

The chatlog is available on the Extropia website
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Next week's Salon kicks off a cycle of several months of absolutely fascinating guests.  On Saturday, March 15, from 1-3pm at the Central Nexus in Extropia Core, our Salon Spotlight Guest will be Soren Ferlinghetti (Robert M Geraci). 

Robert M. Geraci is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Manhattan College in New York City
. He studies the interactions of religion, science and technology with particular emphasis upon robotics, artificial intelligence and (more recently) online gaming. he has conducted fieldwork at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute and in Second Life through discussions and interviews. In addition to publishing a number of essays on religion and robotics, he has just finished a book on the subject (tentatively titled _Apocalyptic AI: Visions of Heaven in Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality_) and is planning a new book about religion and online games.

Soren and I have spoken occasionally over many months about spirituality and identity in the digital world.  We have profoundly different perspectives, and attitudes towards technology in general, but I've always found him curious, open-minded, warm-hearted and fascinating.

Soren's work was recently covered in New World Notes:

The Soul Of Second Life: In SL Spirituality Survey, 48% Open To Mind Upload, 62% To New SL-Based Religions

Thanks to Hamlet Au, we not only got Soren's remarkable conclusions (more people go to church in SL than have sex, what?!), but the raw data supporting them.

At the Salon we'll discuss Soren's research, the interplay between spirituality and identity in the digital world, the evolution of religion, and many more fascinating topics sparked by his work.  This one's a must-see!

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Galatea's Rezday Party

We celebrated galatea_gynoid 's first rezday today!  My dear love and true friend, Extropia's visionary and driving force, my inspiration and delight, has been in the world a year, and it's my great honor to have spent much of it with her.  Here's to many, many more!

Enormous thanks to Reactor Radio's DJ Nicki Petrichor for the best day of music ever!  Nicki played an *unbelievable* set of the best electronica from around the world, and her 4-hour set was still going strong when I left after 5 hours!  Nicki, you're the greatest, and we love you!

Thanks to everyone who turned out on one of SL's uglier days of late.  It was really good to spend the day with you, dear friends and new friends.

I'm sorry I didn't get more photos, especially of everyone who was at the party's first few hours: it took me a while to settle down, relax and take snapshots. So, Grace McDunnough, Noelani Lightfoot (who took my stunning new profile photo - check it out inworld!), Meissa Thorne - my apologies, and I'll catch you double at the next party!


Thanks to CodeBastard Redgrave for being a fantastic Salon guest!  It was good to be back after a two-week absence, and special thanks to guest hosts Argent Bury and Grace McDunnough for covering for me!

Codie screened her new machinima, Beauty is Only Skin Deep, and discussed her production techniques for machinima and for her new photo series, Boudoir Rouge. We talked creativity, tools, the status of new media and their growing reputations, and generally had a good time.  We had a peak concurrency of 29, and made some new Salon mavens (tip o' the hat to Al Kronos for his favorite word! :P ). 

We've got a *lot* of news and exciting events ahead (including a big party noon to 4 pm tomorrow, for galatea_gynoid's rezday), so please stay tuned!

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Argent's Meme: A Statement of Principles

I haven't blogged in two weeks! I haven't been around much at all: the Other Personality's terrifically busy, and my time's been drastically limited.

Which sucks, because *I'm* terrifically busy.

Extropia's gone from one to six sims this month, and it's my job to get them rented up. I'm organizing two major events, each, oh, five times the size of anything I've done before. I'm paying tier on a gorgeous empty mall, and need to get commercial tenants in. I've got a page-long list of people I need to meet with on various things. And, I have a family that means the world to me, who I want to put first - but some of putting them first means working to keep me and the Chairman solvent, and get some other people paying tier in Extropia! So, not a good time to have my time squeezed to practically zero.

Anyhoo, I had the honor of participating in a panel debate yesterday at Orange Island, on Augmentation vs. Immersion. I was thrilled and a little intimidated to be included (and many thanks to Lillie Yifu for recommending me!): the moderator and panelists were people I deeply admire: Tom Bukowsky (Tom Boellstorff), author of the upcoming Coming of Age in Second Life, who moderated; Gwyneth Llewellyn and I represented the Immersionists, and Hiro Pendragon (Ron Blechner) and Giulio Perhaps (Giulio Prisco) showed up for the Augmentationists.

We'd discussed a number of debate questions in advance, from the narrow and legalistic to the political to the abstract - but we ended up being given five minutes each to speak freely, then time to respond. Between the makeup of the panel (all friends, all easygoing people), the lack of questions that got at disagreements, and the enormous amount of unmoderated audience participation, nothing really came of the hour. The best thing to be said about it was, everybody got to talk, and nobody left thinking that one "side" or the other was weird, hostile or illegitimate.

So, I'd chalked up the experience as "pleasant but insubstantial," and went fishing. Now fishing? That was a good time ($L1 scripted rods and open fishing on Tycho Beach, right by the flagpole)! But, argent_bury  asked for a chatlog, and responded with a critical analysis of the issues that *should* have been raised yesterday.

Go read her post. I'll wait right here. It's really worth it.

I think her first point cuts to the heart of the real distinction in perspectives: is SL for you a place or a tool? Everything else, from standards of identity and trust to "A/S/L," follows from that.

Despite the huge differences in our personalities, and in our lives in SL, Argent and I see the world in just about exactly the same way, so her nine points are mine as well. I'll just add a few paraphrasings:

  • I live here. Maybe to you it's Vegas, or Tijuana, a place to avoid responsibility. To me, it's home. So, if you treat me and mine like you're on Spring Break? It won't go well. Also, I have a responsible job with a group that's made a significant investment in SL. You want grounds for trust? There you go: I'm a stakeholder here.
  • You can talk to me about your life and whatever's important in it. I'm happy to listen and to help. When I reciprocate, I'll share about my life too - which, see above, is *here.* I'm not holding back; I'm giving you all I've got. And yes, I may freak out on you about how busy I am, how I'm feeling the burden of my job, how I wish I had more family time, how I wish I had a weekend to spend tied up, gagged and fucked brainless. You ask for it, you'll get it. :P
  • I think the business community, where I spend a lot of my time, is the wrong place to look for people who don't respect immersionists. The business people who don't get SL, who talk trash about  finding, say, a goth chick with wings and neko eyes at their meeting?  They're not inworld. The people who are, they understand that SL is a foreign market much like any other, and when you do business in one, you learn and respect their customs if you want to make a sale.  The business and content creation communities get that, and I've never had anything but respect in them.  Government and education?  You'll find a lot of two year old playdo avs, ignorance and disregard for customs. They don't have to respect or serve their customers in the same way in their first lives, and they seem much more likely to be oblivious to the culture in SL as well.
That's all I've got.  If your principles or perspectives are different, please answer Argent's meme call, and drop a link in the comments to her post.  *This* is the discussion we didn't have yesterday at Orange Island, and the one that needs to be had, for us to build trust across differing world views.

Digital Colonialism

Once again, I've been simmering a stew of other people's ideas for a couple days. It's not quite ready to be served up, but since I'm about to go silent for a long weekend, I'm going to go ahead and dish it now.

First into the pot was Al Kronos's post from last weekend, Dutch banks depart Second Life...some thoughts. Al says,

What has prompted me to write now is news, reported at Mindblizzard, that Dutch banks ING and ABN Amro are pulling the plug on Second Life. To grossly paraphrase Lady Bracknell, in The Importance of Being Earnest: "To lose one bank from SL, Mr. Rosedale, may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose two looks like carelessness."

Both banks took an "innovative" and "creative" approach to Second Life. They didn't just set out their stall and hope people would wander by. They actively sought to build genuine communities here, offering something distinct and unique at a time when most corporates were treating Second Life as a 3D billboard. I am therefore deeply concerned about their departure, and deeply concerned about the long-term viability of Second Life as "the Virtual World of choice" for the future. I still firmly believe that web3D will be an important part of the digital experience for all of us in years to come. But this turn of events is worrying me, a fan of Second Life. I have to wonder whether Linden Lab are simply too detached from both the world they created and the physical world in which they are running a business.

Al's right, looking at Linden Lab as a business attempting to cater to large corporations. Now, I'm pretty pro-business: I spend a lot of time traveling in business circles, especially for a Digital Person with no atomic-world affiliations or design skills. But, with all respect to Al, I couldn't escape my reaction on reading this, that the departure of those banks and what it might signify could be a good thing - for *my* world, the synthetic world that is and is not Linden Lab, the business.

This morning saw a flurry of excellent articles, all diced and dropped into the pot:

First off, Hamlet Au in Second Life Economy: In Recession, Or Cultural Inflection? observes that the high-volume, high-price economy of SL that draws so much critical attention might not be as large a force in the world as generally believed. He notes that Brazilians and Japanese in SL largely interact within their own free or low-cost environments, and comments added that many newbies are seeking socializing without spending.

Gwyneth Llewellyn has a brilliant new post analyzing a white paper which debunks the mainstream media myths about synthetic worlds. Following Tateru Ninu's analysis of why the old push media seem to fear and hate social networking media and synthetic worlds, she concludes that synthetic worlds really could be dangerous to the status quo and their corporate media supporters:

In fact, it might be “dangerous” as it could become a spark that lightens up a whole forest of new ideas of our future societies, where social interaction is once more the focus of our leisure time, instead of passively sitting in front of canned entertainment — but the “danger” comes from people interacting and thus exchanging ideas and thoughts, of learning about others’ viewpoints and mindsets, of better understanding how real people live, feel, and also suffer (as opposed to watching “artificial” emotions from fake TV soap operas), and as the number of virtual world users grow that are experiencing an explosion of new social interactions and abandon “canned passive entertainment” forms, well, I very much hope that the lethargy of current western societies is, indeed, changed by that — in a very positive way!

Finally, Raph Koster just echoed the Digital Person's lament from the other side: I Am Not My Avatar!  He protests efforts to link him to his digital identities, asserting his right to be separate from them, and their right to privacy.


So, what does all this end up tasting like?

I've had the notion for a while that SL at least can be looked at as a colony of US/European culture and finance, with all that implies socially  and politically. I haven't had time to immerse myself in the post-colonial literature the way I'd like to, so please bear in mind that these are early and unsupported thoughts.

Much of the debate about what SL "is" comes down to two perspectives: it's a colony of the atomic world, subject to the same rules, but a place to be exploited, and whose natives are - well, all the images Edward Said describes in Orientalism: untrustworthy (and haven't we heard *that* so much from our rulers!), inferior ("freaks and geeks"), eroticized (all genderbending pornographers, every one of us)  - wogs, to put it crudely. Digital People are regarded like, and often treated like, Thai sex workers, Tijuana barmaids, sweatshop laborers: disposable amusements and income generators for the tourists and bankers of the colonial powers.

The other side sees SL as a separate space, but equal in rights and dignity. We are Kosovo, East Timor, the West Bank: to some, a part of the greater nation, peopled with ungrateful separatists, and to others separate nations deserving of self-governance and recognition as an autonomous space. We have our own culture, our own legends, celebrities, heroes. We are finding our own way, apart from the culture and economy of our US/European visitors, investors and exploiters.

So, if foreign capital is leaving, and we are developing our own culture and economy apart from US/European commercial power and culture?  To be sure, foreign capital enables growth, development, advancement. But it also enables domination.  As a Digital Person, I find myself becoming a Digital nationalist, eager to see our world grow into its own cultural and economic nationhood.
 
This past Saturday, our Spotlight Guests were Hiro Pendragon and Lordfly Digeridoo, for an intense and spirited discussion of Julian Dibbell's article for Wired, "Mutilated Furries, Flying Phalluses," Hiro's commentary on the article, and on best practices for handling griefers.

We had a lot of first-time attendees, and things got raucous, but we settled into a worthwhile and civil discussion, with sides that agreed to disagree on the seriousness of griefing. 

I'm indebted to Boc Cryotank (Stephen Euin Cobb) for the photos: with the intensity of the discussion, I didn't have the chance to take pictures, or even get a headcount.


Next week, please join guest host Argent Bury for a discussion with Dalien Talbot on OpenSim and its significance for Second Life.  Saturday, February 16, 1-3pm SLT at The Nexus in Extropia Core.

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