Archive for December, 2008

It is very common to hear people in Second Life complaining about the amount of time they spend there, it’s often been called an “addiction”. A friend recently posted on his blog a piece about why people shouldn’t be ashamed or embaressed about being part of the Second Life experience and the time they spend there ( http://www.pradprathivi.com/pradprathivi/first-life/get-a-real-life ). It’s what a lot of us want to hear, “hey there’s nothing wrong with you and you aren’t wasting your time for logging in..”. But it seems to me that whether that’s right or not depends on two main considerations: (1) What you do when you’re logged in, and (2) what would you have been doing instead in real life. After reading his post I got thinking about the answers to these two questions and reached the conclusion that I had to take a break from Second Life.

This wasn’t my first break from Second Life, but I can count on one hand the number of times in the past two years that I’ve managed to successfully stay away from the place for more than a 24 hour period. It’s a vital part of my daily routine, and if I don’t log in it stays in the back of my mind, a nagging voice that I really need to log in. I needed to think about the way I’m spending my time in world and find out what I’d be doing instead if I wasn’t. So I effectively made myself a promise to stay out until 2009. Tomorrow is 2009 at my end of the world, so I’ve almost achieved my goal. Even though it was only an intended 3-4 days away, I thought from past experience that it would be hellishly hard to do and I wouldn’t achieve an awful lot in real life while I was absent.

I was wrong.

If Second Life was once an addiction for me then at this point in time it is a broken one. These days away have been productive, fun, and meaningful. I got a lot of chores done and spent more time than usual with my son. We sorted out a lot of things we’ve been putting off as a family and both my husband and I have been in happier frames of mind. I have kept a minimal connection to Second Life matters by still posting in Flickr and writing in this blog, but the amount of time in my day going into these things is also reduced. I’ll be going back to Second Life in due course – I have friends and jobs there that I’d rather not lose – but I never want to reach that point again of feeling like I have to log in even when it makes me sad and feels like a waste of life.

So I’ve answered, to some extent, the two questions I needed to address: Was I spending my time in-world wisely – such as focused on creating art works and with the people I call friends..? No, on the whole I wasn’t. When I return I will be strengthening that focus. And the second question – what would I be doing instead..? Well it turns out that instead I’d be spending more time on the house and my family, and that can only be good, so I’ll be cutting back my time in-world from many hours a day to hopefully just a couple of hours a day or thereabouts. And occassionally take a day off to re-set my sanity.

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They say you can’t choose your family. Well in Second Life people can and do – they decide their relationship with someone feels like that of siblings or uncles etc and then agree amongst themselves that they have that “connection” (and typically openly declare it in their profiles).

Being part of a Second Life family isn’t for everyone. To me it is too much like role-playing. I don’t go into Second Life to role-play – I don’t feel comfortable as a neko or pretending to be someone I’m not – and in turn I don’t go in for the Second Life family thing either. Friends are friends, they don’t become family members just because I feel close to them.

I’m the sort of person who gives things a go though, so I can better understand myself and other people. So, yes, at one stage I had a Second Life family. It consisted of four people at its peak. None of whom are part of my Second Life anymore. It never felt right, it always felt forced, and it didn’t surprise me when it all fell by the way-side.

A significant number of my Second Life friends belong to one particular family. There have been times when I thought how neat it would be to be considered one of that group, to be invited to live in the somewhat communal home they have. The topic even came up once or twice with members of the family but I rejected it because my previous experiences had taught me it just felt wrong.

A while back when some pubs were fighting for the same patrons another family came into being – the people from that family were rather openly viewed as in opposition to this other family I’ve mentioned above. It felt and looked like warring mafia families – choose your side, choose your loyalties, blood-ties that can’t be broken. Watching that made me realise what it is about these family units that disturbs me, beyond the idea that I’m not overly keen on role-playing: It was that your loyalties were to everyone in the family even if you didn’t like or respect them, and that you were expected to take on as mutual enemies anyone who hurt members of your family. I will not let other people tell me who to love and who to hate, I’ve been down that road and it’s an ugly path. When people try to order my loyalties to match theirs I inevitably end up resenting them for making me sacrifice my own judgment to theirs, I trust my own instincts for who are good and who are bad people, and in Second Life my instincts are rarely wrong.

I tend to be quite a reactionary and rebellious person at times – you tell me who to hate and I will search within them for a reason to love them. You tell me who to love and I will seek their flaws. One of the reasons I do this is to over-ride the impact and influence of the “command of affection” by actively seeking out the hidden truths of people. I suppose I’m just not a family type of girl, which is not too dis-similar from real life me either: I have always resented being told I have to love and accept people just because they are family, even when they do evil and immoral acts.

The interesting thing is that I will stick by my own chosen husband in real life, and my own created son, even though they may cause bad things to occur at times in their lives. So, in real life I have chosen my family and it has my deep loyalty. They were not thrust upon me, they are the result of my reasoning and my own actions. But even then I will not let my husband (or son eventually) tell me who I must love, and who I must hate. For it is only them I chose, and at no point did I forgo my ability to reason for myself as to who else I may want or not want in my life.

Not all Second Life families necessarily have this “we stick together, you hurt one you hurt us all” mentality, but it definitely appears to be one of the founding ideas behind the very existence of a vast majority of the Second Life families I’ve encountered. I’d be interested to hear, if you belong to a Second Life family, why you do and what it means to you.

But until I see it some other way – than as role-play and as about blind loyalties – I’ll be remaining Second Life family-less.

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One of the old unused pictures I processed today

One of the old unused pictures I processed today

Every Second Life photo shoot I do ends up consisting of around 10 to 50 shots. I normally choose to process only one of those shots for public viewing. The rest sit in my picture folder until I am ready to dump them. I dump them when the picture I chose to process has fulfilled its role – such as the client has accepted the picture as what they required.

More often than not I desperately want to process more than one of the shots; I change the sky and sea settings and angles constantly during the shoot, so the range is wide enough that the pictures can come out very differently. There are two main reasons I don’t process more than one: (1) I like the picture to stand out on my Flickr stream, if there are two similar ones they both lose impact, and (2) it is very time consuming to get a picture to the level that I am happy with. I used to find it frustrating that it took me so long to work on such tiny details, and used to look for a quicker fix, but now I see it as part of my own style and accept that this is the way I do my pictures.

Today I found some time to dig back through my “waiting to be dumped” group of pictures, and worked on bringing out in them something unique or improved – something to distinguish them from the original picture that was published for that shoot. The top three pictures of my stream right now are all in this category, and in the description of each picture I have provided a link to the original shot I produced.

Not only is it satisfying to go back and do what I wanted to do those weeks or months ago, it also brings back memories from the shoots themselves: The people who were present, how long the shoot took, the difficulties, the emotions, the jokes, etc. All my pictures carry some memory for me, it is rare that I explain the full motivation, intent and meaning behind my pictures. But today I realised something new: That processing an old shot resurrects variations of those memories, separate from those encapsulated in the original published picture.

Doing my Second Life photography has been a constantly evolving learning process: I learn new techniques, and I learn new things about my subject matter, and especially about myself. This is just the latest in a long list of ongoing unexpected lessons.

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PonderingAs we slip away from Christmas and towards New Years, it’s the right time to gather my thoughts about how 2008 went in Second Life for me: The new friendships, the lost friendships, the change in my SL personality, and the events that stood out above all others.

New Friendships. I could never do an exhaustive list of the new people I became friends with this year, but two in particular stand out:

DavidThomas Scorbal, is one of the names on my friends list that wasn’t there at the start of the year, but will hopefully be there forever more. For quite a while he was the one guy I fully trusted in SL. He always had an ear for me, was always happy to see me, and is one of the rare true gentleman I’ve come across in that world. He effected my SL and inspired a fair few of my pictures. He got too busy, I got too busy, we somewhat drifted apart, but he still means a lot to me. A lot of the changes I went through in SL this year, are because of him. I don’t think he realises that, people so often don’t know the impact they have on you until you tell them huh.

Kimber Enoch, such a sweet soul, so much fire but so much fragility too. I’ve shared so very much of my true self with her, and she has still loved and cherished all that I am. She would never hurt me, which is something I can say about so very few people. I wish I could protect her from the world’s demons yet I know she has the strength to survive whatever it throws at her. She is someone, like Dave, who I hope will be on my friend’s list forever more.

Lost Friendships: I wish no one fell in this category, and it hurts to remember the loss of them. But it would be dishonest to not mention them, because their absence has also effected the sum of my 2008.

Clarissa Dassin. She won’t like that I mention her name, because she’s always been a very private person, so I guess I have to start by apologizing for that. Losing her was losing my best friend in SL. We were so close, she was the first person I wanted to tell anything that happened to me. I loved talking to her at great length every single day. She was my first dedicated SL model, and one of the first people who said to me that they thought my SL art had potential. I couldn’t possibly summarise what it’s like to have her gone from my SL life now, it’s left a hole that I’ve tried very hard to fill, but the loss still taints my SL.

Jonny Fraisse. Another friend who has drifted away, and who once played such a huge part of my daily SL. We used to make a hilarious team – Jonny, Clarissa, Forever and me. Our humour would bounce off each other and feed on itself. I guess it was all too good to last, I saw the fractures in our group early on but thought we could all ride them out and hang in there. But one piece falls away and people expect you to choose where your loyalties lie. Ah well, fondly remembered nonetheless Jonny ❤

Change in my SL personality: I got professional. I became an SL Mentor, I started making money in SL from my pictures, started a blog, and I took on a proper position within Crown & Pearl. How can things like that not change you? I was never, still am not, a paying member of SL so I hadn’t taken the idea of in-world professionalism seriously. Now it is the base of who I am in-world. I try to stay calm and watchful at all times, ever conscious of how I am perceived. In some ways I miss the free-ness of 2007, but no way would I give up everything I have achieved in SL in 2008 to go back to that.

The events. Crowning event without hesitation was my showing at Twilight Gallery. It was like a public and loud announcement that I was a proper SL Artist. My friends turned up to support and congratulate me, and as I’ve said in a previous post – it was my best day in SL ever.

My RL birthday in SL was a very special day for me too. My friends (particularly Jonny) had gone out of their way to decorate the Crown & Pearl for me. I felt so special and appreciated that day. I felt loved and wanted, what more could a girl ever want for her birthday?

So there you have it, 2008 summed up in a few carefully selected paragraphs. Of course it doesn’t cover it all, if I was going to be properly thorough I’d be mentioning people like Prad Prathivi, Bailey Longcloth, Bailey Dazy, Natalya Homewood, Stoo Loon, Clare Loring etc. Nevertheless this post is a good summary of the year for me, and one I will read again at the end of 2009 to see how much I and the people filling my second life, have changed.

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BondA recent post by Raul Crimson http://raulcrimson.wordpress.com/2008/12/16/gayety/ , and in particular some of the comments on it, left me with more to say than a comment space rightly allows. So I had to come here to blog the length of what I want to say.

The post was about a shot of him and Prad naked together, and he was writing on the fact that some of the comments to the picture on Prad’s Flickr were supposedly anti-gay. Have a look at the picture and comments for yourself http://www.flickr.com/photos/pradprathivi/3085998926/ . I’ve had a re-read through every single comment, and not one struck me as anti-gay. Now I understand Raul’s point more generally, but I don’t think that picture or those comments fed into his concern, so I’m going to state it a bit clearer: “When people tease guys about being gay, they are assuming being gay is a bad thing.” That’s the crux of the claim. I disagree, and I have to explain why, don’t I.

I like to tease Prad about being gay, because I know he’s not. I also like to tease some SL women about being men, because I know they’re not. I do a lot of harmless teasing, and it is not necessarily because I think the thing I’m teasing them about is a “bad thing” – I just know it’s not who they are so I’m having a go. Now not everyone sees it the way I do – there are many people who tease Prad (or whoever) about being gay because they actually do think it would be bad. These people tend to do different styles of teasing though – they’re the same people who attack something by saying “it’s gay”, or use phrases like “what are ya, a poofter..?”.

Now that we’ve clarified that somewhat, I need to go a bit further. One of the replies to Raul’s post implied that homosexuality is acceptable because it isn’t a chosen behaviour. I hate that line of reasoning. I don’t care if it is chosen or not, I don’t care if you were born that way or chose it after months of careful pro-con analysis. Either way, it’s not a question of morality: It is about your private consensual sexual activities, it’s not a matter for society to rule on as “bad” or “good”, to “allow” or “eradicate”. And going along the line of reasoning “oh hey, we have to love them, because no matter how distasteful and ‘wrong’ it is, they didn’t choose it so can’t be held cupable” completely misses the point. You don’t get to walk into people’s bedrooms and tell them to stop having sex, even if they choose to do dirty things you don’t like.

My own view on sexuality goes in this order: (1) Do whatever you like with whoever you like, as long as it’s consensual it should never be a question for law or the rest of society, (2) human sexuality is on a continuum – from homo to bi to hetero: Some people are born with both genitalia and “assigned” at birth, some keep both genitalia, some are born with the “wrong” genitalia, and some are born with the right one but they wanna share it with others who have the same gadgets. The point is you can’t simplify it and pretend we’re all heterosexual and that there are some “minor correctable deviations”. Because it is a false simplification. (3) Yes it is possible to choose to feel differently about your own sexuality, it is possible to experiment and become used to another type of sexual attraction (just watch a  prison movie, or talk to a female University Arts student, for examples). (4) Yes heterosexuality is functional, but it sure as hell is not god-like or make you a better person – I have met a lot of people who really shouldn’t have bred, and we all know the news stories about couples beating their own kids to death. Let’s not pretend homosexuals are worse than those people are, merely because of who they go to bed with.

This brings me to a  related gripe: I hate it when people get self-righteous about this crap, and get all PC about the jokes you may and may not make. If you make a dumb joke that makes you look like a bigotted moron, then at least we all know that’s who you are – I’d rather know it up front thank you very much. And then, just maybe, it might lead to a slightly more intelligent conversation about sexual orientation as an after-effect. Most people who are anti-homosexuality haven’t thought about it much, don’t know the facts, or are coming from an excessively religious back-ground. You can reason with the first two, good luck to you with the third!

One last quick point: The subject of what is and what is not “normal” also arose in the post and comments. Leading to a few replies along the lines of “there is no normal”, “it’s all relative”. Well, actually, there are psychological and societal guidelines and statistical measures for what is “normal” for any given situation. The “normal range” of intelligence, the “normal” blood sugar levels, the “normal” behaviour of abused children… The idea of what is “normal” and what is not is a useful and functional tool for diagnosis of problems and issues. The real question is what you do about the abnormal, if anything: Just because something is outside the normal range of behaviour and experience doesn’t mean it’s bad, but ya know what, it is a noteworthy and important fact nonetheless – it challenges us to try to understand and make sense of it. Pretending nothing is “abnormal” is ignoring the truth and not answering any of the important questions about humanity and the way we function together in society.

OK. There. Out of my system. See why I couldn’t just put all that in a reply box :p

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Not that long ago I was complaining about unsolicited spam via Second Life residents… well it seemed very topical and apt that I just came across this story about people receiving a hefty fine for email spamming, under New Zealand law: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO0812/S00291.htm .

What I’d like to know is how much they actually made from the spamming – and whether the money was made from people paying them to spam, or from people replying to the spam with money (or a mixture of both). I came across a far too cryptic sentence in one of the 4 or so news reports I encountered that said: “Trading under the name “Sancash”, the men are accused of sending more then 2 million unsolicited messages in a three month period last year. In that time, $1.6 million was paid to Lance Atkinson.  He then paid affiliates.” Taken from this version: http://www.3news.co.nz/News/NZ-spammer-hit-with-100000-penalty/tabid/423/articleID/85305/Default.aspx?_cobr=MSN . I’m not sure how to read that, but either way you’re looking at a lot of profit, right?

I will follow the story as it progresses – which it will do considering the other parties who have chosen to take it to court – and will report on it as I hear about it here, because I know I’m not the only one who has had enough of the spam-merchants.

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Today, as per usual, I got to meet a random newbie passing through Crown & Pearl. One of my standard questions I ask to get a feel for who these newbies are, is why did they joined Second Life. And he did what so few actually do, and asked me the same question back. And I realised something at that point which I don’t think I’d fully grasped earlier: It only matters why you joined for the first month or so. After that, what matters is why you stay. Asking why someone joined is still an interesting and revealing question to pose, but the answer to why I joined, and the answer to why I stay, are worlds apart – in fact, now I think about it, they are polar opposites in some fundamental ways.

A rather large number of people seem to join Second Life on the back of some fiflth news story or doco about the sexual aspects and relationships of Second Life, and the average noob unfortunately reflects this: When I used to work on Orientation Islands as a Second Life Mentor, every island had it’s sleezeball, and you didn’t have to dig deep to find them. But people attracted by that either don’t stay around long (for numerous reasons, including they realise you usually have to pay for even pixelated sex, and that woman is often a man), or they get shuffled off to the dark dodgy parts of the grid that I simply do not end up in (anymore). So by the time they make it Crown & Pearl and I’m asking them this question, even though quite a few were still attracted to Second Life by the dirty dark side of it, the question of why they joined is already starting to lose relevance. At that point, it is my chance to give them a somewhat more pleasant and fun reason to stick around.

I admit that I hope the occassional non-Second-Lifer reads these posts and realises that Second Life is so much more than what they see on the telly. Maybe, if enough people realise it’s true worth and beauty, I won’t have to be ashamed anymore to admit to “real-life” friends that I go there. For now though, hiding behind my avatar’s name feels like a necessity, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

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