Posts Tagged Virtual reality
This entry is part 11 of 12 in the series weekly summaries


I began my lifestream with a sense that I would be saving ephemera.  In my early blog posts I played with the ‘why?’ of the activity.  Was I creating commonplace book, a scrapbook of nostalgia, the virtual clippings and travel stubs to remind me of my journey? Or a bower bird, attracting a mate?  If so who was I flirting with – my tutor, my classmates or a wider public?

As the course progressed and the group bonded we looked more seriously at our role, were we curators creating our own cabinet of curiosities or wunderkammer.  I enjoyed Jen and Tony’s discussion, particularly Tony’s articulation of his concerns, in that it set the collector apart from the collection, not with appropriate academic detachment but a tinge of imperialistic superiority.  This was further explored in the ethnography project – should we observe, or engage?  Here I began to see the emergence of a more useful position on lifestreaming: as a record of engagement.  Much of the internet is ephemeral – I don’t see the point in saving your tweets and Gordon Bell’s decision to digitally archive every detail of his life disturbs me. Yet the experience of creating a lifestream helped me understand how maintaining a selective record of your engagement is a very valuable academic or developmental act that has a performative value.

Interestingly the lifestream did not for me contribute to the social aspect of the course.  As a group we interacted well, but primarily through the blogs and Twitter.  I visited other students lifestreams initially to get a sense of which feeds they were using, but once I felt satisfied with the balance of my own feeds my visits to others’ pages was limited to their blogs.  For this reason lifestreaming for me was a personal act (albeit in a public space) which relieved me of having to worry about the appropriacy of what I was selecting.  I chose to link not only websites, images and quotes directly relevant to my work, but also more tangential associations; blog posts which examined how the net and digital technology is changing who we are – social media’s contribution to the emergence of a posthuman population.

Finally, as I moved towards choosing the topic of a final assignment I looked out how disconcerting online spaces can be for both teachers and students.  In a Second Life talk Nik Peachey discussed how in a virtual world a teacher was often left wondering what their students were doing.  Were they paying attention or reading emails?

Usher (1998) talks of (dis)location:

a space and a non-space; a (dis)location – something that is both positioned and not positioned, (dis)placed but not re-placed, a diaspora space of hybridity and flows where one and many locations are simultaneously possible.

Similarly Bayne (forthcoming 2010) notes:

At the same time, the ontological blurring of being and not-being, presence and absence online, are crucial in considering how distance modes re-position the ‘thereness’ of learners and teachers, rendering us in a sense ghost‐like

The lifestream is a response to this enigma of absence/presence.  We become present through our streams.  This is why I noted that the act of selecting gained for me a performative value.  It represented my engagement.  Initially I was concerned with populating my lifestream in order to prove I existed (and was doing valuable work), but as I grew more comfortable with it I allowed it to give voice to my absence.  When mystified by Haraway (2000) I avoided the stream for a few days  as a way of expressing my confusion and need to retreat and resolve myself as a learner.  Similarly, I allowed myself to be playful – to add threads of whimsy: my personal skepticism towards the skill of multi-tasking for instance.

In this way my lifestream became another form of embodiment, and presumably a way for my tutor to gauge my presence and engagement in a non-threatening way.  It gave a little solidity to my phantom self as I haunted our virtual spaces.

Bayne, S. (forthcoming, March 2010). Academetron, automaton, phantom: uncanny digital pedagogies. London Review of Education. [revised version uploaded 10 November 09]

Haraway, D. (2000). A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late 20th Century. in D Bell and A Kennedy, The Cybercultures Reader. Routledge.

Usher, R. and Edwards, R. (1998). Lost and found: ‘cyberspace’ and the (dis)location of teaching, learning and research. SCUTREA 1998, Exeter.

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This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Tracy's digital ethnography


When I asked the Forest of the Moon players why they did it, they gave the following replies (Screen name / Character name[s]):

Being able to be a part of a fun world/idea/plot — more directly than just reading a book — and being able to do something with my tendancy to keep making characters like mad. (Oreta / Rehael)

the creativeness, making our own storyline. Seeing what another person will do and adjusting your own story you have going to match it. (Jessica / Seryina / Kenai)

I like it for loads of reasons. It’s an escape from reality for a moment. It’s a form of venting. I love the players I play with (does that sound wrong? darkside.gif) and the characters they’ve created are fantastic (Red / Hunter / Maia)

I love the creativity of it, the chance to get to write a story which i always want to do, without the hardship of working on all the details yourself. Also you can come up with an idea that sounds good but then it gets work on by loads of different people and comes out maybe nothing like your idea but so much better!!! Also I have dyslexia and working on posts help me work on my spelling, gramma and structure where people won’t kill me if it comes out a little weird or I dont lose marks for it being wrong. (Melas Zepheos / Nimah)

The calibre of the story telling. I love to read what people are thinking, how they react to a scene and (natch) how they write. This is so much cooler than the ol’ pencil and paper D&D route to RP. (Vyxen / Fayne)

Creativity plays a strong part in their motivation, but there is also the element of escape.  This could be interpreted as a negative tendency as Bell (2001, p.105) highlights:

For all their proponents’ chatter about inclusion and heterogeneity, the space of online community is, rather, a ‘domain of order, refuge, withdrawal’ (Robins CR: 91). As he writes in another essay, ‘virtual culture is a culture of retreat from the world’ (Robins 1999: 166). Arthur and Marilouise Kroker describe the withdrawal into VR as ‘bunkering in.

However I believe that in many aspects virtual culture the masks we wear often allow us to be more ourselves rather than less.  However for this to be a positive and healthy aspect of community we need a space where we can take off the mask and be ourselves, and in some way to articulate the learning we have gained from wearing them.  The Northlands RPGers do this in their Out of Character (OOC) thread.  This thread is ostensibly for plotting purposes but it is more frequently used as a place to praise (good writing), catch up (on real life news), make excuses (for not posting), encourage and generally form social bonds.  Looking at our RPG forum, one might suspect the OOC thread are the reason for being there – with the RPG’s being an excuse for a get together.  (Taking The Forst of the Moon as an example the RPG has a mere 18 posts, whilst the FoTM OOC thread has 91!).  This probably follows the pattern of many face to face communities where the ostensible reason for getting together (theatrical groups, bible study, writing clubs, quilting circles) is far less important than the connections made, friendships developed and support given over coffee and biscuits.  Whether we are face to face or online we feel comforted and empowered by being with people who are like us, and who like us.  This is for me a fitting case for community.

I would like to thank the Forest of the Moon players for allowing me to be part of their community for the past 2 weeks.

Bell, David (2001) Community and cyberculture, chapter 5 of An introduction to cybercultures. Abingdon: Routledge. pp92-112

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