Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Fight for Control of our Virtual LIves


I've focused somewhat obsessively on the Google+ pseudonymity policy here, ever since the story broke last week about the suspension of people using avatar-based identities. The reason the issue resonates so strongly for me is that it relates to the extremely consequential question of who should be in charge of our virtual lives: The corporations who create the platforms which enable them, or the netizens who live them through the platforms. This recent presentation by Rebecca MacKinnon provides a good overview of the issue and offers ideas about how we might work together for the democratization of the internet.

8 comments:

Lap Liberty said...

I have been giving thought to that issue myself, and feel that somewhere in this space, Virtual Platforms offer a Lifestyle, not so unlike alternative living. If this is considered so, then I feel we have the same rights as any other Lifestyle. Especially for the handycap. $0.02

Bay Sweetwater said...

RT @zephoria (Danah Boyd): Never forget...when a social media site is free, you're not the customer, you're the product.

Miso Susanowa said...

This is the fight we all knew would come in 1984 and earlier; the attempt of commerce to take over and reduce the net from a communications platform to a dumbed-down broadcast media channel.

It is also the main civil-rights issue: who owns ya, baby? Everything is being pushed into an ownership model, as if this is the determining characteristic of any and all things now, including humans. The Matrix was not far off; to CorpWorld, we are all Coppertops.

I happen to object to this view, particularly because I am creating content, which most people are also; we provide FB and G+ et al with the data they use to profit off us. So, are we slaves or cows? In their world, we are.

In my world, I stand behind thousands of men and women throughout history who have fought for human freedom, dignity and individuality. My virtual life is no more the "property" of a corporation than it is of a publisher if I write a book. A book is product; a human being is not, no matter how much a corporation would wish otherwise, even with their insistence that "corporations are people for legal purposes."

I disagree; I reject and refuse this classification of my life, just as I reject the SL TOS that says the product of my work and efforts is theirs because I happen to make stuff while I'm in their house.

Botgirl Questi said...

Lap: I agree that accommodating those with alternative lifestyles is important. But for me, the essential issue is the right of privacy.

Bay: Thanks for bringing that up. The line between creator and consumer is blurring in many areas today.

Miso: I agree with your overall position, but I do have some concerns about how your frame it. In a world where there is still human slavery and tremendous economic disparity, I wonder if the type of rhetoric you use is justified.

It really doesn't harm us concretely when Facebook and Google profit from our data. And if the individuals who run those enterprises view us collectively as revenue generators rather than people, I think that harms them more than it does us.

Botgirl Questi said...

Miso,

After reading back over my reply to your comment, I realized I was way too flippant. I was like the stereotypical parent persona telling someone to stop complaining about their food because there are people starving in Africa.

If the future is going to be increasingly virtual then the question of who governs the virtual world (and by that I mean anything we access via the internet) is going to become nearly as important as who governs the physical world.

It's funny to think of it this way, but it just occurred to me that the disconnect in the way that people see questions such as anti-pseudonymity rules and TOS is related to the augmentation vs. immersion perspectives. If you think of the virtual world as a tool, then it is obvious that the owners of the tools have the right to dictate their use. If you see the virtual world as an environment in which we live, then it is obvious that the rights we enjoy in the physical world should be extended to the virtual.

I think McLuhan was dead on when he described that most people see the future through the rear view mirror. And that artists play a key role in not only seeing what's ahead, but also communicating it in provocative ways. So although my knee-jerk reaction to the passion you expressed was dismissive, my better judgement realizes that your dark vision could very well be prescient unless we're proactive in fighting the direction things are headed during this early stage.

michelehyacinth said...

If you haven't read the novel "Jennifer Government" by Max Barry, you should. In essence a jam-packed amazing "futuristic" tale of monetizing identity from the personal(first life yet) clear through to the identity of nations. A great, great book, even if outright creepy: http://maxbarry.com/jennifergovernment/

Miso Susanowa said...

/me forgives you Botgirl, of course! We r frenz :)

I will explain: for over 20 years, we the techs, the dreamers, the facilitators and the planners have tried to speak knowledgably, with patience and thoroughness and all the training and experience we have in dealing with the complexities of a network.

No one listens. So yes, I have begun speaking more passionately, as I believe the Founders of this country did, about a menace that I, and several thousand people, have predicted would come; have observed the state of things to closely adhere to that model and to expect the inevitable end result of that model unless we do something.

I've been posting and tweeting links to the materials I was raised on as a netizen, which explain all these concerns and ideas and give a perspective from 1984-1995 to match up to what you see happening around you now. It's up to people to read, educate themselves and compare these predictions to the state-of-what-is-now and make their own conclusions.

There's nothing new in all this either; the identical problems came up when the printing press started to become dispersed, so there's a lot of historical precedent for my opinions and theorizing.

"The only thing evil needs to triumph is to have good men do nothing."

Miso Susanowa said...

ps - my vision has only become darker in the last 10 years. When I was first exposed to these cautionary thoughts, I was in love with the net; I was an evangelist and cheerleader for getting people connected. I read the statements of Barlow and the cypherpunks and said, "oh no it's won't happen"

However, it HAS happened and almost exactly as it was described almost 20 years ago by the leading theorists of the time, including the men to whom we owe the entire existence of the net.

That is what has changed my vision from being an evangelist to a somewhat cynical watcher. Now I understand what those men were concerned with and now I feel the same.