Sunday, December 10, 2006

those "c" words

there is a distinct difference in what the terms "liberal", "socialist", "democratic" (to name a few) can mean, depending on which part of the planet you happen to find yourself in, and also, depending on the linguistic-environment you find yourself in. i felt this often enough when living outside of anglosajonia (the English-speaking world).

i try to read both spanish and uk newspapers. this is so even though i do find (and have thought so in the past) that the papers here have that annoying mix of high-on-drivel and low-in-intelligence in the reporting. the english journalistic tradition is like that to be found in south africa, which is one of the less attractive aspects of the south african newspapers: too much navel gazing and not enough of an outward gaze + a level of analysis in the reporting which leaves much to be desired. "but this is what sells", you will tell me. "local content, local interest, etc". oh, think of it this way: when i was in madrid in 2000 i learnt more there about the goings-on in Africa by reading the El País, than I would have gleaned from a week´s worth of reporting from a local South African newspaper/daily. Go figure. Since then the South African newspapers have changed their editorial stance, but still there is a dearth of reporting on Africa in SA papers.

what is interesting is to see the euro-skepticism over here in the UK vs. my experience of the spanish newspaper view of the EU, where the stance is pretty much pro. In Spain, the EU is a given. In the UK it seems to be seen as a somehow necessary evil. In the UK the EU is like that relative you invite over to family functions if only to avoid that there be bad blood in the clan...

But switching then to a different medium but still news reports:

my sitting down to write this blog was prompted by my seeing news reports of Pinochet´s death. newsfeed reads, variously "that the Fascist dictator has died"; "it is unfortunate that he has gone to his death without a conviction", etc. Switch to my Google newsfeed and The Guardian opines "the anti-communist dictator has died". At which point I go "huh?" For how could Pinochet have been anti-communist when Salvador Allende (the person he had overthrown) was a socialist? So, if you write it that way as The Guardian has, does this make Pinochet a good guy? As if to say "he was not just any dictator, cos that´s just baaaaaaaaad. no, he was anti-communist, so --say it with me now-- that makes him aaaaaaa gooooood guy." The other thing that was striking is that the newspaper goes on to assert that "Allende committed suicide" as if some indisputable fact. The journalist does not bother to add that the latter has been questioned by many, for many years after the 1973 coup. My point is not that I am pro-Allende, rather that there are these tiny opportunities, in day-to-day journalism, where one can educate the public, and write in a style so that you have a more critical citizenry. But no, rather, it is simpler to dish up everything as if uncontested fact.

so, considering other "c" words, and i don´t mean that word so often used in spain it has lost its meaning almost entirely: coño. nope, i am referring to Capitalism. much in the way in which one can have a heated argument in spain and still walk away not having ruined the friendship + still having your dignity intact, one is able to engage in talk about systems of belief etc. with the same kind of non-attachment. i will return to this point later, but first a detour into SL.

some weeks ago i wrote about my experiences in Second Life. i did mention then about the fencing-off of property which seemed prevalent. but more than that, i wondered about this tendency to suffer some punitive consequence if you expressed a more communal kind of ethos. ("what´s she on about" you wonder). i mean, quite simply, i´ve seen, the few times that i´ve been in SL, that if you go looking for freebies the scripts if clicked on tend to suggest that doing so will result in some loss of one kind or another. e.g. if only to explicate, click on that there freebie-like offer and the next you know you´ve lost all your gesture-scripts in your inventory. at first this may strike you as nothing unique; merely the usual kind of pranks one can find, etc. but why the need to punish s/one if they are looking for freebies? why should loafers and free-riders be punished? can´t they just be allowed to happily co-exist with the rest who are spending their linden dollars on s e x , gambling, or shopping? which brings me to another point. look at the popular events listing and what you can do is either s e x, gambling, or shopping. to which i responded "oh, great, i can shop`til i drop in SL! whoopee! (yawn. oh blah)". so i logged out of SL thinking that it was merely some digital instantiation of a capitalist ethic. yeah, let´s call it "EXTREME CAPITALISM". the fiscal equivalent of extreme sports!? hhhmmm. then i happen across a Fortune article on SL "No, Second Life is not overhyped: Is it a game? No. Is it a marketing opportunity? Yes, but who cares? What matters most is that it may point to the future of the Net, says Fortune's David Kirkpatrick."
I am a Fortune subcriber; have been for many years, and i like Kirkpatrick´s articles, but i am suitably sceptical whenever i see anything which proclaims or even whispers "it may point to the future of the Net". also, the business press, unlike the general press, can be brimming with intelligence while also behaving in a very lemming-like way.
Kirkpatrick writes "Yet Second Life may be more important, longterm,... because what it really may represent is an alternative vision for how to interact with information and communicate over the Internet...In Second Life everything you do is done in a social space, though you can get privacy if you want." He goes on to say that the web as we know it mimicks a print model, and that SL makes you realise what another vision of the web could look like. He continues "There's no reason why some version of a 3D world couldn't eventually offer as much functionality as we get today on the Web, and more....Every day more big companies turn their attention to this new medium, realizing that it really represents something new....But we're seeing something new and important. If you want to stay abreast of what's happening in tech, you need to get inside Second Life." Of course I don´t agree with that last statement. SL is not the whole picture, after all, w.r.t. what´s new in tech. also, who´s to know whether 3D worlds presages a view of digi life to come. it is too early to tell. but, if the social (+ other?) context is visualised, what does that entail for our notions of the "semantic web"? for, after all, isn´t the semantic web also very much text-driven and so resting, by proxy, in a print model?

what Kirkpatrick´s story made me think of is that it seems that CEO´s start to have some kind of SL presence, and so that if you want to really aprovechar (take advantage), it would be good if you could practice your "elevator pitch" for SL! I guess that would not be so difficult to emulate cf. to the virtual mechanics of getting spanked... which is what i last witnessed (yes, witnessed, not experienced) over there.

well, to return to the start of this posting re spots on the planet. i then, in a meeting, of a day, made mention of this extreme capitalism notion vis-a-vis SL, which, much to my surprise, resulted in some uncomfortable back-and-forth looks among the group i was in. i shan´t reveal whom i´d been talking to; that is not so important. rather, what seemed so clearly signalled was that to mention that c-word (capitalism) in this my english-speaking world, could end with you being branded with that other c-word (communist). that is how it seemed to me. then, the point after all, is that i could say the equivalent in a spanish-speaking context and that, for sure, i would not initiate a similar round of uncomfortable looks.


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