immersed in abstraction

I’ve tried before and I’ll probably try again, but I can’t get immersed in Second Life. It’s the lack of story there. You make yourself look how you want (or find you’re unable to) and then you stand around listening to music or whatever. A few years ago on my second attempt to get into it I signed up to go to a reading of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Snow Crash is a novel about the kind of immersive second world SL is trying to be, but it all feels so clunky, so much more about just being in SL than about what’s going on.

I guess it comes down to my gripes about content in the social mediasphere. I find myself agreeing with the lack of Big Ideas in social media (though one of my classmates noted that some of the thinkers quoted in that article are also on Twitter).

Scott McCloud in his talking about comics has a bit about how characters are drawn and how that affects us as readers. A very detailed drawing gives us information about that specific person, whereas a more abstract drawing lets the reader put more of herself into it, to fill in more of the gaps. Immersive environments like Second Life are mixing those up. The more detailed your avatar can be the more the gaps between what’s happening to it and to you become visible.

I remember back in the ’90s my first time playing a MUSH. It was based on Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. I went in expecting to have slots to fill in and skills to work on so I could become whatever kind of character it was possible for me to be in that world. The fact that I could be a Thief-Taker, just by saying I was and acting like I was, was so astounding to me I was immediately intimidated by the freedom. I still feel that way now when I’m staring at a blank page to fill with text. Anything at all can go there. You don’t have to fit into CPU cycles when you’re dealing with text. Your immersion is based on skills with language that humans have been working on for thousands of years.

That’s why I can get immersed in the flow of information on Twitter. It’s text. I’m a text person. Doing photos and screencasts using avatars and all of that doesn’t excite me. I don’t feel I’m part of a world I’m not helping to create in my mind. I love the old text-based computer games, even though the limits were very apparent. You had to learn the rules so you knew that “Take Boat” wasn’t the kind of language it wanted. Working within limitations becomes immersive once you’ve really taken it up.

Now this isn’t to say I don’t get immersed in videogames. Once it gets out of the way and I’m taking part in telling a story, I’m there. I played Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas not for the random gratuitous violence (yes, you’d go off on a five-star wanted rampage every once in a while but that wasn’t the point), but because it was a classic gangster story. That’s what I want out of any environment, really. Hell, I love the stories embedded in the numbers in baseball boxscores. That’s what I need for immersion, characters instead of customizable avatars.

This is, of course, good to know. Because if I’m like me, there might be more. And that’s why if I’m bringing a library into a space it’s to tell a story, and to help our users tell a story and imagine one. Not just about the library but about the community it’s a part of (be that physical or digital).

instructional role

When I taught English in China, I wasn’t a very good teacher. I did it though. It was a good experience, doing something I knew I was bad at, trying to get better, but not really knowing how. Me blundering along through failure for a couple of years was great for everyone. Except my students. And my self-esteem. Erm.

The thing is that when I got back to Canada and especially when I started working at a library reference desk I realized I’m not too shabby at one-on-one/small group instruction, especially when everyone is speaking the same language. It was teaching people to talk I was terrible at. But I still didn’t have a good handle on how to teach better or how to develop a lesson plan or anything like that.

So for me, my hands-down most useful class in my MLIS has been LIBR535: The Instructional Role of the Information Professional. The past couple of weeks we’ve been doing our short lessons and with actual guidance on how to do this stuff (simple guidance like “plan your lesson backwards from its objectives” and “making people physically do stuff is good because…”) I felt really good about it. And man oh man does it ever help when you’re teaching something you find interesting.
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term one assignments

Maybe you’re interested in the kinds of things a first term MLIS student does. This is a follow up post to my first months of school recap.

Assignment 2 for my Information technology course was a website/research paper kind of weird hybrid amalgam thing. I did mine on Transhumanism, and managed not to mention my buddy who wants to be a robot some day. Until now. The last assignment for that course was the Twitterbrary project here on the blog.

In my reference services class (is that what it was called?) we collected a pile of reference resources for use by SIGGRAPH Vancouver (that was a group project so I’ll wait till the writeup is complete and I have group member permission before posting it here). Also did a presentation in class that stuck pretty close to the allotted 10 minutes. Information Organizations sent us off to compare a library and game store (again, group work so I won’t post it without the others’ permission).

And then there was the Subject Headings assignment (PDF) for the classification class. In our final session we spent 45 minutes talking about the assignment and what was required and what wasn’t. It was painful, but my Headings are done and not too far off line from what he wanted so whatever.

So yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing.

book review: the tao of wu

The Tao of Wu is a weird book by the RZA. I mean, it’s about taosim and philosophy and the jewels of being and shit, but also about being Bobby Digital and partying the fuck out of the hip-hop life. He talks a lot about the Supreme Mathematics and being a Five Per Center and a lot of the Nation of Islam stuff I didn’t know anything about. But it’s also about comic books and Kung-Fu movies and finding your way to happiness.

The stuff I found most tedious was the numerology. You can pretty much do anything you want with numbers when you’re looking for significant dates and aren’t too picky about specifics. He goes on about how Barack Obama being the 44th president is significant numerologically and then goes on to say that since he’s the 43rd person to hold the office (because of Taft) those numbers are also significant. But they weren’t significant when Dubya was in. There’s a lot of that kind of intellectually not too rigorous kind of pontificating in the book.

But the stuff about him learning the Mathematics as a kid and being on and off of spiritual paths? Really good. His chess talk gets a little woo-woo spiritual but it’s an interesting perspective. Also, he had the best explanation of the difference between East Coast and West Coast rap and why it led to violence. He also talked about how the Wu-Tang Clan sound was created and having a dictatorial plan to make it work and about the death of ODB. I haven’t read a lot on these subjects so I liked it.

I wouldn’t recommend it as a reference book on Taoism or anything, but it’s an interesting perspective on taking a spiritual path that’s littered with shell casings.