Diary #13

SOMEWHERE NEAR BLACK ROCK CITY, NEVADA, 1998 — Liz Bowman and I walking in the Nevada desert, not far from the Burning Man site.

wide desert panorama with rear view of Liz Bowman and Vaneeesa Blaylock walking naked in big boots

THE HAGUE, 2012 — I was 29 in 1998, yes, for the “first” time. I had finally finished my MFA a couple months earlier, and Mark’s startup was going well and it was time for him to make his pilgrimage / rite of passage to Burning Man. It’s about 600km and 8 hours from Palo Alto to Black Rock City. It’s far, but it’s not as far as you think. And it’s not really that different than a Silicon Valley beer Friday. Just with more heat. And way more dust. And more naked people. And a little bit more fire. I think you’d see more fire in Palo Alto, but it doesn’t always go that well with urban space. Honestly, I think the greatest thing about Burning Man, it’s not the naked hippies, and the “off the grid” thing is largely BS to me, I think the greatest thing about Burning Man is that you can’t burn down the desert.

Mark and Mike rented this gnarly huge van. Mike brought his girlfriend Liz, who I’d never met before. She was just 19 that summer. She was ridiculously young, but I liked her. She was from a small town in Washington state and she had a sort of small town sweetness to her. When you go to school for too many years or live in big cities or do too much structural analysis everything becomes very self-referential and very meta. Sometimes I felt like Liz didn’t have a clue what we were talking about. Then other times I felt like I was the most self-absorbed full-of-shit person on earth. But she never really worried about any of that. Liz was just Liz.

Eleven years later, in April 2009 we were BS’ing on AIM and she told me she’d been playing this virtual world “Second Life” for a few months that she thought I might like it. She said it was kind of like an “online Burning Man.” By then I’d actually heard about it many times, and even talked about it in my lectures, but for some reason I’d never actually tried it. Probably I’d just never landed on their home page, otherwise I would have signed up for it. I mean it’s not like there’s any Web2.0 platform that I haven’t signed up for! πŸ˜›

Liz had joined this cool group Metanomics that had meetings on VR education and other topics. She introduced me to Lothar who introduced me to Espy who wound up inviting me to create a piece for a show her graduate students at Kansas State were curating, which wound up becoming VB01 – Girl Next Door. Oh, and speaking of “next door,” Lothar and Espy had offices next door to each other on Angel Learning Isle. Angel was a Learning Management System (LMS) that got bought by Blackboard a few years ago. Blackboard’s let Angel Learning Isle linger on this whole time, but I heard late last year that it would be closing down in January. Although I’m actually standing there now as I type this, so I guess Angel has had a temporary reprieve, but perhaps its days are still numbered.

Anyway, I guess this photo of the lanky 29-year-old and the small-town 19-year-old stomping thru the Nevada desert in matching knarly boots is, as much as anything else, why we’ve been doin all this work these past 3 years.

As a virtual public artist my work invites avatar communities to express their identity, explore their culture, and demand their civil rights.

4 thoughts on “Diary #13

  1. Love the story from the past, cute pic (I saw your butt, hehe) and was fascinated by this remark, “kind of like an ‘online Burning Man.'” Wow, how different people view Second Life so differently. Otoh, I’ve never been to Burning Man so maybe SL is precisely like that. /me giggles. Cool post.

    1. Aww, thanks Yordie! πŸ™‚

      I think she just meant that it was a big place with lots of peeps running around making stuff. So they’re pretty similar in that way.

      Of course I guess that analogy breaks down when you try to take your speedboat out on the playa! πŸ˜›

      And you know the famous story of Philip Rosedale being influenced by Burning Man when he was working on SL, yes?

  2. truthfully, I don’t know a lot about Burning Man, just the few things i’ve seen in the news over the years. Now that you point it out, i see Philip being influanced with the non-currency enconomy. He’s doing that again with LoveMachine. it’s very enlightening to me, Vaneesa.

    The thing is, i came to SL for reasons totally unrelated to SL’s original purpose. I was looking for a platform for a project I was working on. I’ve tended to see SL entirely from the point of view of a stranger in a strange land, just looking for adventure, romance and entertainment.

    1. kk, yes, I think all platforms can be used in many ways.

      A few years back (before Facebook swallowed everything, and when MySpace still mattered) danah boyd once said,

      The Born Again Christians on MySpace think MySpace is a Born Again Christian website, and the neo-Nazis on MySpace think MySpace is a neo-Nazi website

      All of these platforms are so big that we can go there and only see our own corner of them and not even realize what all everyone else is up to.

      The Philip Rosedale legend as I’ve heard it is that he was planning to make a virtual world like others where LL created all the content for the users to use / enjoy… and it was at Burning Man that he had the revelation that… given a vacuum, given empty space, given tools… people create stuff…

      So that was his big UGC moment where he realized that, like Wikipedia, he didn’t have to build / populate a whole world… just set up a framework and give people the tools to create their own content as they will.

      What sort of perspective or view did your project give you of virtual world space?

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