Like a half-blind newborn, we begin our Second Life rather aimlessly bumping into things as we learn to walk, learn to speak, and learn to interact with these seemingly fully formed people around us. Slowly but surely, we begin to realise why (at least for the past couple of years) we have the word Resident appended to our chosen first names. Even then however, I’m sure the concept of Citizenship is very far from most of our minds.
What began as a comment to Bathsheba’s thought-provoking post on Digital Citizenship became so lengthy and tangential, that I instead decided to write it as its own post. If you can stick with me on this one, you’ll see why.
First, thank you for sharing your perspective Bathsheba, and asking us to think about these challenging questions!
What is the process of becoming not only a citizen of Second Life or of World of Warcraft, but a good one? What virtues and values must one cultivate, and how can those values and virtues of your digital citizenship collide and correspond with our physical world citizenships?
I too have pondered similar questions to the ones she poses, in terms of what it means to myself, and to others in Second Life. Be warned, I have until only recently done the vast majority of my in world thinking while spinning half-naked around a dance pole in less than reputable strip bars, which should make you wonder how fringe-tinged my experiences actually are… But anyway, we can’t always control when, and where, our minds wander, can we?
How does one become a Good Digital Citizen in Second Life?
I think it often escapes people that they are living with each other in virtual places, as opposed to playing with them. I don’t blame them. One turns on a computer, launches an application, enters a username and password, and then proceeds to interact with others through a screen, keyboard, and sometimes a microphone and headset.
From the very moment a new avatar is born into this world, it looks like a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing game (MMORPG), sounds like a MMORPG, and feels like a MMORPG. Isn’t it just a MMORPG? Clearly, it is much more than this.
How? Might it be that Residency, and its younger albeit more mature sibling Citizenship, might be two of the more important concepts that distinguishes a game from a world?
Bathsheba makes a distinction between being a citizen and being a good citizen, and I couldn’t agree more that there is a significant difference. I think that even before that however, there might be a distinction between being a Resident and a Citizen.
I know that by putting a capital C before it and italicizing it, I might be taking the word citizen perhaps more literally than it was first implied in Bathsheba’s post, especially when coupled with the word Digital. However, I think there is use in exploring the depths implied in the language we use, as it has such a powerful effect on our ability to attach meaning to concepts.
Further, I’m not proposing that one can truly become a Citizen (in the political sense) in a virtual space in the same way one might be a Citizen of one’s country. However, as the borders blur between states or residency and states of being, I think these are worthwhile questions to consider.
Digital Citizens vs Digital Residents in Second Life
Citizenship is distinct to Residency. In a sense, because we are all de-facto ‘born’ into our worlds from the moment we open an account and first rez inworld – one might consider oneself as an automatic citizen with the “right of soil”. Both technically and figuratively, I do not believe that is the case.
First, because we don’t have ‘parents’ in the virtual space (outside of role play scenarios where one effectively ‘adopts’ a parent inworld), this grandfathered approach to becoming a Digital Citizen doesn’t sit well with me.
Second, having recently begun investigating Second Life Weddings, I have also confirmed that marriage and partnerships carry no rights to Residents beyond the ones given to vanity license plates. So there goes Citizenship by marriage.
Finally, the only viable route that one might become a Citizen in Second Life is by the process of social (as distinct from legal) naturalisation.
As an expat in RL, I have had to put in significant share of my life time, a considerable amount of money, and more than small degree of effort in passing knowledge tests, towards becoming a Citizen of the United Kingdom. Even after 5 years of living here, despite having ancestral roots, I’m still considered a mere Resident in the eyes of the law.
I understand and accept this because, again, I believe that a true Citizen, with their inherent bundle of rights and duties, is distinct from someone who resides in a place for an undefined period.
How might the virtual world change if we were to apply that similar distinction to Second Life? And more pointedly, would it be better?
What is Citizenship, anyway?
Citizenship, virtual or otherwise, is a complex balance between civic duties and rights. Theodore Roosevelt wrote:
The first requisite of a good citizen in this republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his own weight.
Before one can understand how to become a Citizen, we would wise to define what a Citizen actually is. Looking at what a Citizen is in the non-virtual space may be helpful:
I think that anyone who has lived in Second Life long enough to give these concepts any thought would agree that residents mainly have a Liberal-individualist conception to Citizenship, if one exists at all. Where it does exist, this concept of citizenship is shown by the following observations:
We are economic beings.
As far as Linden Lab (the business behind the creation and maintenance of Second Life), is concerned, residents exist in Second Life to have an economic impact by owning or renting virtual land.
Apart from selling Premium Memberships (which as far as the economics go might as well be a wash), this is the business model behind our existence in this virtual world. Barring the charitable contributions of the pure hobbyists, land owners and renters must generate products and services to pay rent or tier. This generates an unlimited amount of opportunities to be economically active in Second Life, whether one imports funds into it, or generates funds within it to buy and sell more products and services.
Our politics are impotent.
Clearly, the only political power that can be effectively wielded over Second Life as a whole must be linked to economics. We can, in the end, vote with our feet. Doing so on mass would certainly influence policy because it would have an economic impact. Short of that, whilst we can complain all we like, we’re at the mercy of what is effectively a benevolent dictatorship.
Within our own sub-nations (our regions and parcels) however, there is no lack of political structure ranging from the my-way-or-the-highway approach to living with each other, to highly complex social organisations with their accompanying rules and processes. However, I would argue people involved at the centre of simple or complext political structures within Second Life are the exception, and that only a very small percentage of residents are active politically.
We are sovereign, autonomous and self-interested beings.
Without a doubt, and arguably more so than any other virtual environment, we shape our virtual destinies with every decision we make.
We pay taxes (if we own land), we obey the law, we engage in business, and we will rise up to defend (the little piece of) our nation if necessary.
Apart from land tax (tier), we don’t pay sales or income tax in Second Life, although I personally believe services might be considerably better if we did.
There are Terms of Service and Community Standards we must obey, despite a relative lack of the required policing to enforce them.
Nearly all of us engage in business activities, as either buyers or sellers.
Given that any threats to the “nation” are more from within than without, I believe that we do defend our sub-nations and have the powers to do so.
Are we in the pursuit of enlightened self-interest? I suppose it depends on what you call “enlightened”. Nevertheless, self-interest, whether social, emotional, psychological or economic, may be in fact be the defining characteristic of nearly everyone that resides in Second Life.
We need to become barn raisers.
Does the liberal-individualist conception of Citizenship lead to a degeneration of public spirit in Second Life? Might good citizenship be encouraged by public spirit? The type of public spirit that can be seen in barn raising, even today?
Yes, I believe it can. Similarly, I believe that more visible and participative manifestations of public spirit would make for a considerably better virtual world.
One might see the odd glimpses of it here and there (SL9B, Relay for Life, Culture Shock and the Ashraya Project are a few examples) of genuine and cooperative public spirit, but in my experience, these are the exceptional events that prove the rule. They are, however, all examples of good citizenship.
I have very few facts to back this up, but I would predict that the majority of Second Life Residents enjoy very little public spirit during their time here; instead living lives within relatively tiny social circles, or even in quiet solitude, and lacking much purpose beyond the self-gratification.
I believe that this lack of public spirit may be one of the biggest challenges to developing a sense of civic duty, and therefore good citizenship, in most Second Life residents.
For example, if it were to exist in RL, it would be a snap to save the Hosoi Cluster, given our abilities to raise awareness over the internet, the collective resources at our disposal and the very real precedents in preserving similar structures in RL. In Second Life, however, its future is in serious doubt. And how many times have we seen this happen time and time again? It’s enough to make you think that people just don’t really care, isn’t it? Enter good citizenship, and we’d find a way.
We could go a lot further towards participating in the public sphere. We could do much more to “channel legitimate frustrations and grievances and bring people to focus on matters of common concern”.
We are all aware of the rewarding power of contribution, even beyond the very real benefits of building and belonging to a community, and how it may be one of the most important human needs. Just imagine the joint and synergistic effects of thousands (or even millions) of good citizens aiming to give to something beyond ourselves, whether to help those in world or out of it?
Clearly, we can at least expect to be good social citizens of Second Life (as it is now politically conceived) as opposed to merely Residents? I am confident that we’d enjoy a better virtual world as a result.
16 thoughts on “From Resident to Citizen in Second Life”
Becky! I am so excited about this post. And, thank you for thinking that mine contributed to its inspiration. What I find fascinating from your post is that your experience and observations in SL are very very different from mine. I think that you are right that as a whole SL really operates on this individualist model and that the idea of citizenship, community and, as you put it, barn raising is in short supply. However, there are pockets that I think clearly run counter to that model and that community participation and a sense of civic commitment is very strong. I have been studying disability participation for about 5 years now, and I think that one thing about SL residency (and working toward becoming a good citizen of it) that CAN (not alway, but CAN) be very intriguing for people with physical world disabilities is the opportunity to have a voice. This is for two reasons: 1. they are often denied that voice and that immediate sense of reward for civic engagement in their real world communities and 2. particularly because technology can be both such a disruptive/alienating and empowering force, they are very invested in being involved with social movements that are related to it. So, now I wonder: What happens when the dominant citizenship model meets this grassroots conceptualization in a world that is ultimately controlled by a money making company? I don’t know. I think in the end that you have to hope that the community is strong enough to survive a Diaspora (such as that discussed in Communities of Play by Pearce).
Hello Bathsheba! Yes, I agree, my experiences are probably considerably different to yours given the environments in which we’ve spent time and the people that gravitate to those places! I’ve spent the majority of my Second Life in one of the most self-interested places you can imagine, it can be a savage dog-eat-dog world, so clearly these conditions colour my perceptions. I’ve tried my very best to create an environment based on a similar business model, but with a heart and soul at its centre, and I can already see the differences in results! But, I digress…
Another fantastic question you’ve posed! “What happens when the dominant citizenship model meets this grassroots conceptualization in a world that is ultimately controlled by a money making company?” And it’s interesting that it seems Harvey below has picked up on that idea as well.
I think you’re touching on two very old problems at the same time. “How can we get people to be nicer to each other?” and “How can we get individuals to act for the benefit of the group?”
In many ways, the lack of participatory citizenship in Second Life – and the existence of it in places where it is visible – is possibly a reflection on how one participates out-of-world. In most western democracies voter apathy is at unprecedented levels and with this being true, even asking these sorts of questions about a virtual world is likely a profoundly confusing idea to many.
The Roman codification of a citizen being one “free to act by law, free to ask and expect the law’s protection” probably could be applied to Second Life as we know it through Community Standards and the Terms & Conditions. I’d agree however, that it’s not a particularly satisfactory state of affairs.
Perhaps a fully realized model for citizenship in a virtual world doesn’t look the same as citizenship in a modern democracy? You’ve certainly got me thinking and I’m not quite sure where those thoughts are going yet, but what I am sure of is that first we need a renaissance to find our path.
Hi Harvey! You are likely right that a fully-realised model of citizenship can, and probably should, look and feel different than the one we have in modern democracies in the physical world. That conceptualisation assumes that democratic citizens are rational, moral and can individually make decisions that are right and of benefit to the group…
Uhh…. as much as I’d love to believe that, I think that model goes against the grain of evidenced human behaviour over the last 2000 years. How can we believe in this rose-coloured view of ourselves whilst we abide the persistence of human deprivation, injustice, brutality, inequality, environmental degradation and conflict in the world?
Instead, I tend to agree with Al-Rodhan’s emotional amoral eogism theory of human behavior. He says that people are emotional in nature, and will make decisions emotionally. They are neither born moral nor immoral, but rather blank slates of amorality – morality is learned and therefore must be taught. Finally, people can behave morally sometimes, given (a) they know how and (b) it serves their self-interest in some way.
In other words, let’s face it, we’re just monkeys with clothes on:.
Is that all a bit harsh? I don’t know. Clearly though, the way we see ourselves as citizens must be in the context of the form of government we suggest (or tolerate).
We seem to take it as a given that Democracy is the best way to run things. In fact, Plato beleived that Democracy was a step below Oligarchy (which one could argue is what we have at the moment), instead favouring an Aristocracy, which technically means “rule of the best”.
As a side note I wanted to point out that EVE online actually has a player council. I don’t play this game, so I don’t have any real experience with this, but it sounds interesting.
Quoting from the EVE Wiki:
“Since the opening of Tranquility, EVE players have had an indirect say in how their virtual society is run. While player feedback has been central to the game’s evolution, this enabler relied upon the discretion of CCP to derive generalizations about society issues and player concerns. With the population of EVE exceeding 220.000 individuals, the time has come to empower players with a formal communications channel to directly impact the development of their society. The means of accomplishing this goal will be through the implementation of a modified version of “deliberative representative democracy” in EVE.”
Hi Becky… This is a topic that seems to cross my mind often when i think about my virtual life. I’m with you on the distinction between Residents and Citizens, although some Residents are Residents in name only. Initially, I have just couple of thoughts I’d like to expand on.
First, you raise the question, “Are we in the pursuit of enlightened self-interest?” And I agree again with your point of view, but I find Second Life to be mostly an entertainment, passtime or hobby. I doubt most Residents come to virtual worlds with the idea of participating in activities that would qualify them for Citizenship. This leads to my nices thought.
Your comment, “I believe that this lack of public spirit may be one of the biggest challenges to developing a sense of civic duty, and therefore good citizenship, in most Second Life residents” is something I’ve become increasingly aware of since SL9B. Each time I’ve seen this community dynamic working, I’ve been overwhelmed by the feeling of being part of this community of ours. And yet, I see many people putting all their energy into their businesses or their “self-interest” and I suppose this proves your point. But this is where the gray areas begin.
One other thought, I think among the Residents class, there are important sub-classes (at least two): Visitors and Griefers. I know this is a departure from your basic theme but I see Visitors as people who come to a virtual world and never own land, never spend money and seem to fit into Roosevelt’s “free-rider” category. Griefers are a class of people I’ll try to talk about some time in the future, but they deserve special mention because I feel LL has provided few timely measure for dealing with them; especially when they seem to be able to create new avatars all day long.
Anyway, Bathsheba and you have opened up a fascinating topic and I hope a lot more readers join in the discussion.
Great post Becky, great comments everyone!
As a Free Culture zealot, one of the disappointments of a virtual world like Second Life for me is that the creativity sharing values there are actually more oldschool than RL itself!
I’m certainly not the expert on why this is such a conservative environment, but one possibility is that peeps who aren’t artists, architects, fashion designers, IRL, are RPing that experience in VR, and as part of the RP they want to be paid for their work. And for those who are professionals by day, perhaps they’re hoping to make a significant contribution to their overall income.
Whatever the reason for this virtual space being so much more closed than RL, I do see so much openness and sharing IRL: CC Mixter, Sound Cloud, Flickr, YouTube, Blogs, Wikis, are just a few of the many places where peeps apply Creative Commons licenses and very often allow others to Remix their work, sometimes even giving away the right to monetize the derivative works.
Yes there’s the occasional Eloh Eliot who makes some of the finest work anywhere available under a fully open license, including the “Source Files” (in this case Source Files means Photoshop Textures and Illustrator Paths, rather than code in some language) But in her rarity, Eliot actually proves the creative openness not, for the most part, practiced.
On the other hand… if you take the old saying,
Well, in that sense, Second Life in fact has an awful lot of fishing instructors!
There are many places in SL that will teach you to build your own barn. The two I know best are Builder’s Brewery and the Phoenix / Firestorm project.
At Builder’s Brewery and other places like it around the grid, they have a wealth of free classes on not just fishing, but shrimping, crabbing, lobster hunting, and for that matter how to grow broccoli and decorative plants! BB and its cousins are a remarkable gift. If knowledge is power, and I believe it is, then BB is the high ground of the virtual world.
The generosity and selflessness of the Phoenix / Firestorm team amazes me to tears on a regular basis. A small, but illustrative example is the Pie Wheel.
When T. Linden, the non-resident who thought he knew better how residents should live their virtual lives dropped Viewer 2 on the community, some liked it, others were rather upset by it.
Over time this independent, unpaid team built Firestorm, a real, fully featured, and enhanced featured, Viewer 2 / Viewer 3 viewer. When it came to the Pie Wheel they wanted to include it because so many residents didn’t like the Context Menu and missed the Pie Wheel. Well, it turns out the old pie wheel was proprietary code that for whatever reason they couldn’t port over. So someone volunteered to write it from scratch. What a great gift.
It could have stopped there.
The thing is, in the generation that had passed, all the new users who grew up on the Context Menu thought the Pie Wheel was weird. The thing that always amazes me about this team is how hard they work to never tell you how to live your virtual life. They resist telling you what they think is better, and do extra work so users can easily configure their own UI for their own, best UX.
T. Linden made a lot of money thinking he knew better how you should use an environment that he didn’t really use himself. Vaneeesa has way too many opinions on everything. This rant is just the tip of the Free Culture iceberg, NEVER get her started! 😛
How the Phoenix / Firestorm team can be so smart and talented and do such dedicated and amazing work… AND be so selfless… it just amazes and humbles me.
Reblogged this on Songs from the Coal Face and commented:
Starting to get a few ideas about digital citizenship that I’ve published on I Rez, in case you missed them and would like to read them here 🙂 If you’re really interested in this stuff, it’s hard to beat also reading the comments to this post on I Rez, which really add a huge amount of value to the post. And you have an idea on how to improve our virtual world through good citizenship, please add your thoughts too!
Hi Vaneeesa… I’ve been thinking about your comment about why so many people in SL sell their creations. I’m not certain that really is a statement of what you believe, but this idea of SL as a commerical environment goes right back to the SL boardroom. When Philip Rosedale left SL the first time, he said he accomplished what he said he would he “created a virtual economy.” This actually saddened me when I heard it because I felt there was much more to his original goals. Perhaps something goes wrong inside that Linden Lab boardroom, something that keeps SL from being what is should be.
You also mention the Phoenix/Firestorm teams, and the unpaid part of your comments caught my attention. I can understand the joys of creative development in software and in that regard the work is its own reward. But I do wish there was some economic hook that tied the third party viewer developers to Second Life. Especially when considering the V2 debacle, for some of us the only alternative has been Phoenix/Firestorm. The economic hook would tell me I can count on them being involved as long as SL exists.
As always, I’m just sayin… not sure where this goes.
Great Post Becky, and so many great comments / thoughts everyone – fantastic!
In your original post Becky, you said that of course we can’t really be “citizens.” But I think there are plenty of college students out their who value their “citizenship” in Facebook Nation more than in their physical country. And what a “nation” that is, 3 times the size of the USA and closing in on China as the most populous “nation” on earth.
For sure physical nations can give or take freedoms and life itself in dramatic ways that our “virtual nation-states” cannot… still… the Town Square today IS Facebook, it’s no longer your physical Town Square.
When virtual nation-states like Facebook or Google+ deprive you of your civil right to free speech or your human right to participate in culture, they REALLY are depriving you of those rights — the ability to speak your mind to a few people in a public park, but not to the masses on Facebook, that really isn’t very much free speech, is it?
On “citizens” vs “residents,” I think this is true everywhere. Look at how many people don’t vote. Look at how many people think their government is corrupt or useless or don’t engage in civic life for many other reasons. And just look how busy we all are with life itself. Citizenship is a lot of work.
Ironyca’s comment about EVE Online is so cool – I didn’t know that!
The tricky thing about Second Life or Facebook or perhaps even EVE Online, is that they’re not democracies. The platform can ebb & flow quite a bit and you can pretty much keep “living your life” as you did, but ultimately you’re subject to the business interests of another party. — haha — then again, IRL, when governments topple, the new regime tends to shoot all the intellectuals, so perhaps that isn’t so different virtual-vs-physical either.
Maybe I’m just trying to say, The only constant… is change…
Agreed. An economy, virtual or otherwise, is an excellent system to enable trade, but it should never be an end in itself.
Yes, Griefers and Visitors are two sub-classes of Resident that one has to consider. It’s interesting to see this discussion of citizenship evolving into a discussion of forms of government and a classification system for people based on their contribution.
A system that classifies avatars on the basis of their contribution to the digital society isn’t unthinkable. Clearly, there are those who detract for our society (Griefers), to those how ride on it without making an economic contribution (Non-Economic Participants), those who are economically-active (Economic Participants), to those who are economically-active and civically-active (Citizens?).
I haven’t given a huge amount of thought to the consequences of such a classification system and whether there’d be benefit to it. However, I’d be inclined to imagine that a classification of this nature might help influence to contribute more.
This makes me think of the Klout score, Yordie, which to the two of us are somewhat familiar with, and how such a system might be applied to Second Life. I’ve been informed that such a system has been tried before and was discontinued, but I’d be keen to investigate that further somehow.
I think we classify people in our minds as a type of protective system. In SL, as soon as I see that someone is in a free-rider class, a Visitor, I tend to loose interest because I’ve come to know that they will always take more out than they put back. And so it goes but this is always going on across a broad front. I suppose it’s not necessary to distinguish them in a system like you’ve laid out.
I’ve been thinking about the scope of this topic, Becky. I think the only way to really classify people in a virtual world is within the bounaries of each community. When someone comes from a community where his/her behavior is acceptable but finds it’s basically illegal in another community, this opens the door to citizenship I think. Each time I try to wrap my head around this I immediately start falling into a web of what ifs. I love the topic and think its a great thing to discuss, but there needs to be some basic definitons. I think your Resident and Citizen can wrap around all the subclasses. Where it all leads, I just don’t know.
As for Klout, i had a great chat today with a guy from EAv and we both feel that Klout has merit for measuring some social networking activity. The problem with Klout is, too many people think it’s a popularity contest. Some people on EAv even use their EAv wealth to pay people to give them Klout. I think most people I’ve met feel that kind of Klout is temporal at best. I’ll bet you see a huge jump in your Klout in the next month to three months. The reason is, all this additional interaction here. I beleive my Klout jumped up because of iRez interactions. I hope it does, because that would mean Klout is looking more at quality than quantity (as in the past). Chats here are high quality i feel.
Hi Yordie, thanks for your thoughts!
When I think about a classification system, I’m not suggesting to adopt one that exists elsewhere (e.g. Klout) and pasting it on to SL (and I’m sure you wouldn’t either). Such a system would need to be built from the ground up, taking past (failed) experiences and current (and future) technical abilities into account, and thoroughly tested (in heterogenous communities) before being rolled out to the masses.
I’m also not looking for a all-encompassing set of laws that we should apply to every community. That one-size-fits-all approach rarely suits the physical world, how could we expect it to transcend into the virtual world? Also, such homogeniety would only serve to spoil one of the fundamental virtues about SL and other virtual worlds, in that one can really live a life outside of the bounds of so many dumb RL laws that really don’t (and should never) apply in this world – it can in a sense, allow us to start from scratch whilst adapting to suit.
I couldn’t agree more that definitions are necessary, and a good, mutually-exclusive classification system can help one arrive at those definitions. And, these things take time and more effort than many will be willing to apply.
I suppose in all of this one has to ask oneself: Why? What’s the point of even thinking about this?
This whole conversation began with the Bathseba’s question, what makes a good digital citizen? This question compelled me to ask, what’s a digital citizen? Whether good or bad? But, I suppose an even more foundational question should be, do we care?
Do we want a better world? And if so, do we believe that a world can be made better by it’s residents / citizens? Or do we just stand aside and hope things get better. Given that choice, I will vociferously fight for the former, and wholeheartedly agree with Margaret Mead when she said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Thanks for the heads up Ironyca – that indeed looks interesting. I think the operative words in the excerpt you cite are “modified version”, as later in that article it says that “the CSM will not have formal powers within CCP (the company behind EVE), they will have a voice inside CCP.” I suppose it is a start, and perhaps the most one can expect given that these worlds are in the end commercial enterprises owned and operated by companies who answer mainly to owners and shareholders.