Monday, February 27, 2012

Observation enough?

Dear Tom Boellstorf,

    After reading your chapter titled “Method” in your book “Coming of Age in Second Life” I have a new found respect for ethnographers everywhere. The amount of work that is put into creating a successful study of a specific culture is nothing short of impressive. You mentioned that you have conducted such studies both on and offline in the real world. The quantity of notes that you mentioned in the chapter is unfathomable, since you mentioned that the collection is well in excess of  thousand’s of pages. Conducting field work such as this and compiling all the materials into something useful especially with documents totaling this number is where my new found respect arises from. Conducting interviews constantly must be incredibly tiring, but the fact that you are conducting these on second life where the number of variables are  almost limitless is once again nothing short of a miracle. 
    I noticed towards the beginning of the chapter you noted that the way life in Second Life is more or less derived from that of the real world. As the Second Life world was still developing, many people chose to mimic the real world that surrounded them. While it seems straight forward at first, you also mention that it is not just a simple recreation of what already exists. It is something much more than that however, lives are being recreated as new ones. The limitless potential of the online world that Second Life is, also makes the dynamics of the entire situation increase by astronomical amount. Being able to understand all of it and report it is truly a task in itself. The traditional understanding of the offline real world may not strictly apply in all situations due to the very fact that almost anything can be realized in a virtual setting. Therefore cultures will develop that may not have been necessarily experienced before.
    Another notable fact that you make note of is that you conduct your studies by using a system of observation. However, I feel that in general, this will not take into account the hidden aspects that are scattered throughout the online world. Anonymity is one affordance that seems to attract many participants to engage in the digital world activities. By ignoring such queues I feel that a complete representation cannot be made. While the Second Life world may have its own social structures and cultures, I still believe that it contains some sort of ties back to reality. Therefore, looking at only the virtual avatars only represents one part of why the online world develops in that way. Understanding the people and their motivations behind the avatars is also important in my opinion. I think that when looking at the online community that is Second Life, more than just observations need to be made.

Jonathan Thai

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