Mr. Square Visits Virtual Reality – An Ancient Parable Retold

Second Life Community Convention 2010

Our goals are to see, from another dimension, what is currently confusing us; to gain new perspectives and to make new connections.

In celebration of the 7th birthday of the digital virtual environment, Second Life, I gave a presentation today on the “fourth dimension of virtual reality.” In the middle of my talk it was announced that M Linden was leaving the lab – whew, talk about a distraction.

The audience were wonderful and we carried on. They gave responses above and beyond anything I could have thought off in the exercises and I took many notes.

I plan to give this talk again – it’s one of those interactive talks where it can go a different way each time, although the overall goals are clear. The audience reported that as a result of this presentation many of them would indeed consider eating more olives. Oh wait, that was a different talk.

This presentation will show you “the fourth dimension of virtual reality.” The movie Avatar was a spectacular introduction to the idea of virtual environments, but we still don’t realize how difficult virtual reality is for people to grasp, including its own advocates. We need a deeper perception of what’s going on, a deeper understanding of the new dimension that digital virtual environments have made available. Seemingly different achievements in the fields of business, music, tourism, arts are in fact unified when looked at from a “fourth dimension” with respect to virtual reality. While we think we know what “3D Web” means, in fact we are still missing the point.

James Neville (SL: Sitearm Madonna) is Strategist and Expeditor for Virtual Worlds Projects. Showcase projects include Dublin Virtually Live, Solution Provider Conference, and SL Live Radio. Teddi Davis (SL: Teddi Shamrokc) is Owner, The Exchange Tavern and Editor, Free Play Virtually Live. John Mahon (SL: Ham Rambler) is Pilot, Astraeus Airlines and Owner, Dublin Virtually Live. Jean Munro is Music Director, St. Theresa’s and Actor and Musician. Karin Willison (SL: Ayesha Lytton) is Owner, Solace Beach Estates and Community Manager. Dr. William Prensky (SL: Chant Newall) is CEO, Chant Newall Development Group LLC GSP and CTO, The FutureWork Institute.

“What is virtual reality?”

Kourosh Dini
Virtual spaces are places. They have some different laws of physics, but they are still locations in a space, albeit abstract, where people meet. The main difference then is that one can occupy these different cities of sorts with different frequencies and lengths of time in a much more fluctuating manner than with real life cities. The other major difference is that these “cities” and are evolving and coalescing into each other at a much faster pace than any RL ones. I can record a piece of music as I perform live to an audience, and have it available for various groups of people, people who frequent Bandcamp, my own site, or otherwise.Social networking sites have been called “hubs” but I think they are better referred to as cities where certain groups of people tend to congregate more than at others.

Nathaniel Stern
The most successful applications of Second Life, I think, exploit not only its possibilities, but its shortcomings – and use them together as an opportunity.Not just communication but physicality, not just creativity but ironic celebration – these are the things that can make the virtual world of Second Life “matter” (in the sense of both its value, and its “material”).

As an artist and researcher, I’m interested in what I call multidimensional images.Contemporary philosopher Brian Massumi might call them topological figures – shapes like the Mobius Strip and Klein bottle, he says, exceed their own dimensions, through movement. They live between 2D and 3D, and 3D and 4D, respectively. The fourth dimension of virtual reality, my multidimensional images, and Massumi’s topological figures are all of a similar kind. They use the network, or movement, or the wrapping up of time and space, to become ‘more than what they are’ – to exceed their own potential.

I’d like to give one RL and one SL example of multidimensional art works. First, what I affectionately call Compressionism. Here I strap a desktop scanner and custom battery pack to my body, and perform images into existence. I might scan in straight, long lines across tables, tie the scanner around my neck and swing over flowers, do pogo-like gestures over bricks, or just follow the wind over water lilies in a pond. Rather than drawing or photographing a static image, the dynamism of my relationship to the landscape, the actual time and space of how I encounter my surroundings, is transformed into beautiful and quirky renderings, which are re-stretched and colored on my laptop, then produced as archival art objects using photographic or traditional processes. Here, time and space, subject and object, are wrapped into a singular, performed, and multidimensional image. And second, Given Time, a mixed reality installation, simultaneously activates and performs two permanently logged-in Second Life avatars, each forever and only seen by and through the other. They hover in mid-air, almost completely still, gazing into one another’s interface. Viewers encounter this networked partnership as a diptych of large-scale and facing video projections in a real world gallery, both exhibiting a live view of one avatar, as perceived by the other. Here, that aspect of time, of permanence is what gives the piece flesh; the feedback loop between real and virtual, between the implicit lovers and that which they represent, becomes another dimension of the work. An intimate exchange between dual, virtual bodies is transformed into a public meditation on human relationships, bodily mortality, and time’s inevitable flow. (links:
Gandhi’s “Salt March to Dandi” in Second Life, Massumi, Mobius, Compressionism, Given Time)

Steve Smith
3D Web applications in education are cool. The fourth dimension is like time travel. Like the movie based on H.G Well’s book, “The Time Machine.”

Teddi Davis
The digital age links time and space, connecting individuals and businesses together for information sharing, interactions based on commerce, and community building. The 3D web allows visual and audio support for information sharing, community building, and entertainment. 3D Web to business shares this with other mature 3D Web applications (music, tourism, education, etc.). The business aspect coalesces with all of the foregoing in this space but adds transactional capabilities in which goods and services are exchanged. It is the same as other successful applications, but the unit of success has an overt monetary component. To be fair the other 3D web apps also incorporate the potential for monetizing, and while it can be very direct (“you like this music, buy here”), it may also be longer term relationship building in advance of a direct earnings option for the purveyor (“listen to these new artists, and vote for your favorite).

We are fast approaching this new dimension. I think it is where web enabled interactions are primary conduits for commerce and community building, and works in tandem with face-to-face options – not instead of, but in addition too, and where it makes the most sense to the interaction. Reading about music as an example, may intrigue you, but it sets you up for the listening of music. News options that include the soundtrack if you will of the music being discussed – perhaps a review and recording from a live show the night before. I am a fan of Picasso, and that it took me time to understand and come to my position of respect. He wanted to add to art, and knew that the role painting had performed previously would be usurped by the camera. He wanted his viewers to see more, experience more through his art – giving the viewer a new experience completely, and thus perhaps greater understanding. 4D reality for me is when all of the parts work in concert seamlessly. I can research the musician, hear the music, become part of a fan group, interact directly with the artist and other fans, AND buy music the way I want to, when I want to. Promotional information and interaction options identified for me based on my preferences, all the while my privacy secured, but my individuality is also nurtured, respected and allowed to flourish too–satisfying for the businesses that would transact with me, as well as the artist working with an aggregator, or a school that may have contracted with him to present an online course, say “guitar techniques in support of heavy metal music” or “how to make a music video”. The whole experience for all involved is ratcheted up a notch based on what is possible. Not on what is merely available. Consumers become the drivers, poised to let businesses know just what they want, and smart businesses succeeding by responding to those needs in ever more personal and relevant ways by utilizing technologies that enrich the experience.

John Mahon
Successful applications of 3d web allow innovative exposure to business brands and community engagement. The Fourth Dimension is the “unseen” element, the surprise development, the unexpected result from exposure to Virtual Reality. Tourism Ireland, the national tourist agency of Ireland, engaged with Dublin Virtually Live on an experimental basis. They were astonished to discover that it generated a huge digital wave of exposure in their own industry, completely outside the realm of Virtual Reality

Jean Munro
SL in a nutshell, is a business. For musicians, it has allowed us to perform to people who would never have had the chance to hear us outside of our little coves and towns. There are many successful musicians from RL that have come in, perform for what we know is not even their worth, but they do this. knowing the magnitude of what we are embarking on. This also allows them to expand their audience and hopefully sell their music to an audience that may not have been familiar with them in the past. This 3d world is the melding of many different applications that make it possible for myself and the many others in SL to do what we do. In this virtual 3d world, we are “seen” as well as heard. This has led to the software we use being constantly tweaked with the input that we give the developers, making our job easier to accomplish. The virtual world helps us to enjoy a richer concert experience, true. But the tweaking and the knowledge that we glean from each other is incomparable. The borders have been lowered and there are many different ways available to get the job done. In other words, creative music in SL collaborations are happening that would never have happened if it wasn’t for SL. From a business standpoint. I myself, being handicapped, SL allows me to perform a whole lot easier then I can in RL. I don’t have to carry an 80lb keyboard and it doesn’t matter that I can’t stand in heels and run around entertaining the audience anymore, like I used to in RL. It’s a completely different animal, so to speak. If you want to get your music out to the world and don’t have the venue to do it in RL, it is possible in SL or many other online 3d worlds that exist. For some it is a practice platform, a place to test out a new sound or song and see the audiences’ reaction. Anyway, from a business standpoint, this is not the place to get rich! But it is a place to make a little cash and have some fun doing it. Grow, learn, figure out your direction. Most of us do it for the practice, the feedback, and the collaborations that come out of it. I have had the opportunity to meet some wonderful musicians over the past few years and also be one of the first to double stream into SL. which has it’s inception was just amazing! And it is exciting to finally be able to attend the SLCC after all these years.If you have the vision and the resources, the limit is really your own imagination and the time you have to put into this. In this fast paced world it can sometimes seem overwhelming trying to keep up, but in your 3d world, you can look for your niche, create your niche. The world is constantly evolving. Musically speaking, sound is your canvas. You can really explore what sounds good to you. Now if anyone wants to hear it. that is another story. Some people have even combined art and music together, with both being created simultaneously. That is very exciting. Not that is hasn’t been done out in the RL. but the 3d environment takes that to a whole new level with prims as the basis of art. and notes the basis of music. and then combining them. even making the objects themselves musical.Gwen Carillon, a well known SL designer and content creator, has created art on the spot as Musician Enniv Zarf improvised on the piano. Others have followed. The limit is only in the mind. As the platform grows and expands, we will see other exciting events such as this.

Karin Willison
Community is key to all successful applications of 3d web. Many real world corporations that came into SL failed and left, in part because they did not take the time to understand or build a community. They thought that they could just march in with a lot of hype and recreate their products and achieve the same success they did in RL. SL just doesn’t work like that. Here success comes through word of mouth, events, and companies getting to know people on a much more individual level. In RL you’d never call Bill Gates to help fix your computer, but in SL, the biggest business owners often help customers personally. Musicians get to know their fans as friends. It’s all about the human connection.The fourth dimension of virtual reality is the community dimension, the human dimension. When I first joined SL, I found it very difficult to meet people. The paradox of this world is that while it is a social space, people can also be very insular. They tend to go to the same places instead of reaching out of their comfort zone. I decided to make my own place, that would be friendly to new residents but also offer a community that they could grow into. Since I drew in a lot of new residents – and still do – they really formed their own community. I had a group of regulars, but I was also finding a little bit of the info hub syndrome where a group formed that was just basically loitering and not really becoming integrated into SL or bringing anything valuable to the grid. I realized that I needed a stronger theme to engage these people and also to bring in more of the type of people I wanted in my community. So the live music / entertainment theme evolved from that need, but did so naturally because of my love of music and theater, and the welcoming environment I’d found both in SL and in non-SL internet communities with that focus.

Bill Prensky
All successful applications of 3D Web and VR have a number of features in common. These have to do with the psychology of learning and the nature of relational experience. Of course there is an economic argument to be made for all these applications, but they play out differently for different sectors. Virtual tourism sells RL tourism, but is not a replacement for RL tourism. That would be a disaster for the tourism industry and highly unsatisfying. But in business collaboration and training, as in education in general, VR can be a satisfactory if not preferred medium for information exchange. It meets all the requirements for being a compelling learning environment, engaging the three key sensory pathways required for retained learning (visual, auditory and tactile) and requires an immersive attention – that is, the agent acting as the avatar has to be constantly engaged in order to operate the environment. In this way, in fact, it can be more effective and lead to more perseverant attitudinal change than conventional face-to-face learning, in that the learner has to continually pay attention to the changing SL environment if the learning model is properly designed. As I understand it, the 4th dimension of reality is the integrative aspect of the cognitive mind as it visualizes a perceived reality that does not physically present itself to the senses. It can be compelling and real, and can often be thought of as a “prescient” visualization, although the question of whether or not it actually transcends current physical knowledge and reality might be hotly contested. For me, in thinking about SL and VR, this “Fourth Dimension” is the sudden awareness of “divided” or “split” attention, where the life of the avatar becomes as real as the life of the avatar’s governing agent, that is, you, or me, or whomever is navigating the environment.

It is a sudden movement into a real perception of the world that SL creates, and is dependent upon a number of factors in my experience. These include:
a. Familiarity with the environment and the ability to navigate it comfortably,
b. Familiarity with the avatar’s “personality” so that one becomes the avatar in relation to others and one’s self, and
c. Relationships with others in the virtual world such that one is “anchored in one’s self” as an individual and individuated person.

Many activities in SL for example create this reality of perception. To think of a few:
a. Tai Chi in a park in SL
b. Meditation groups that meet daily and meditate both as their avatars and as individuals in their homes,
c. Groups which conduct meetings of many kinds in SL while being in the same physical facility and even in the same room,
d. Friends who meet in SL rather than driving manageable distances to see each other in RL (SL as the next generation phone).

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