A cultural critique of Second Life

…the Sim series, like all other educational software, ignore other forms of cultural storage and renewal – such as elder knowledge and the need to develop symbolic forms of expression (music, dance, narrative, ceremony) that do not diminish the processes of Nature… [M]aking decisions that involve the use of modern technologies leaves the students without an understanding of the differences between ecologically appropriate technologies and those that are culturally imperialistic.

(Bowers 2000: p138)

This is a quote from an interesting book that appeared in 2000, related to how computers embed visions that are not conducive to sustainable ways of thinking (thinking about sustainability): Let Them Eat Data: How Computers Affect Education, Cultural Diversity, and the Prospects of Ecological Sustainability.

It is cited by Leigh Blackall, who continues:

“While Bowers’ book was concerned with computers in culture and ecological sustainability generally, his analysis of popular education and simulation software of the time offers us useful considerations we can apply to Second Life. Bowers wanted educators to consider a wider range of issues than simply the content designed for relatively narrow learning objectives. He wanted us to critically reflect on the whole experience that is implicit in the content and the interface, including the computer itself. His premise is that the designs and symbolism used to develop such technology and experiences represent a linguistic colonization of the present by the past, which is ultimately an ecologically unsustainable vocabulary.

Ironically, the technology that is proclaimed as revolutionizing the deepest foundations of culture is rooted in this basic misunderstanding of language. This misunderstanding partly accounts for one of the most important oversights of computer-mediated learning: the symbol systems appearing on the screen reproduce the implicit thought patterns of the software programmers. [Where the programmers themselves are evidently unaware of what they are communicating]

(Bowers 2000: p123)

In the case of Second Life there are the programmers of the platform itself, and then there are the users as programmers of content that is on the platform. Bowers concerns can be extended to both.

For more of this analysis, go to the full article here.

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