My First Cyber Conference, plus Friday Nights are Alright For Fighting

I posted a little while back about Second Life (SL), a virtual world where one’s avatar(s) can engage in many kinds of activities. Well, yesterday I attended a day long academic conference in SL, “Virtual Praxis: A Confrence on Women’s Community in Second Life.” The event was organized by members of the Women’s Studies Dept. at Ohio State. Here’s the organizing statement:

“As teachers, librarians, artists, health care workers, and as volunteers in the many charitable and activist organizations of Second Life, women are a very visible element of our virtual community. The number of women’s groups and community centers is increasing, supported by an informal network of committed individuals. Those who come here out of curiosity often find themselves involved in these community activities, and those who came for professional reasons often find that their interests have widened and diversified as they have come into contact with Second Life society. Is what we do here just relaxation, a metaphor for what we do in real life, or do our Second Life activities have importance for our home communities and for society in general?”

The conference program can be viewed here: http://people.cohums.ohio-state.edu/collingwood7/minerva/conference.html

I learned about the conference fairly randomly and sent in my request to participate. I informed Mister Man that I would be “away” for the day at the conference. Actually, I was sitting 4 feet away from him on my computer. This was such a fascinating event! I dressed my avatar in appropriate conference wear (although I jazzed things up with red high heels). Arriving at Minerva Island, I ran into a self-described newbie that lamented she hadn’t done her “homework” and had to “wear” a dorky pink polka dot dress and a pony tail! Since I’ve been doing some SL traveling, I was able to guide both of us to the conference location. Here’s a shot of my avatar and other audience members:

that’s me next to the racoon

Here’s an overview of the entire conference

sl-conference-overview-compressed

Here’s a photo of the speakers:

virtual-praxis-conference-compressed

It was a pretty intense conference. The logistics apparently were quite involved but it turned out very well. The invited papers were read out loud and the text was pasted in simultaneously. At one point, one presenter’s mic didn’t work, so another presenter read the paper for her!

Issues ranged from race and gender in SL, the way that virtual worlds complicate issues of gender (statistics indicate that many male users create female avatars), and then there was an open discussion on women in SL. I recognized the avatar of a scholar at UCI that has published a book I have on order — so I “introduced” myself via IM. We are both anthropologists. As proof that it is indeed a small world, he went to high school in Lincoln!!! His book is called “Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human” (2008 by Tom Boellstorff).

There were about 25 distinct attendees which is pretty good for such an innovative conference venue! I learned a lot and plan to follow up with some of the other people at the conference.

Onion Tears is really responsible for getting me interested in the virtual world via Everquest. I am looking forward to reading her senior thesis on the online gaming world.

This is a great new world for anthropological research and it avoids many of the problems associated with the colonialist history of anthropology. I encourage anyone interested in human behavior to pop in to SL and learn about post-human society. As a matter of fact, an innovator in anthropological applications in SL offers a course on ethnographic methods (registration is $1800).

Back to the conference. After the final open dialog session, music was piped in, a dance floor appeared and a brief period of socializing occurred. I changed into my “real” avatar look and boogied down with the others for a few. After I re-entered RL (real life), I pretty much crashed for the rest of the day.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mister Man and I went out to a local tavern on Friday night and stayed up a bit past our bed time. Normally we don’t go out late on Friday’s, but Mister Man wanted to catch a show by a long time acquaintance. So, I dressed in my lazy going out wear (black velvet jeans, black t-shirt, leather jacket) and touched up my makeup. Once we got to the tavern, I got the vibe . . . “sister, what are YOU doing here.”

It turned out to be a VERY interesting evening! Our neighbors went with (they are Tejanos) so we were quite the spectacle walking through the bar. The place was packed and I leaned over to my neighbor, a statistics whiz, and successfully made a joke about the female population of the bar and how she and I skewed the sample in terms of IQ (take my word for it, it was pretty funny).
As I stated before, I felt a strange vibe walking in . . . and was concerned about being harassed. Well, turns out that Mister Man DID get into a scuffle! Fortunately, no blows were exchanged and the offending party was pushed/pulled away from our table! Mister Man still knows how to show a girl a good time!

So, today (Sunday) we are going to catch up on all those little tasks that need to be taken care of . . . so I’ll sign off now.

TTFN!


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