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DigiCULT
and showcases the artwork that was created inspired
by their favourite objects.The example of a museum
extending activities to draw its online constituents
into new opportunities for community participation
still replicates the traditional educator/educated
scenario to a certain extent, but it also illustrates
the potential to extend the new paradigm as remote
visitors take on all kinds of roles, as moderators, hosts,
sysop etc.
Computer mediated and narrative communication
often takes place across synchronic architectures.
Participants may invoke a `handle' or purported name
commonly used across IRC (Internet relay chat)
discussions or may prefer to go online with a Web-
cam in real-time video conferencing meeting in
shared spaces. Over VRML environments players
may choose to present themselves with either a
home-made or designer avatar, but in most cases
the promotion of self can be confusing both for
the chatter and the chatee and neither can truly
know whether the person they are relating to on the
`other side' is really the person he or she claims to be.
Sherry Turkle discussed these alternative models of
identity in her book Life on the Screen, noting that
MUD players soon discover that the idea that they
are a unified self is simply fiction.
13
This is not a
space that necessarily inspires trust, but memory
institutions, whose institutional mandate does inspire
a sense of trust and integrity, may appear more
attractive for users who wish to seek out a social or
culturally directed community when it is hosted by
a local or national institution.
C
OMMUNITY PROSPECTS
T
he sense of trust that resonates from memory
institutions may stem partly from the public's
understanding that they function in the `non-profit'
sector, and therefore are not there to rip you off, nor
to obscure identity from you; rather they might be
out there with a mandate to do you some good.
Unfortunately, this is not what has been driving so
many of the VRML worlds, but in spite of the price
ticket many of them are becoming more and more
enticing.
Active Worlds, 3D virtual reality environments,
14
sprawl across millions of square kilometres of virtual
territory and are already enthusiastically signing up
their own citizens who wish to stake a claim to their
own piece of land. Avatars can be evoked as the
surrogate-you, so that you may run, jump, fly, dance
and communicate through dynamic emotions (there
is a wonderful little dance routine you can do on
greeting a friend).These micro worlds offer novel
opportunities for virtual players to feel at home, such
as the pleasure of sharing a real-time moment with
that someone special in the comfort of your own
`penthouse'.The Active Worlds browser is a small
1.5-megabyte download which, according to their
Website, has been downloaded by more than 1.5
million users worldwide.
The cybertown rival supported by Blaxxun
15
welcomes its own potential citizens, and targets
e-commerce customers.The 3D environment
encourages product placement, profiling and
tracking for more effective marketing and, if the
corporate world can benefit from brand positioning,
think about what an institution like a museum with
perhaps some of the most exquisite objects globally
available at its fingertips could do with such a
lucrative location.
To return to the economy of our `non-profit'
institutions, virtual communities, hosted by memory
institutions, whether avatar or people-driven, could
augment the consumption of ideas/knowledge/
gossip, and inspire the exchange of creative skills.
While these environments demand new resources
and sustained participation by both host and
participants, they can also expect a substantial
reward for the time and energy invested. As memory
institutions open their collections and archives to the
public in new ways to develop new virtual commu-
nities, new kinds of meaningful participatory
collaborations, and contributions by the public
could extend expertise across invisible geographic
borders, harness a lot of creative energy, and extend
knowledge bases across society in novel ways.
I'm not alone in this emotional attachment to an
apparently bloodless technological ritual. Millions of people
on every continent also participate in the computer-mediated
social groups known as virtual communities, and this
population is growing fast. (H. Rheingold, 1994)
13
Turkle, S.: Life on the
Screen: Identity in the Age
of the Internet, New York:
Simon & Schuster, 1995.
14
Active WorldsTM,
http://www.
activeworlds.com
15
Blaxxun Technologies,
http://www.blaxxun.com
Digicult_THI5_JS_090104 09.01.2004 14:32 Uhr Seite 10