Monthly Archives: June 2003

second life

Today, Linden Lab officially unveiled Second Life, a rapidly growing and constantly changing 3D online society, shaped entirely by its residents. In Second Life, Linden Lab has pioneered real-time 3D streaming technologies and advanced compression capabilities to create a persistent, contiguous landscape where residents can discover a world of exploration, socializing, creativity, self-expression, and fun unlike any other.

Word on the street is that this is next-gen MUDs/MOOs… Of course, it’s also interesting to pay attention to what is coming down the line from


I remember asking one of my students why he didn’t ask questions. He told me that every time he thought to ask a question, he looked around the room and remembered that he was the only black kid and he didn’t want to sound stupid if he was going to represent that large of a population. He was a brilliant student, came from a top tier high school and yet was failing his classes because he was crippled, focused entirely on dealing with being in the minority.

Privilege is truly hard to understand (although i also recommend McIntosh’ “White Privilege”) and the workings of it operate on so many different levels. Race privilege is different than gender privilege is different than sexuality privilege, but they’re impact on the marginalized can be equally intense. Let me unpack that.

First, why are privileges different? If you’re black, you’re family is most likely black. If you’re black, you can build up a social network of all black people, live in an all black community, etc. This does not alleviate the general marginalization that your community gets compared to other communities, but in many ways, you can take a breather from being constantly aware of being different. Women are primarily born into mixed male/female environments. While all female environments exist, few women want to only see women for an extended period of time. Thus, breather space is much rarer and has other odd consequences. When it comes to sexuality, queer folks are rarely born into queer families and usually have to make it well into adulthood before they can find a community of all queer folks and take a break from being “different.”

What does this mean? First, think about how hard it is to leave a safety bubble for the unknown and to struggle to be seen and validated in that space. Overcoming major obstacles. Not fun. This alone defines white privilege. Most of white America never has to leave their bubble to strive for something greater.

From youth on, girls have to continuously prove themselves in ways that are not expected from boys. This is exhausting. But the “breather” space is to do exactly what you’re supposed to do, follow the flow of currents. This means entering fields that are primarily women. Then you don’t have to validate yourself in a classroom. Because if you take the harder path, you are always fighting to be seen as something other than an affirmative action case.

Yet, the feelings of confidence are not truly there. When i was TAing an introductory CS course, i asked those dropping out what they thought their perceived grade was (we were dreadful at returning grades in a timely fashion and thus they were unknown). Boys thought their grade was 1 letter grade higher than it was; girls thought it was 1 letter grade lower. Girls were dropping out with A- and Bs, thinking they were failing. Perception.

I certainly know this feeling personally and am finally coming to my own with it. I tried to drop out of computer science every semester; my amazing advisor kept me together. I felt incompetent even though my grades said otherwise. I felt degraded, although i’m willing to admit that there were things that i did to egg that on. I continued to do what i was doing to prove that i could, long after i fell out of love with programming.

More than anything, what i realize about myself and what i realize about my successes is that they most often come when people tell me that i’m incapable of doing something; i will prove them wrong. Yet, while this rebellious attitude has gotten me through thick and thin, it’s not how i expect the world to overcome being marginalized. It doesn’t work like that. I understand that the way i work requires constant energy. Unfortunately, i don’t know what will generate large scale change that will level the playing field.

I used to think that projecting my exacerbated frustration would make people change, but it never worked for me (although i genuinely commend those who’ve made it work!). Silence is certainly not the way that i work best. Subtlety is entertaining and effective, but only at a local level. I’m still trying to learn how to create a constructive dialogue that will address these issues in a meaningful manner far beyond my reach.

This is the issue i’ve been sitting with for years and i suspect that i will sit with it for years to come.

[brought on by reflecting on Liz Lawley’s very accurate rant]

Female Avatars Face Gender Bias Online

Female Avatars Face Gender Bias Online:

US economist, Edward Castronova, has discovered that female avatars, from worlds such as EverQuest, trade online at an average 10 per cent discount to their price were they male-designated.

“(A)bility seems more important than sex in determining the value of a body. Nonetheless, among comparable avatars, females do sell at a significant price discount.

“The discount may stem from a number of causes, including discrimination in Earth society, the maleness of the EverQuest player base, or differences in well-being related to male and female courtship roles. We do know, however, that these differences cannot be caused by sex-based differences in the abilities of the body, since in the fantasy world of Norrath, there are none.”

economics and why i love my friends

I love my friends. Even more so, i value their idea of a good night. Tonite, amongst friends, a friend of a friend (an economist type) came to speak with us about “3 bubbles [equity, housing, $], 2 strategies [US globalization, neoclassical economics], 1 crises [global economy in 7-10 years]: How the Global Economy Is Unraveling Before Your Very Eyes.” Basically, it was a discussion on economics and its impact on the global economy, discussing our government’s perspective on economics from a historical vantage point.

This was followed by a discussion of Democratic candidates (and a reminder to vote in the primary at The short version is that everyone in our circle loves Dean, thinks that Edwards has the best chance of winning, and doesn’t want to listen to the rational one who thinks that Bush has four more years.

Following the conversation on economics, oil and politicians, we moved to the bar where we discussed how the political movements based on sex, race and sexuality are entirely different because of how those populations exist in American society. Men and women pervade almost all environments, while most communities are segregated based on race and every community has a handful of sexual minorities (except my neighborhood). Thus, the politics for creating cohesion amongst those groups varies tremendously. Part of the concern comes down to how one bridges the gaps between various groups. For example, when someone in South Dakota knows someone who is gay, they are far more accepting of gay folks in general. Yet, things like race and political viewpoints don’t work like that… because your family member isn’t likely to be of a different race than you and politics don’t operate as divisely (by and large).

Anyhow, goofy conversations that made me smile the whole way home.

Building Communities with Software

The social scientist Ray Oldenburg talks about how humans need a third place, besides work and home, to meet with friends, have a beer, discuss the events of the day, and enjoy some human interaction. Coffee shops, bars, hair salons, beer gardens, pool halls, clubs, and other hangouts are as vital as factories, schools and apartments [“The Great Good Place”, 1989]. But capitalist society has been eroding those third places, and society is left impoverished…

This article argues that online communities have become third places for people, particularly programmers and others who spend a huge percentage of time online. It’s an interesting article, but i still believe that most people use digital interactions to aid in RL ones.

FOTD2: Friendster of the day

Tonight, i figured out the significance of the cute (straight) woman who asked me to be her Friendster. Normally, i get Friendster requests from men who write me and then ask to be my Friendster (via message); i ignore them. Before you had to be connected to someone to ask to be their Friendster, i’d get requests from fake characters (like SARS). But this one stumped me. She was connected to my friends but i didn’t recognize her. She didn’t message me, just asked to be my Friendster outright. I messaged my friends to ask who she was, but they never responded. It all felt odd.

Well, it *is* odd. She isn’t real. She was the figment of my friends’ imagination… a hot girl they created to give them glowing testimonials and to suggest matches between them and other hot girls on the system (because it is less sketchy to have a hot girl tell a stranger that you should meet her friend than for the guy to just outright ask).

Of course, since they gave her sexual characteristics on her profile, she’s getting some of the most bizarre emails from people in her network – sexual fantasies, descriptions, etc. The guys who created her are dumbfounded.

It makes me wonder how many fake characters are out there really passing to be real. The lessons from MUD/MOO days are returning…. It makes me think of Van Gelder’s “The Strange Case of the Electronic Lover” where a male psychologist performed a disabled female woman online..

law students for choice

I’m terrified by the current state of political affairs. What worries me more than the obvious game happening in Washington is what is coming down the line at the lower levels. Thus, i’m ecstatic to help those who are trying to make changes that are focused on the long term goals.

A few months back, two of the smartest people i know started a non-profit to address the emerging risk of losing the legal issues surrounding a women’s right to choose. They realize that the federal judicial system is run by a lot of anti-choice, anti-women judges and that up-and-coming lawyers are not trained to actively challenge the laws that are being generated. [They realize this in part because one of them completed her law degree without ever being able to address women’s issues in law.] Thus, they created Law Students for Choice to educate and motivate smart future lawyers to conscientiously learn how to challenge the legal system in this arena.

I love that my friends are starting to build their own non-profit start-ups and use their post-collegiate political energy to generate a coherent national agenda. This gives me hope.

FOTD1: friendster of the day

Today i wandered into a bookstore between meetings. (Of course, “spare time” and the cute cats are my justification for my small book addiction, but still…) So, at the front desk, the woman working the store is surfing Friendster. Customers keep coming in and noticing what she is doing and getting into conversations with her about Friendster – storytelling style. Not surprisingly, they all talk about how they find old friends there and about how addictive it is. Each new customer asks her to look them up to see how they’re connected. One guy suggests she Friendsters them.

A new form of Friendster dating: public performance of Friendster using for potential dating ice-breaking. Meet someone in RL; see if you’re connected; then ask for a date.