I quite enjoy it when people get sick of hype and decide to rain all over the parade. The problem is that too often people do it when their annoyance causes any degree of balance and levity to flee, as in the case of Malcolm King writing in 'Australia's e-journal for social and political debate', who clearly has seen one too many articles about the amazing wonders of Second Life and the residents therein... Yes, he's a bit late to the SL bashing party, but the level of vitriol smells like a pile of fetid backlash to me (predicted by Ren for 2007. Check).
Polemical rhetoric is its own art form: sometimes the extreme viewpoint must be taken in order to meet somewhere in the middle, particularly when discussing topics that are somehow beyond reproach (technophilia frequently falls into this category, as anyone who denies how great it all is tends to be immediately labeled a luddite)... but taken too far, one diminishes one's credibility (Jack Thompson is a pro at this) and completely undermines the entire effort to be a little balanced when it's more fun to get carried away by the promises of technology.
Mr. King has made this error, unfortunately. He's almost certainly right about overhype, and yes, I suppose we could be accused of some overenthusiastic mental masturbation on this topic. But, he's missed the forest for some trees to which he has assigned erroneous characteristics:
"So computer games are good for childhood or teenage literacy because they have to read the instructions? Pigs might fly. The fields of imagination are greenest when one is allowed to travel through literature unguided, rather than be directed by a computer programmer's vision."
No one says that they improve literacy because they are reading the manual. That is a very limited view of literacy. When we say literacy in this context, we mean all the literacies. Okay, let's chalk this one up to semantic ambiguity. The world is still learning that there are lots of kinds of literacy.
"Many “cyber academics” make the astounding claim that the medium of online virtual worlds, such as Second Life, is reality. So virtual worlds are as real as you and me. That's right: conception, love, sadness, ecstasy, reflection, and death. The whole existential merry-go-round... "
He's saying it's not? Okay, so, when your significant others calls you on the phone to break
up with you, or someone calls to say a relative has died... that knot
in your stomach that emerges from nowhere after just hearing a few disembodied phonemes carried across a wire via a bit of electrical charge... that's not real?
"There's nothing about thinking that is virtual. One can try describe it in terms of metaphors such as consciousness operates like a machine, an organism or a hologram, but whatever consciousness is - that most defining mark of the human race - it isn't virtual. It's primary, apparent and real. The brilliant Scottish philosopher David Hume, who had problems proving the existence of reality, admitted that it “does seem pretty concrete”."
'There's nothing about thinking that's virtual'? What does this mean? This is philosophical hocus pocus. Certainly no one thinks that there is anything about thinking that's definitely real either? The truth is that we just don't know. Right?
"Neil Postman's central thesis in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death - Public Discourse in the World of Show Business (1985), was right. Very little serious intellectual exchange has taken place through a medium, which is more akin to a fashion show or the intellectual equivalent of a disco."
Ouch. I'd be really hurt if I thought he had anything beyond the most basic understanding of 'the medium', which can really be no more easily lumped into one category than if we were to try and lump all the world's people into one cultural definition.
I appreciate a good, rowdy, challenging debate. We need more of that. But Mr. King has his info all wrong, and that makes me doubt him. Too bad, really. We need to be challenged to not take ourselves too seriously. Bring it on, people!! But bring your facts, too.
'thereby allowing some twits to confuse the “consensual hallucination of cyberspace” with reality'
All I can say is 'sticks and stones...' Oh, and to cite William Gibson: "the deadliest bullshit is odorless and transparent” - this stinky stuff can't really hurt us.