SoP Architecture Panel Discussion

I just finished (partially) attending the Architecture Panel held at State of Play; “partially” because I stumbled onto a panelist giving his presentation from inside Second Life, and that presentation was part of a webcast originating from the real world site (the virtual panelist was shown on a video screen behind the flesh-and-blood types).

Most of the presentations were interesting, but truthfully none of the comments were a surprise. For the most part, they danced around one major issue and that was: SL’s architecture and design (and the focus did seem to be on SL even though there were other platforms) is for the most part extremely conservative (aka “boring”) and fails to take advantage of how the space operates. But that’s to be expected I think. People build what they know (and some can’t even do that). Should we expect anything else at this stage? And they seemed to understand that.

What I don’t think the panelists fully appreciate is that the people using these tools are so far removed from the kinds of people who populate the architecture or design or mixed media fields so as to be a different species. People constructing these virtual spaces aren’t academics or professionals, they’re factory labourers and postal workers. They leave their security guard job or the stressfull household they manage and immerse themselves in something that removes them from their real lives. If anything, they’re stretching some sadly neglected creative muscles. And they almost never have training of any sort to make that effort easier; many even have trouble grasping the concept of a Cartesian coordinate system. Add to that, many have never used a software tool to create something… anything. They’ve never used Photoshop let alone a 3D application. Yet here they are trying to figure out tools that are really not much different than the first CAD tools that entered the professional fields 15 or so years ago and which many established professionals don’t even use (as mentioned in the discussion, the hotshots give the grunt work to interns). A fair amount of what’s in SL are the first efforts of people learning the tools. Until someone spends time trying to teach these people to use these tools (and I’ve done quite a bit of that since March), I’m not sure they can really understand how important there real life situation is to what they create, because it does go beyond just making what you know.

I believe Anne Beamish did manage to make the point in the end that this is a kind of “cyberspace” 1.0, but I wonder if she or the others who agreed with her consider that it’s not the cyberspace version but the people version – avatar 1.0 – that’s the primary determinant here; and that the people are a product of educational systems that either awaken their curiousity or train them to perform tasks.