Monday, December 2, 2013

Virtual Nation: Civilizing the Digital Wilds

Image by Greg Bayles. CC BY 2.0 Generic.
Adapted from Jastrow's public domain photograph.
1. Working Thesis Statement
The Internet represents the heir apparent to the cultural and social wealth of the American 'Empire' and will ultimately serve as a crucible for new, transcultural, digital civilizations.

2. Preliminary Exploration
I've explored the concept of virtual civilizations in a number of posts:
  • Digital Nations: The New Frontier takes a look at the historical inheritance of cultural/social wealth that in part led to the rise of the Roman, British, and American 'Empires.' It looks forward to the rise of the digital nation from the cultural and social infrastructure of America. This is essentially my first focused exploration of the concept of digital nations and represents my earliest thinking on the matter.
  • Monuments of our Age: Foundations of Civilization in the Digital World addresses the concept of civilization from a historiological perspective, examining the requirements for civilization and providing a number of scholarly definitions for civilization in a modern context.
  • We the People: Digital Civilizations is the post that I've used for most of my social proof, because it provides a brief overview of the topic and presents some foundational evidence as to the foundations of civilization already exigent within virtual worlds. This post received a good amount of feedback, and it's been one that I've circled back to at various points. This was also my first real call for colonization of the digital wilds: "Rather than anathematizing video games and virtual realms as base and 'savage,' we need settlers who will actively shape the digital frontier for good. Rather than complaining that digital worlds are mindless and violent, maybe we need to be the ones to find out how we can make them thoughtful and exalting."
Other posts relate more generally to virtual worlds but nonetheless have some pertinence to the matter of digital civilizations:
  • Herman Melville: Virtual World Builder explores the common goals and nature of books and virtual worlds through the lens of Melville's Moby Dick. This post also gives a good discussion of the word virtual and how understanding its semantic roots might aid in making better use of virtuality as a means for exploring reality.
  • My study of Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken was pivotal in my understanding of the potential of virtual worlds to serve as models for improving reality--"life hacking," as it's sometimes called. I prepared a book review and a video review to share some of the work's central points. 
  • Creating Worlds: Immanuel Kant and Virtual Reality looks at the concept of world building as one wherein the virtual world becomes an externalization of the imaginitive representation as defined by Kant. 
3. Relevance
This topic bears relevance to modern discourse on the value of virtual worlds and additionally examines digital interactions and culture on a number of different levels, namely economic, socio-political, and artistic. It is especially of interest for those who populate or study virtual worlds and for those who have, in recent years, been pressing for self-governance in online worlds like Second Life or EVE Online.

4. Format
I plan on presenting my findings in the form of research paper or scholarly article, though I hope to broaden the relevance of the topic by creating a video synopsis that I can post in some of the online communities that I've been exploring. The main component of this project will be the paper itself, though at some point I'd like to adapt my work to a more media-rich, hypertext format.

5. Outlet (more here)
  • Interrogating Colonization and New Politics is a graduate conference held at Bowling Green State University, but I've contacted the conference coordinators to see if they will consider an undergraduate paper. I haven't heard back yet, but my topic ties in really well with one of the conference's main topics, which involves "digital frontiers" and "colonization." The deadline isn't until March, so this might give me the chance to really figure out what they are looking for and adapt my work to the requirements in hopes of getting accepted despite my undergraduate status.
  • EDUCAUSE is also accepting submissions for a conference on digital scholarship, and it has the added benefit of being online as well as in-person. That might prove necessary, as the conference is during the regular school year, and assuming I'm in grad school, I may not have the time nor resources to go gallivanting around Florida for a conference.
6. Curation
I've been curating a bunch of content through Diigo, using Google Alerts as a primary source of information. I've also collected a lot of resources on the blogs that I list under my preliminary exploration. More recently, I've been trying to focus on more scholarly resources, though there's not a ton on my topic in particular (at least not that I've been able to find). There are a couple that have proven very useful so far, though:
  • Thomas, David. "Virtual Reailty and the Politics of Place." History and Anthropology 9.2 (1996):            327-357. Web. EBSCOhost Academic Search Premier. 2 Dec. 2013.
  • Balch, Stephen H. "Nowhere But the West." Academic Questions 24.4 (2011): 469-479.                       Web. Springer Standard Collection. 2 Dec. 2013.
 As I mentioned in my social proof section, there are a number of communities where I've presented my ideas and received positive feedback, so I will definitely have some places wherein to disseminate my final paper. I've curated those communities through Twitter and Google+ primarily.

7. Social Proof
  • I tried to get going with social proof from the very start, and that's meant that I've had constructive feedback all along the way. I chose my topic originally based on feedback that I got from a general query on Facebook and from this post on our cohort blog.
  • I've posted preliminary thoughts on various Google+ communities involving virtual worlds, and a number of community members left some really useful comments on the post that I shared.
  • A number of classmates have expressed interest in the topic, including Paul and Lizzie. Paul curated a bunch of great content on virtual world/civilizations, and he got me connected with the ODIN Project, a BYU group dedicated to world-building and theoretical gaming concepts.
  • A number of Facebook posts (documented in part here) have spawned lively discussions on the topic of virtual civilizations (curiously mostly among my Russian-speaking friends), and I've had face-to-face discussions with lots of people about the premise as a whole. People throw sources my way on a consistent basis, and it seems that every time I post something on Facebook, a new person throws in his/her opinions and experiences.
  • There are a number of scholars who I'll be contacting today or tomorrow with some of my preliminary writing, and I hope to hear back from them over the next week or so. I think most of the feedback will be critical from what I've read in terms of current scholarly discourse on virtual worlds, but even that could be really helpful in terms of crafting an argument.
8. Next Steps
Really, I feel like the next major steps are simply contacting scholars for social proof and getting down to the writing. I'm hoping to get some writing in later today, and I'll be sending out some of my preliminary work to a couple of scholars as soon as it's written (so hopefully by tomorrow at the latest). The more I think about it, the more I think the video synopsis might be good to do earlier on as a way to streamline my ideas and get a better picture of where I want to go with all this. Anyway, that's all for now. I'm really excited about all this, so check back for updates in the near future.