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Notes on Boellstorff (2008), Chapter 2

July 8, 2009

Boellstorff, T. 2008. Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Chapter 2: History [of Virtual Worlds], pp. 32-59

36 print technologies shaped new socialities, e.g. postal system and rise of pen pals as primitive form of virtual worlds

37 Lord of the Rings as virtual world precedent coz it showed you could create a ‘fully realized, make-believe world’ (Bartle 2004)

45 making of a third place* demonstrated by Krueger, i.e. difference between virtual worlds and telecommunications or mass media generally; “two-way telecommunication between two places creates a third place consisting of the information that is available to both communicating parties simultaneously” (Krueger 1991)

47 Krueger’s Videoplace (first virtual world) differed from TV, telegraph, newspaper, film, etc, in that multiple people experienced a place simultaneously, a place that they experienced as not being the actual world. ‘People interacted within the virtual world and also with the virtual world itself’.
47 one key feature was persistence: virtual world stayed there even after people logged off – fundamental feature of virtual worlds ever since

48 self-centric visuality (first-person perspective) that today taken for granted in virtual worlds originates in 1970s videogames and their successors

52 SL came out of turn to virtual world from virtual reality in early 2000s. The founder of Linden Lab, the company that owns SL, Philip Rosedale decided that ‘the virtual world aspect of their technology was more important than its (haptic) virtual reality component’. SL was born in March 2002 and public in June 2003 (version 1.0)

53-54 Histories of cybersociality research

54-59 Techne: people bring into SL their techne which refers to ‘art of craft, to human action that engages with the world and thereby results in a different world’ (see previous blog entry)

57 techne is intentional and creative, more about pragmatics than semantics

58 … it can bypass episteme by means of patches or workarounds without the crafstman or artist necessarily ‘knowing’ what the problem is

58 what’s historically unprecedented about SL is how we find the techne inside the virtual world. Linking here to Kelty’s notion of recursive publics, Boellstorff writes:

…techne not only makes silicon and ideas into a virtual world; techne can take place within that created world itself. In virtual worlds, techne produces a gap between the actual and the virtual in the realm of the virtual. Swallowing their own ontological tails, virtual worlds for the first time allow techne to become recursive, providing humans with radically new ways to understand their lives as beings of culture as well as physical embodiment (2008: 58) 

This is a Big Claim that I shall have to assess at a later point. The earlier point about the contrast between virtual worlds and telecommunication is also worthy of further reflection. Is this therefore not really a study of media? Or can virtual worlds be described as media worlds of a certain kind?

58-59 Tongue in cheek, Boellstorff speaks of SL heralding a new “Age of Techne” in which ‘techne becomes recursive, an end as well as a means, a moment for which virtual worlds are the condition of possibility’

*Note – Boellstorff doesn’t mention here Oldenburg’s very different understanding of  ‘third place’, although he does in passing much later (p. 181). This is from Wikipedia:

Oldenburg identifies that in modern suburban societies time is primarily spent in isolated first (home) and second (work) places. In contrast, third places offer a neutral public space for a community to connect and establish bonds. Third places “host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work.”

To what extent is SL a third place in both senses of the term (Krueger’s technological sense and Oldenburg’s social sense)? Is it a place where individuals gather ‘beyond the realms of home and work’, a place with potentially important implications for public forms of sociality and even democracy, as suggested by Oldenburg? Discuss.

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