Social Issues in a Networked Society

Saturday, December 02, 2006

I think David pegged Second Life best when he said, "I would like it more if I knew how to use it."

I don't think I had any fun with the program until we met in class on Thursday. I think it was a really fantastic way to sum up class--after months of getting to know each other through class discussions, this was seriously the icing on the cake. I adore David for making an avatar that vaguely resembles a cross between Santa and Jesus--goes along with the "Merry Christmas" thing from his video. Jordan's avatar reminded me of Fat Albert. The lecture we received from Joe's friend was, for all intents and purposes, highly scandalous. I'd asked her how she'd met Joe but she was in the middle of the story of how she met her boyfriend...which involved clubs, drinks, and free lap dances. Needless to say, Joe's reputation kind of sunk in the eyes of a handful hopeful undergrads...but only for a few minutes!

Test driving the Scions was a genuinely hilarious experience. The interface was nothing like Mario Kart, hence my ridiculously haphazard driving. My favorite part had to be when a few of my peers to decided to join me in my vehicle. David kept complaining about my lack of digital driving skills, I continuously ran over Roxanne, and Ashley laughed a good amount. It was a fantastic bonding experience, I think. I'm beginning to understand how people invest this into an addiction.

I think given the subject matter that lies at the core of this class, playing Second Life was a fantastic experience. Would it be cool for other classes like History, Psychology, or Calculus? Maybe. Would I recommend it for English? Not on your life. Some subjects are better left to their original formatting. I'd be insulted if an English prof wanted to have class on Second Life. Thursday's class was immensely enjoyable especially because the Arctic tundra decided to bless us with its curses by making an appearance earlier that day--with class on Second Life, not only did I get more sleep, but I didn't have to risk tripping over an igloo either.

I'm going to miss writing in this thing. I might not stop--I'd like to be in touch with you all. One of my closest friends is taking this class next semester, as per my recommendation of course, so perhaps I can live vicariously through him.

Thank you all for a fabulous academic experience. :)

PS -- I wanted to post that class avatar photo, but my friend's laptop here is refusing. It is forthcoming.

Monday, November 27, 2006

I have a really bad headache. And it's from Second Life.

I can't read in the car. I think some varying form of this motion sickness has found me from the depths of my computer monitor.

This is my avatar on Second Life: Sunset Klata

Today I spent several hours in this funny little virtual world, and I have to admit that I mainly spent my time attempting to figure out what the hell was going on. At first, I sent a hostile email to Joe about how Second Life was very user unfriendly, until I realized that in the midst of my thick idiocy, I'd never downloaded the program. At all. I was meandering around the website instead. To my own credit, my confusion was the result of initially opening my account on my computer in Sugar Land and deciding against downloading there since I was only going to play it in Austin.

ANYWAY. I spent a good hour or so on "Help Island" fixing my appearance that Joe called "funny" anyway. At first I tried to make it look like me, but I eventually found this an impossible task no matter how much I tried to rearrange "breast buoyancy" and the height of various features I'd never even considered. The invaluable skill I learned, though, was the art of flying. Thank you so much, PgUp and PgDn. Walking around in Second Life was nearly eliciting vomit. Role playing type games are very different at a distance [ie, Zelda on N64]. At such close proximity, however, sudden movements proved unsettling for my stomach.

At any rate, eventually I found Joe online who tutored me through transporting, free clothing, and other skills. I found the ability to read surrounding conversations very irritating. The screen is pretty busy enough. Although I found it interesting that people made it very clear if they weren't native English speakers. Some Portugese dude kept annoying this Italian lady to speak to him in Portugese even though it was clear she didn't have that ability. I landed at a bar called Coyote Ugly by the time we'd parted and ended up spending a good deal of time trying to figure out why I couldn't ride the mechanical bull. Turns out, I've got no money. Dayum. As a result, I sat on a barrel and watched the strange, digitally erotic Coyote Ugly dancers. It kind of reminded me of my Discovery Zone days.

I did friend Allie, though. She's Summer Gizot I think. By the time she accepted my friendship I'd fallen asleep so I'll see if I can catch any other classmates later.

With digital diziness,

Sunday, November 26, 2006

What is all this hoopla about the new version of Blogger? Whatever it is, I'm going to paradoxically go against my love for newfangled technology and abstain from its use.

Thanksgiving break has been, more or less, a family affair. Thus, networked technology has served as my portal both within and beyond the familial realm. Texting has become an integral part of my life. It has (1) taught me to ration, (2) gotten me out of sticky social situations, and (3) served as my mechanism of sanity.

(1) I'm only allowed 300 texts a month. Thus, I have to keep track of how many are incoming and outgoing so as not to anger the bill-paying gods (my mom, really). This teaches me to be responsible in college--a skill that I hope outweighs everything I do on weekends.
(2) So last night my family attempted to go out to a nice steakhouse for my dad's birthday dinner. Apparently he was sick and decided he wanted soup and something easy on his stomach, and thus suggested Thai. Yeah--I know it doesn't make any sense. We very angrily landed at PF Chang's and an extreme level of awkwardness ensued. We ended up getting take-out and driving home. In the car, I texted my sister: "Do you have a knife? Someone needs to cut the tension." A silent conversation thereby commenced.
(3) My family can't really spend more than 3 days together. It just isn't possible. So in all these decidedly awkward moments in which we are huddled around our enormous TV, I end up having text conversations with various friends so as to remember that there is a life outside being forced to watch Harry Potter 4 as a special moment of fallacious bonding.

I love my phone. That's all I can really say. Jillian knows what I mean--Katana love!

And by the way--I have some pretty hilarious stories about AIM that involves a few members of this class and myself, but I don't think I'll share until after papers are passed back. :)

And by another way--I used Facebook's event invite system to create ruckus over yet another party. You're all more than welcome to attend!

Hope everyone ate tons of turkey and remembered what that bastard Columbus was really about.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Am I allowed to talk about Facebook photos? Because that's what I'm going to do. My argument for doing so stands as this: Facebook is a network pumped by technology and the photos are an integral part of establishing an identity in the midst of the aforementioned networked society. Good? Okay, good.

So recently my best friend Shilpi needed someone to model in a portrait project for her photography class. As much of a diva as I am--I'm fairly uncooperative--she asked me to lend her three adjectives to describe myself. I gave her three terms not knowing this was to be my fate--whichever words I chose, they were to guide her focus on setting and costumeness to interpret the term. I told her these: ambitious, lustful, and spontaneous. Or something like that.

Nonetheless, she decided to interpret "ambitious" as the side of me that enjoys Ann Taylor and aspires to enter English grad school at 19 and start pushing my love child around in a stroller around a college campus at 21. So off we went, she carrying an abnormally large camera and I clad in an Ann Taylor-esque outfit with pearls and all, and downtown Austin looked at us very strangely. The photo shoot went on undisturbed, save for the dozens of cat calls, and she later burned me a CD. In turn, I uploaded some photos onto Facebook, as did she, and a revolution commenced shortly thereafter.

I kid. Kind of.

I think photos uploaded en masse prompt people you ordinarily wouldn't speak to to suddenly leave a comment. This in turn creates some obligation to respond to them, thanking them for compliments or asking follow up questions in regards to a strange comment, and thusly creates a socially awkward situation. While the internet ought to dispel such things in that there's something deliciously anonymous about hiding behind an alias, Facebook has made the online life more akin to reality. It's ironic. But then again, everything comes full circle.

And I think my people call it "karma."

A photo taken downtown that is now my Facebook default.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

I went to Houston. Again.

The boyfriend had had a bad week and was judging at a debate tournament both Friday and Saturday so I figured I'd make an appearance, console him, and visit with probably the only group of people I've ever really identified with. At any rate, there's one thing you should know about him: he's in Austin ALL THE TIME. He and his Siamese twin David [infinitely more polite than the usual tag of boyfriend--you've no idea how attached these two are] often traverse I-10 and 71 to visit everyone who bears any sort of significance in their life at all. And they do so often and sometimes enjoy throwing in an element of surprise. On a Thursday night, for God's sake, it wouldn't be entirely unusual to be sitting in Dobie watching Grey's Anatomy and then suddenly be interrupted by a thunderous knock and "HEY HEY HEY IT'S PARTY TIME."

Anyway. That's beside the point.

So off I went this weekend and at the last minute I thought I'd give the kid a dose of his own medicine and surprise him by sending a text that said I couldn't find a ride. I sent a text instead of actually calling him so I could avoid having to lie outright and mishandle a wavering voice. I even called my brownie-stained pants little brother [if you recall his existence from the last entry] and told him to confirm my alleged lack of departure if need be. The boyfriend, however, texted back immediately saying, "You can't pull off the surprise like me." Actually, that's a total lie because he is very lazy with T9 and that was probably all misspelled. But you get the general idea.

And that's when I started to think about syntax. Or, better yet, e-syntax if you will. I'm an English major. My entire course of study is supposed to be one fancy, complex path that essentially illustrates how words have meaning. And they do. From a single sentence you can identify a subject, action, and even tone of voice and perhaps a plethora of other things as well. And yet now, when communication and text are more personal than ever, we like to believe that AIM is a bad medium because you can never really know what a person means "online." And I think this is silly. People ought to be held accountable for what they say and how they say it. One can find meaning in someone's words by trying to judge based on their usual character and even the context of the sentence. While it's arguable that AIM is less personal in that it's online and, obviously, not in person, you can also argue that phone calls would be impersonal because those are still not in person, and that emails are even less so because it is one body of text as opposed to the usual rapid tete-a-tete AIM embodies.

But bottom line is this. At the point in time when we render personally spoken words futile, then words might as well not bear any meaning at all. And this of course is asinine--history, science, literature, medicine, and even mathematics and a whole host of other things that allow society to function are expressed in words. So the lesson we learn is this: hold people accountable for the things they say regardless of the medium, and claim value in the things you say as well.

That was my funny face pancake from IHOP. It bears no relation to anything in this entry, really, other than the fact that I got it in Houston...and I might be able to push for the fact that its face is a form of expression often seen on AIM.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Joe, first off you should know that it's 2:15 AM here in Houston-ish, Texas [more precisely Sugar Land, thanks] and I just went through hell with Time Warner to get my internet back up ONLY FOR THE PURPOSE OF UPDATING MY BLOG! It's been down all weekend and I was totally ready to have someone email you and tell you my sad story about my lack of the most prized networked technology of all. Woe is me.

Nonetheless, I am back in commission and ready to BLOG.

So spending a weekend in Houston is always a tiresome affair. So many people are involved and inevitably I will end up at some dinner party with family friends all clad in ethnic garb where I'm supposed to believe that gossiping about other people's kids, waiting until 11 PM to eat dinner, and flocking to the tea dispenser are all supposed to culture me. Whatever. At any rate, texting seems to have been my saving grace. Whether it's my boyfriend, best friend, or sister, I seem to always cling on to human contact beyond the realm of these South Asian folk. [Here somebody who knows me will point out that all of the aforementioned people are, in fact, South Asian themselves, but I mean to refer to the family friends.]

But let's rewind. After a 4.5 hour bus ride to Houston that involved traffic, a dead iPod, and yappy folk, I was finally home. Except not really, because before I knew it I was forced into Indian clothing and rushed out the door to some 4 year old's birthday party. My mom has been pretty lonely as of late as my dad's been out of town, my sister lives in DC, and I am living the ATX high life, so any semblance of human life to walk through that door brightens her day and, apparently, warrants a trip to Hell. I mean, a family friend's dinner party. The entire time I was at this strange little gathering, though, I speculated about the birthday girl in question. Other than the poofy pink dress, there was nothing feminine about her and I constantly referred to her as "it." I texted my boyfriend, "I'm pretty sure it doesn't even know it's its birthday." The inappropriate humor was mainly for my own amusement--does that delineate how desperate these situations get to be?

Bottom line: I always wondered why texting was so important. I thought to myself, "If you're going to use your phone, why not just flip the phonebook and press talk?" And now I have an answer. When in socially awkward situations, texting serves as a sort of private sanctuary in which you can rhetorically laugh at your poor surroundings via text.

[PS -- Wonderful photos will be uploaded later this evening as SOON as I get to Austin, seeing as my card reader is there. It will be sometime around 5, I think, but just letting you know that they exist and that this entry will not be complete without them!

PPS -- I own a Blogger t-shirt. I'm wearing it to class on Tuesday. Get ready.]

UPDATE: Yay, pictures! They've nothing to do with anything written above, really, but they're kind of cute anyway. This is my little brother [not actually in my family, but I love him enough for him to be!] and his girlfriend and a brief series of events outside a Ben & Jerry's in Sugar Land that involved a brownie sundae on his pants.

Vikas and Michelle, patiently enjoying a brownie sundae together.

Please don't ask me how, because I really don't know...but somehow they managed to get the sundae on his pants.

The "clean up" process. Oh well, I love these kids. :)

And this entry is finally complete.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Several things to accomplish in this post, I think.

On Thursday I think Joe mentioned that we all needed to find a classmate's blog and link/reference a post we found particularly enthralling. Almost immediately I sought out Tiffany's, as her comments in class are always witty and insightful. My favorite post? This one. While she may be a closet libertarian, I've already come out. I think she touches at the heart of the fundamental problem in politics--the government is constantly trying to legislate on moral issues. She mentions that "the decision of what is appropriate for children ultimately lies with the parents" and she couldn't be more right. Just like [disclaimer: MY OPINION] the way abortion is a woman's personal choice, censorship (particularly pertaining to the internet) is the responsibility of parents in their private homes. So thanks, Tiffany, for your truth and wit.


Halloween weekend. Overrated.

But maybe I'm still bitter that the Bone Thugz concert was a complete failure (not because I wanted to really see them so much as the $15 and long walk in stilettos were still part of an investment).

Anyway, I should probably announce a mild disclaimer: I was only recently blessed with texting. I got a new phone for my birthday, Sprint's Katana--a classier take on the Razr, and have thus turned text happy. At any rate, Saturday night brought a social divide--the girls wanted to hit up a club while the boys opted for a FSA party instead. After 30 minutes at the club of figuring out who got in before the door closed and who got in after the re-opening, I realized I'd eaten up nearly 20 texts, both incoming and outgoing. This made me a rather unhappy camper as I'm only allowed 300 a month. I think I have roughly 50 left. Nonetheless, the texting madness continued. While dancing up on a ledge 3.5 feet above the dance floor, my friend and I realized we kind of missed our boyfriends. So while dancing in clear view of everyone at the club, I whipped out my phone. T9 is such an amazing thing. I was able to booty bump to Lil Jon and his posse while texting my boyfriend to tell him we were annoyed with the scene. He asked, "how r u txting and dncing" and it wasn't so much the questioning of my abilities as the syntax that ticked me off. Why do people use that funny form of AIM spelling when T9 is available and in use?

But I think I'll save that rant for another time, seeing as I'm the grammar Nazi.

Happy Halloween, everyone--I hope your nights and weekends are Bone-Thugz-&-bad-clubs free.