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Wednesday, May 12, 2004

THE SCHOOL OF SECOND LIFE, PART THREE: ANA FARBER

ANA FARBER: TEXTUAL ANALYST AND INTERNATIONAL ETHNOGRAPHER

Ana Farber is a Ph.D. candidate at a Southwestern university. As with Matt Farber, she was a student in Designing Digital Communities, a class which used Second Life as a pedagogic tool.

Because I was one of the few [students] who was not in urban planning or architecture, but rather coming from social science, I decided to see how Second Life could work as a "space" to rethink research methodologies. So I did a survey and a textual analysis. The latter was based on a text you did on the "Crash Two" project-- a rather controversial one that provoked an inflamed discussion in the forum. [Last year, two residents used a "sandbox" area in Second Life to create two large towers which eerily resembled the World Trade Center. Then they knocked them over, and took screenshots of the ensuing destruction. Several residents "rode" the collapsing towers, as they crashed, and one of them was a resident who had lost a relative in the 9/11 terror attacks, in New York City. Afterward, this relative described the experience as cathartic, but understandably, the series of New World Notes stories, called "Crash Two", provoked a heated discussion in Second Life's community forum. -- WJA] I also tried to come up with an interesting way to visualize that inflamed discussion using colors and stuff in Excel, and used MAXQDA for the textual analysis, and SAS for the statistical analysis.

Do you think Second Life as a medium yielded anything unique to your field of study?

Definitely-- it's puzzling how it's such a dynamic community when there is not really a storyline behind [it]-- which is what I think most distinguish environments like SL from games.

In the case of Social Science scholars, many of them believe environments that give us back a body represent a return to the past. When we were working simply with text-based only environments, race, age, gender, class-- all these things that we're concerned with in Social Science stopped being a "problem". Second Life gives us a body back, and for these scholars, this can represent the return of the old problems.

Also-- where I am from (Portugal) we have a way of communicating that is fundamentally different from the American [way]-- body language, proximity of bodies, interrupting the other (and not being considered disrespectful). I would like to see how international groups behave in Second Life.

Have you noticed these "American-ized" behaviors in Second Life?

Yes! Very much. [In] the clothes, the use of [chat shorthand] like ā€œ4Uā€-- sorry, but I really hate that one-- and the type of objects you script (SUVs/jeeps.) The clothes are American to the root!

I am really fascinated by the way environments like SL completely reshaped our way of "doing" ethnographic research. For instance-- should you or should you not replace the names of your research subjects, if they tell so much about their personalities? This is a classic example of something we learned in traditional research and must now rethink.

I think it's very cool that an ethnographer (although I am not calling myself that) can have a tattoo on her back, pink hair and black lipstick!

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