IEET > Vision > Virtuality > Directors > Giulio Prisco
Life 2.0: Augmentationists in Second Life and beyond
Giulio Prisco   Aug 13, 2007   Transumanar  

I have been reading posts in the blogosphere about the new system for integrated voice in Second Life. As I thought, comments are split in two main camps: those who think the new option is a good thing, and those who are afraid that it will change the nature of Second Life as they know it.

The two camps have been labeled respectively “Augmentationists” and “Immersionists”. Immersionists are those who want to live a parallel Second Life completely separated by their Real Life (RL), while augmentists are those who want to use Second Life as a means to enhance their RL. Many (but by no means all) immersionists are men playing women or older people playing younger people - of course they are not going to use voice because it would reveal information about their RL identity that they prefer to keep secret in SL. On the other hand most augmentationists, besides using voice, openly disclose their RL identities. For example, I have my RL websites in my SL profile.

A good definition is here: ”The first-generation SL residents were interested in Second Life as an “alternate reality”, one that is disconnected from “real life” but bears some resemblance to it. In this alternate reality you would be able to be whomever you wanted to be - and requests for revealing your real life data are considered rude… A later generation, the “augmentationists”, have a different point of view. They look at Second Life as an extension of real life - a tool, a platform, a communication medium, the 2nd generation World-Wide Web in 3D. For them, anonymity is as silly as faking your voice on a phone call; just because you’re a “phone number” you’re not a different person”.

Of course saying that all immersionists are men playing women would be reductive and wrong. On the contrary many immersionists have serious arguments against voice in Second Life. By this I mean that, though I still don’t agree with them, I think their arguments deserve serious consideration.

In the article Voice and the Crisis of RL identity in SL, the author says: ”One thing that is of extreme concern recently is that Linden Lab appears to be pushing Second Life into being more of an augmentationist realm than a immersionist one, or so it seems… People came to SL for a very specific reason… to have fun… to play… to be something they couldn’t be or to role play…. or to let something out that has always been hidden, to become something new. Where does voice leave all of this… you must remember that 99.99999999% of all of the major content creators in SL are IMMERSIONISTS…. this means that they are not into making their SL a reflection of their RL”, and denounces what (s)he sees as a trend to turn Second Life into “Real Life 2.0”.

I support that idea that everyone should be free to live her Second Life, AND her Real Life, as she wants to live it. So, though I use voice in SL routinely, I do not have anything against immersionists refusing to use it and support their freedom of choice. At the same time, of course I protect _my_ freedom of choice and resist immersionists trying to tell _me_ how I should live _my_ SL (or RL). The point is, I _am_ into making my SL a reflection of my RL - and want the freedom to use all options that permit doing so.

Unfortunately, immersionists have a very valid point when they argue that, with voice and more augmentationist options becoming available (such as the possibility to paste a realtime webcam feed onto an avatar face and body, that may well become available in one or two years), most users of Second Life will become augmantationists and this will effectively discriminate against immersionists and push them into a second class role. They will be able to join immersionist communities where voice and webcam feeds are banned, but will be effectively cut from interacting with most other users.

I understand this argument but it does not seem such a big deal to me. It seems a reasonable assumption that role players prefer to hang with other role players in SL anyway. In a few years, new users of the Metaverse will probably be unable to understand what this debate was about. They will not understand how someone can consider having _more options_ as a bad thing. Everyone can have multiple avatars, say one for role playing and one for social networking, business and learning under her or his RL identity. Those who want to use a single avatar can install voice masking software coupled to the microphone input.

To me, Life 2.0 means augmenting virtual reality with physical reality and vice versa. It means being able to have meaningful interactions with people on the other side of the planet, with an overall communication bandwidth equivalent to face to face contact. We are now taking the first steps in this direction, and this is something good.

I believe those who say NO to voice and “Real Life 2.0”, most of them first-generation residents interested in Second Life as an “alternate reality”, are simply stuck with a preconceived notion of Second Life as _only_ a role playing game for immersionists and are unable (or unwilling) to adapt to this quite radical “change of the nature of the game”. They conceive their (and others’) Second Life only within the narrow area defined by their early role playing experiences, and resist change - even if nothing is going to change for them personally if they don’t want to. But I think having more options to choose is always a good thing, and restricting the freedom of others to choose their options without harming anyone is always a bad thing.

It has been said that virtual worlds like Second Life are dynamic laboratories to shed light on social and economic behavior. In fact, the debate over voice and the intrusion of RL in SL reminds me of another debate which is beginning to take shape, over much more important scientific, social and political issues related to human enhancement. Also Transhumanists talk of augmenting real life, but in much more radical terms. We want to merge biology with technology and eliminate disease, suffering, aging and death. Yes, death. Our generation may be among the last mortal generations, and by the end of the century our children may live in the Metaverse as disembodied software beings. Let’s call this Life 3.0: escaping the prison of the flesh and moving on.

This will be a _very_ radical change of the nature of the game, and of course there will be those who will prefer to stay in the old comfortable game instead of embracing change and moving on. They will conceive their (and others’) life only within the narrow area defined by the experiences of earlier generations, and resist change - even if nothing is going to change for them personally if they don’t want to. I am sure that nobody will force them to upgrade to Life 3.0, and there will be “immersionist” communities for persons who choose to remain immersed in human biology and its limitations. However, knowing that a large part of the human species has moved on beyond biology, and there is a new game going on in which they don’t participate, is bound to have some mental impact on those who choose to stay behind, and create very significant social and political problems to solve. The coming debate on human enhancement is very important as it will permit analysing problems and devising solutions. I think these problems can and will be solved, and after a few decades people will probably be unable to understand what the debate was about.


Giulio Prisco
Giulio Prisco is a writer, technology expert, futurist and transhumanist. A former manager in European science and technology centers, he writes and speaks on a wide range of topics, including science, information technology, emerging technologies, virtual worlds, space exploration and future studies. He serves as President of the Italian Transhumanist Association.


1) I entered Second Life in late November 2006, making me at least third if not fourth or higher generation.

2) My real life information has always been available in the RL tab of the profiles of my two active accounts, one of which is male, the other female. The female avatar has at no point hidden my RL male gender. Assertions that “many” immersionists are hiding something are slander. What many immersionists are doing is *creating* something.

3) I consider myself an immersionist. (My avatars, for instance, usually refer to their “typist” if necessary to talk about my real life.)

4) I have disabled sound on the land I directly control (I own a sim and have it enabled, for the convenience of tenants who want it on.)

So I quite clearly do not match the profiles you have so conveniently set up. Why? I think it’s because you mischaracterize one point in your first paragraph, and because you totally ignore one ramification of voice in SL.

You split SL into two camps, one welcoming voice, the other afraid it will change the nature of SL as they know it. *Of course* it *does* change the nature of SL as we all know it. Why would anyone bother to welcome it if it weren’t a change? Some people may believe it will change SL for the worse—but everyone should be very clear that it *is* changing SL.

And one way in which it may change SL for the worse is sound pollution. I could care less what an individual’s voice sounds like, or what my voice is—although it may, in fact, detract from the creation of an image, a mood, or a character. What I do care about is allowing any passing person to include me in his or her conversation, cursing, feedback, or bad microphone sounds. Do you enjoy having someone nearby in a public area open up their cell phone and have a loud conversation? I certainly don’t, and I don’t want to put up with it in SL, that’s for sure.

Hi Kenneth, thanks for stepping by.

I also don’t like sound pollution. We have that in RL too, and like in RL we have several options to avoid it. When someone is speaking loud in her cellphone in a public place, I move somewhere else. If she is doing it in my own living room, I tell her to go out. We can do that in SL too.

I am not very interested in putting borders between camps, I am just using the terminology that has become standard. The point I am making is “live and let live”. You let me live my SL (and RL) as I wish, and I let you live your SL (and RL) as you wish. As long as each is not harming the other, and if possible without aggressivity.


Giulio, equating “immersionist” with “role-playing” is a bit of an oversimplification, although I understand your argument : many immersionists are also role-players; however, so are many augmentists, who view Second Life as merely a place for role-playing!

The original definition by Henrik Bennetsen ( is way more subtle in a sense, and more precise in others, to the extent that Henrik effectively made all immersionists immediately recognise immersionism for what it is, while augmentists, naturally, also recognised their mindset. There are, obviously, “shades of grey” : after reading Henrik, I classified myself immediately as an immersionist (I had no idea : that came through a process of self-discovery) and I’m now working very hard to adapt to an augmentist world. It’s way harder than it seems, but there is little alternative left (you’ll see why).

The immersionist view can be summarised, as Henrik has done, with: “The immersion view is that SL is its own thing and should not be contaminated by anything from the outside.” It is a separate environment, one that is only accessible through computer technology : namely, at this point, virtual worlds. To be an immersionist requires a mindset that accepts that reality is a perception of your senses : and that reality shapes the mindset: everybody is what others perceive them to be.

It follows that things like reputation, trust, friendship derive from the “image of the self”. In the so-called physical world, people build those things on top of a physical body : what we call “first impressions”: does she dress nicely? Does he have odious personal habits or a nasty smell? Is their hair painted? What brand of clothes are they wearing? Once the first impression : the one you gather from your senses : is overcome, a second (and long-lasting) impression will follow: you trust/relate to a human being’s mind beyond their physical body, and that comes through social interaction. Your own mind will create a picture of that particular person based on the behaviour and social interaction, but in your brain, you’ll tag that picture to a physical image acquired through your senses.

So far I’m just stating the obvious; we humans are used to think and classify people that way. However, virtual worlds allow a sudden, unexpected, and unforeseen change in that process: since the sensory input when inside the virtual world is necessarily different : avatars can look, move, and behave differently than the real person behind the keyboard : other people’s first impressions will necessarily change and adapt. Sometimes radically : you definitely get a different first impression from a cuddly, fluffy, aqua-coloured rabbit, than from, say, a 7-feet-tall giant in battlesuit armour.

Again, the *second* impressions : through the same methods of observing behaviour and social interaction : will be the long-lasting ones, and the empathy between fellow human beings will be tagged to a representation of the other’s self which does not correspond to the physical one. It’s definitely arguable that the end result : the way you interact with people; the way you establish friendships; the way you condone or reject behaviours : will *not* be determined by the visual representation your mind has about some person (fluffy rabbit or armoured giant). But the tagging of “this person” into a visual representation of your self is definitely *different*.

Let’s try to give another example. As you so well put it, you place pictures of your physical self on your website. Whenever I remember your words, I’ll tag them to your picture : a nice gentleman with a happy smile and a high forehead. It doesn’t really matter how you look; the “judgement” of your personality will be based on your words. However, in my mind, the frameset that includes your personality (transmitted through your articles) will invariably be tied to your picture : my poor brain will remember your words and say: “ah, that’s the nice guy with the pretty smile!”, and unless I’m given different clues about yourself (say, seeing pictures of yourself wearing a beard), this is how my brain will store the information on yourself.

People coming to my blog go through a similar process (yes, I’ve asked a few) : they remember that “it’s the blog with the winking redhead with a flower in her hair”. It’s irrelevant if they do or don’t know that in real life I’m actually not a redhead but fair-headed (blonde-ish, if you will) and I don’t remember ever wearing a flower in my hair 😊 (they wilt and die quickly, unlike flowers in Second Life 😊 ). However that’s the tag that gets burned into people’s brains : “it’s the blog of the winking redhead”.

This association of “first impressions”, and tagging people’s visual representations to their personality, behaviour, and social interaction, is what immersionism is about. Immersonism explores the scenario where all forms of interaction between human beings are free from the physical tagging and classification associated to the physical self, and focus instead of the second impressions created by social interaction. Because you *can* separate both things in a virtual world, there is an incredible opportunity for figuring out how exactly our mind processes are changed through the visual tagging : put in other words, how people react differently to different visual representations of self (you can be sure that people address fluffy bunnies quite differently than shiny metal robots : even if after a while, when interacting further, the visual representation will be secondary or in most cases totally irrelevant).

It also means that you can modify your behaviour and social interaction according to your visual representation. That is the realm of role-playing, where the feedback works both ways, ie. role-players adopt behaviour and social interaction according to their visual representation of self. Thus, a role-playing armoured giant will probably be more comfortable in an environment where they interact with other armoured giants : while in real life they might be accountants or clerks.

It’s true that many immersionists are also very eager to become role-players, however, the difference should be clear. Immersionists only rely on different visual representations to elicit tagging of their selves to their behaviour; role-players adapt behaviour to conform to their visual representation of self. Needless to say, role-playing is fundamentally acting, and almost all people are pretty bad actors : so the phenomena of role-playing is usually limited to good actors 😉 Nevertheless, it’s true that most immersionists are creators, while augmentists tend to be passive consumers. I have no precise data to support that claim, and it’s an area that should well be researched, since the anedoctal evidence tends to support it. I agree with Kenneth when he says that immersionists are “trying to create something” (even if it’s mostly new social bonds); the only augmentists I know with a similar strategy are all business persons. The rest are consumers of entertainment.

Augmentists, by contrary, are not interested at all in presenting a different visual representation of self and tagging it to their behaviour : their purpose in virtual worlds is pragmatic: allowing enhanced communication and socialisation. Visual representation is secondary. That’s why many blogs and personal web sites don’t have any picture of the author there: visual identification is not required, all that is important is the behaviour. In fact, hard-core augmentists might even argue that visual representation prevents efficient communication because it adds an insecurity level, a barrier, by distracting or misguiding others. In real life you don’t address fluffy bunnies or shiny robots, you talk to people who look just like the picture in their ID card. Thus, the avatar is a barrier preventing more efficient communication; the ideal avatar for a hard-core augmentist is a realistic model of the picture you carry on your ID card (many might argue that even that might not be enough).

Now, why is voice a disruptive technology in this environment, and why is a co-existence of immersionists and augmentists impossible?

Voice punches effectively a hole through the identification barrier: fluffy bunnies sound like elderly women, shiny robots sound like overeager teenagers, and, well, women might sound like men and vice-versa. The disruption occurs because the tagging of your personality will not rely on visuals any more, but directly (and exclusively) on voice. You won’t be talking to the fluffy bunny anymore, but to the nice elderly woman with the husky and trembling voice. You might remember : as a side-note : that that particular woman had, indeed, a fluffy bunny as an avatar, but that detail will fade into the background. Identification will be uniquely and exclusively tied and tagged to the voice. And there is no escape : while our 3D graphics rendering technology is convincing enough (the brain will fill in details) to allow us to capture a good visual representation to use as a tag to a person (this is, in fact, the reason why we humans have developed cartoon animations, and there *is* identification with those cartoons), voice technology is not advanced enough to allow us to shape it to our tastes (unless, of course, you happen to have a text-to-speech engine and a sound technician on your garage that is able to synthesize voice on demand).

On a voice-enabled universe, we establish all our tagging and first impressions on voice. Actually, since the dawn of the telephone industry, this has even become more important : as personal meetings were replaced by phone calls (or, lately, teleconferences), we emphasize the importance of “sounding good on the phone” much more than before. Voice might even have become more important than visuals in certain environments : and, from an augmentist point of view, to facilitate enhanced communication, voice in a virtual world will at least break the difficult barrier of identification with a visual representation of self. Voice *becomes* the representation of self, overwhelmingly so.

The usual argument is that while in an immersionist environment, the augmentists have no limitations and can perfectly well exchange whatever information they require (or call people up on the phone, if they wish); inside an augmentist environment, there is no place for immersionism (except as a ghetto), since voice disrupts immersionism from the very beginning. Also, while there are many grey areas between both, these grey areas are possible only inside an immersionist world. In effect, what amused me since the beginning of Second Life was to figure out who was an augmentist, who was an immersionist, and who was a role-player. It was very hard to do so, and even impossible for some (who reacted very violently because of that). This allowed very interesting social patterns to emerge. First, people became unconstrained in accepting all sorts of people as their friends and acquaintances, since it was impossible to figure out who they really were or how they really looked like; the society inside Second Life was based on reputation, trust was formed through observing behaviour, and real life credentials were irrelevant : a person was accepted based on their behaviour, not on the amount of PhDs or the money they had on the bank.

Emergent behaviour in Second Life thus included concepts like the right to privacy; the acceptance of people by the way they interacted and not on their colour of skin, religion, or age; the forming of bonds based on trust and reputation; the collaboration based on common goals, perceived skills and talents, and not credentials. I’m not claiming this is better or worse, just different, and certainly a society with much lesser prejudice.

Under a voice-enabled environment, all that breaks apart. Except for ghettos, where ostracised immersionists might still establish the base of their social interaction on behaviour and not credentials, the rest of Second Life will obviously rely upon validation of those credentials. A 20-year-old teenager cannot become a real estate manager, a leading thinker, or a financial institution: there is simply no way they can pull that off.

The fallacy of believing that “You let me live my SL (and RL) as I wish, and I let you live your SL (and RL) as you wish” does not really apply in an augmentist world. Ostracism and ghettos are not a nice way to deal with the issue : ie. “go away and live your SL/RL on your ghetto and I won’t bother you”, which is what this phrase actually *means*. Being entitled to a degree of political incorrectness, this is the same attitude that, in real life, ostracised smokers, forcing them (and their nasty habit!) into an underground, ghetto-ised subculture : “you can smoke, so long as it’s not here”. Taking smoking as an example on how borderline behaviour is shunned in real life, I wonder how long it takes until immersionist behaviour will be subject to the same rules of an intolerant society towards a minority with a different mindset and patterns of behaviour.

Alas, being a pragmatist, it’ll take a bit longer than predicted, since the anti-voice-lobby had forgotten how bad Linden Lab is at implementing technology 😊 Voice works as badly as the rest of the virtual world: it’s very nice and sounds quite good when it works, it’s a mess when it doesn’t. So right now voice is good for occasional bursts of fun, but not as a long-term commitment (ie. like teaching classes, holding seminars), since it’s totally impossible to predict when it works at all. The immersionists will have a few more months of relief.

Hi Gwyn!

Your “politically incorrect” argument is perfect.

I am also a smoker, and I don’t have any intention to stop. I smoke, because I like it.

I am also (or at least, I try to be) a polite and considerate person, so i will not smoke around those who don’t like it. I perfectly understand that smoke can be disturbing to non smokers, so I do not impose my habit on others.

Of course when I am in a smoking place (there are less and less, but still some) I smoke. And of course when I am at home in my own garden, I also smoke. With my smoking friends. It is just our business and not others’.

As a smoker, I think “you can smoke, so long as it’s not here” is perfectly acceptable. I do not wish anything more than that.

“You let me live my SL (and RL) as I wish, and I let you live your SL (and RL) as you wish” is not a fallacy. Regarding it as a fallacy has led to the worse extremes in history, much worse than whatever can happen in the _virtual_ reality of SL.

I would tend to consider the debate over voice in SL as trivial and unimportant. To me, it is evident that it is just one more technical option, available to those who want to use. No big deal.

But I usually react (for example on the Linden blog) to the posts of those immersionists who would wish to take away this option from those who want to use it.

Again, this attitude of “I don’t like it, so nobody should do it” has been used so many times against civil rights. It has been used against homosexuals, like “I am straight, so homosexuality should be forbidden”. It has been used against religious freedom, like “I believe in god X, and worship of god Y must be forbidden”. It has been used against transexuals. It will, certainly, be used against human enhancement. So I repeat, I will let you live your way, but can you please let me live my way.


One more comment to Gwyn:

Actually I LIKE immersionists. I am good friend with Extropia, who commented on this thread on the blog. I find very interesting her considering herself (the avie) as a separate personality who is temporarily borrowing the wetware brain of her “primary”. I am a transhumanist because I look forward to being able to do such experiments in physical reality (assuming such a thing exist - I am quite fond of Nick’s simulation concept that made the NYT a couple of days ago).

I am not an immersionist in SL because I am in SL mainly for business and I don’t have the time to maintain a separate personality. I do have a few alternative avatars of course (one is a nice girl, one is an even nicer chicken, and a couple are nondescript middleaged guys like me), but I never wear them for time.

So, I like immersionists VERY much. I am also not a believer, but I can relate strongly to religious sensibilities. But I will not allow immersionists, or believers, to tell me how I should live my SL or RL.

I am the author of the slidentity blog that Giulio quoted in his posting.

Unlike Gwen, who’s famous for her very very long posts, I’ve tried to keep my response short and too the point.

Here it is:

Sincerely Yours,
Anony Mouse
“The highest result of education is tolerance.” ~ Helen Keller

Hi Anonymouse,
Since you say “I am not trying to tell anyone else how to live their SL, not by a longshot. I am simply saying don’t discriminate against me for living mine as I wish”, we are in perfect agreement. I do not wish to tell you how to live your SL.
Actually, as in my reply to Gwin above, I like immersionists very much. I just cannot accept their whining about others using the voice option and their frequent suggestions that it should be removed from SL.
As I see things, having more options is always a good thing provided nobody is forced to use them.
I respect and support your right not to use the voice option, and ask you to respect and support my right to use it. That simple.

To Anonymouse again:

In your previous blog on “The Coming Inquisition”

you write:

“The latest crop of SL residents seem to feel, for whatever reason, that if you don’t play yourself then you are not being “authentic” or that you have “something to hide.” This is especially true of people who are very much into the coming Voice feature, since most of them are already the people you see that have their first life pictures in their Second Life AND First Life tabs.  They are also the people who are willing to force their beliefs down your throat by any means necessary… There are going to be a lot of people who start to suspect and question you when you refuse to use the newest crop of coming feature in SL.  These features are designed to reveal your identity.  Chief among these is Voice, but also there’s the “identity verification tools” and, coming soon, a simple way to show yourself via webcam in SL using a “media” texture and a webcam”.

Well - I use voice routinely and will use the webcam feature as soon as it becomes available. But I do not want to “force my beliefs down anyone’s throat”. It is not a belief - these are just technical option than some people will use and some people will not use.

Inquisition is a state of mind, not one or another technical tool. I am very much against whatever kind of inquisition, and support the right to anonimity for those who wish to stay anonymous. If LL were to make identity verification and disclosure mandatory for all users, I would be the first to complain.

Since it will be, I hope, a voluntary choice, I can live with it and can see the utility of an opt-in identity verification tool in some specific cases. For example many users would not enter business deals or send real money to an anonymous parties.

Oooh it would be so nice if things were actually so “black and white”, Giulio 😊

Disruptive technology changes, indeed, the way we interact with people. But ironically your argument on tolerance is based on the assumption that you can clearly separate waters : ie. allowing a group to stay on one side of the barrier, and others on the other, and have them mutually tolerate each other.

The point is that now the barrier exists at all 😊 While, before voice, there was no barrier, but people had a far better option : call people up on the phone or Skype or any of the millions of other VoIP systems out there. A few were even pretty much integrated within SL and used by the ones that truly wanted to use it. There was no discrimination back then; if you seriously wanted to do voice in SL, all you needed was to set up a Skype conference. Linden Lab even streamed back Skype conferences into SL. It worked well.

The issues about voice or avatar validation question what exactly “voluntary” means in SL. Wearing clothes, for instance, is “voluntary” in Mature sims. However, most people still wear them. Why? Because you’ll be flagged as a nudist : and treated accordingly: prejudice, loss of respect, loss of reputation. But you’re just using an option, voluntarily, that the technology allows you (PG areas, of course, are different). So the society *expects* you to follow a set of rules (“voluntarily”) although you have the option of NOT following that set of rules and be discriminated accordingly.

This is always the case with borderline behaviour. It’s interesting you mention homosexuality and transsexuality, two cases where the first is practically openly accepted, the second one less so, although well-operated transsexuals might be completely undetectable to the naked eye of the unwary observer. There is, however, a class of gender dysphoria that is not accepted socially: transvestism. Still, your option for tolerance remains: if a guy opts for crossdressing as a female, there is no way they can go to work like that… unless, of course, their “work” is acting on a stage or prostitution, the two only “acceptable” workplaces for men to do a job while dressing up as females. This is, however, an *option* they have : chose your lifestyle, do it in private, it’s not forbidden; but forget about doing it in public.

The introduction of voice in Second Life reverses the roles. Originally, the voice-less SL was egualitarian in the sense that whoever wanted to use voice had several ways of doing so and was not ostracised for doing it : social norms evolved to protect their right of using voice whenever they liked. Nobody would “look down” a voice user; in fact, someone asking for voice-enabled areas, would very likely get immediate help from several sources, telling where to go, what software to download, how to connect, etc.

The tables were turned. Now it’s the voice users that tell non-voice users that they’re welcome to use text chat on their ghettos, and that they’re entitled to do whatever they please on text chat, so far as they don’t remove your choice to use voice.

Well, I hope you see the parallels. Choices added through technology do not necessarily mean “more options” for *everybody* : it means some more options for a few, in exchange for a change in social norms and conduct for the rest of the world. In the particular case of voice and validation techniques, these always existed “voluntarily” : people even added their Skype/TeamSpeak contacts on their SL profile, or added RL pictures of themselves, links to their LinkedIn account, or any other form of validation technique. I have even seen phone numbers listed! So the options *existed*. However, the accepted social norm is that voice was done in private and not shoved up people’s faces.

Now we have the reverse situation, but with a catch. The non-voice user will bear a social stigma. They have “something to hide” for not using voice. They might have good reasons for doing so, and you can tolerate their existence, and even respect their privacy : but your level of trust decreases, as well as their perceived reputation. It’s like someone you meet on the street, talk to them, even think of doing business with them, but when asking for their name, they refuse. It’s their option to tell you their name, but if they refuse to do so, you mistrust that person. I mean, after all, why shouldn’t someone tell you something so clearly harmless like their names? Only criminals hide their names (or, well, State-protected witnesses and victims of abuse… but they are far outnumbered by criminals), so, in everyone’s mind, someone that “hides their name” is very likely a criminal. In effect, the tolerance granted to everyone’s right to tell their name or not is quite limited : it might be a legal issue (ie. a right to privacy that has to be respected), but on a social scale, there is no real tolerance.

Interestingly, you mention the inquisition 😊 In fact, this issue about privacy is far more complex : as you might remember from “1984” the right to privacy can be forfeited in a society where everybody is a law-abiding citizen: you have nothing to fear if you’re honest and law-abiding, so why should you complain if you have a camera in your room? Only criminals (or people with a bad conscience about the “immoral acts” practiced at home) require privacy, right? 😊

Well, we all know the answer to that. Exactly because people have a right to do a lot of things in private : but not in public : it means that we need the right to privacy, since removing it will effectively remove the social and moral right to do a lot of things that are deemed “immoral” or “socially unacceptable in public”. Thus, people can walk in the nude in the security of their homes, but not walk out the street naked. And while at home, nobody is entitled the right to watch what you’re doing, and the State protects your right to privacy.

What this enables is a society where people have their freedom inside the privacy of their homes (or, well, their ghettos…) but publicly they are expected to behave differently, according to moral standards set up by the community that enforces those rules.

We fall back to your example of smoking, which is an excellent point. When smoking in public was socially acceptable, there were no qualms about what non-smokers thought. Once smoking in public became socially unacceptable, the tables were turned, and this time it was the smokers that stayed at home to indulge in their habits. But I hope you realise that this : as well as so many other things that came from social norms established over the decades : was a progressive change of mindset. Nobody would consider a smoker a “lesser person” in the 1930s or even the 1950s. In 2007, however, if you choose to smoke in public, you’re going to pick your assurance company carefully, you’ll have to see what your boss says about it : they might even not hire you if they know you’re a smoker, and you have to pick your friends carefully : most will not mind that you smoke in private, but a few will wonder about your innate stupidity and irrationally of picking up a habit that ultimately will kill you : and they might terminate the friendship simply on the basis that you’re a liability to yourself, the mark of utter stupidity, and there being no interest in associating with someone like you.

I’m deliberately picking at extremes (real life has all shades of gray really), hopefully to make you understand that voice in SL and validation techniques *are* socially disruptive technologies. They turn socially acceptable behaviour (“sorry, I don’t do voice”) into socially suspicious behaviour (“why not? Unless you have something to hide”). The focus on social interaction and reputation is pushed towards on how much you’re willing to present real life credentials, and less on how you present yourself in the environment. Put into other words, if you go to an event about marketing in SL, in the past nobody questioned your age, gender, RL business experience, college graduation, etc. What counted was how successful you were in pursuing your marketing efforts in SL and how you established good business under a solid reputation. Today, however, you will try first to see if that “marketeer” is not really a 20-year-old college dropout with a thinny voice betraying their gender, and not the well respected businessman in SL that has made millions of L$.

Don’t underestimate the socially disruptive power of introducing a certain technology in SL as an “option”. Second Life has gone through a few of those, most of them pretty harmless though: at one point it was socially unacceptable to create buildings using “shiny” surfaces or lights, since most users would crash their computers when enabling that option; when sculpties were introduced, amateur 3D modellers (very correctly) feared that they would quickly be pushed over by professional 3D content creators that are able to skillfully use highly complex applications enabling them to do the unthinkable with just a single prim. These, however, were “pretty harmless” in the sense that they did not disrupt things much *socially* (there is no “shiny ghetto”, or “sculptie-less ghettos”). Voice and validation tools, however, go crucially beyond everything introduced so far, since they question very strongly the right to privacy and pseudonymity in Second Life. In essence, to remain respectable and trustful, people now have to prove they are who they claim to be. If you wish, everybody is guilty of “pretending” until they turn on their mics. If they do it or not, it’s their choice, and it will be respected : respected in the legal sense, but untolerated in the moral sense.

I hope that you also understand that “shrugging off” things as “just being a technical option” is, again, underestimating its powerful disruptive social effects. The debate is not about people having the right to use (or not to use) a certain technology. As said, that right was always there. The debate is really on social prejudice and discrimination against the ones not willing to use a certain technology, for whatever reason they might have, legitimate or not.

You can very well argue on two points:

1) First, that the debate is effectively over. LL has invested too much in voice technology, it will never be removed : ever. People will have to adapt. Smokers did, after all! And I’m pretty sure that the voiceless users will get used to be discriminated (or, “tolerated”, so far as they’re not considering to be taken seriously henceforward). So the issue is moot and whipping a dead horse will lead to nowhere. I’m usually an optimist, but in some cases I have to be a realist as well : discrimination exists in the “tolerant” real life, so it was utopian to believe that it would somehow be different in SL.

2) The technology is not *so* disruptive in the society at all, since it will only affect a few anyway. Most people will obviously turn voice on or off when needed, and will not care about what is thought about their personal choice in private. A few will move to the distant ghettos and corners of the voice-less world and still enjoy themselves : in private. So long as the very few accept their new status in a voice-and-ID-validated environment, things will be fine (and in their ghettos they won’t bother anyone; after all, we have podcasters and bloggers, and both coexist peacefully : and TV and radio have not destroyed books).

For the sake of the argument, I actually find voice amusing as a playtool, and always supported that people should enjoy themselves with whatever playtools they find amusing. As for validation systems, I think they’re totally missing the point. The “many users” that would not enter business deals or send real money to unvalidated parties have *several* methods for doing so right now (just send a fax of your ID card to the other party!), and Linden Lab’s claim that it’ll help out keeping minors out of Second Life is, well, very weak. It’ll just create a false sense of security, since obviously the teenagers that want to be in SL are more than clever enough to provide false data to get whatever validation LL requires, often with full consent of their parents. So what this will accomplish is a weeding out of the technologically-unsavvy teenagers; really, someone with 17 years and 364 days is as clever and resourceful as someone with 18 years and a day. The problem with the introduction of the validation techniques is that you’ll have a false sense of security just because *most* teenagers with 17 years and 364 days will not be able to validate themselves : unlike what happens now. On the other hand, of course, someone opting out of using the validation techniques will immediately be suspect! Like voice, if you’re not willing to entrust an unknown third party to get your “validated avatar badge”, there is a reason for that : mostly because you’re interested committing immoral or illegal acts. And, again, this will mean that those people will be discriminated, possibly much stronger than the voice-less users.

In conclusion, “You let me live my SL (and RL) as I wish, and I let you live your SL (and RL) as you wish” is never really the case. The fallacy resides in the way this argument is employed; the set of freedoms is not the same for both sides, ie., in effect, what it means in a voice-and-validated world is that “people have the right to self-discriminate themselves and remove themselves to do whatever they wish in private”. So, “tolerance”, in this context, means that you respect anyone’s decision of self-condemning oneself to a ghetto. It’s a very weak “free choice” for the ones that have as only option turning on the microphone or be ostracised.

Quoting your words: “I understand this argument but it does not seem such a big deal to me.” Indeed. It never is a big deal for the side that gets more choices : only for the ones that get their freedoms removed 😊

Still, it’s worth mentioning that your original article makes a rather good defence of the role-playing group overall. The only issue is that there are not really so many role-players around, and the voice-less group is definitely not limited to the “first-generation residents interested in Second Life as an “alternate reality”“. In fact, I happen to know a rather large number of those “first-generation residents”, if not all (they’re just a few hundreds who are still around). Almost all, with very few exception, are either working for Linden Lab or any of the many metaverse development companies, where they have absolutely no issues with voice or validating their identities, since they do it routinely (actually, they’re first-generation adopters of new technology, and embrace it quite openly!). On the second-generation residents (I guess that would be my own group : several thousands), things are not so different. There are few role-players in my list of acquaintances from that generation, if at all (I can only remember one). There are also few true immersionists, although I’ve met one or two (Prokofy Neva, for instance is a self-proclaimed immersionist : but who freely uses voice on podcasts…). The next “generations” are too blurred for me to be able to clearly separate them, but it’s true that, since the later generations are orders of magnitude bigger than the previous ones, there is so much variety that it’s hard to say who is who; also, it’s quite untrue that the voice-less group is all immersionist, or that the voice-enabled group is all augmentationist : there are far too many shades of gray to generalise. The point here is that there was hardly a noticeable difference between who was pro-voice or anti-voice, unless you had some clue. Like spotting transsexuals, it required a trained eye. Nowadays, they’re easier to spot : literally, voice-less avatars *lack* a white spot floating over them. LL even found a way to “mark the culprits” that refuse to adapt…


Thank you very much for these very interesting arguments, but they still look very convoluted and overstretched to me.

Like these “demonstrations” that 2+2=5. They are carefully crafted to make you accept each end every single step, and some are really very cleverly constructed. But, 2+2 is still =4, and you know that if you take the time to deconstruct the argument you will find the weak step.

So while you are very clever in the wording, what you are saying is still “mine is the only acceptable lifestyle”. I will never agree with that, in SL or RL.

Also, you know that the issue is not permanent or important: as you have recently written in your blog, today’s monolithic SL will fragment with the coming of the open source platform and other metaverse technologies. There will be a lot of independent operators making all sort of possible choices re. voice, real-time webcam feeds and identity veryfication, and the resulting metaverse of loosely connected VR worlds will be big enough for everyone.

Last point re. smoking. Of course I know that some people will not want to be my friends because I smoke in private (and in public when I can). But it is no big deal - I would not be interested in their friendship anyway.


Well, actually, it can be put in a different way: while immersionism encompasses augmentationism by default (in the sense that you don’t require to provide external credentials to validate your honesty, trust and reputation : but if you do that and don’t require to be reciprocated, there is no harm done), augmentationism is alien to that and can at most only tolerate the lack of validation as an option for the ones not willing to participate in the mainstream society.

Immersionism is inclusive; augmentationism is exclusive (although, granted, it allows for fragmented, mutually-exclusive sub-groups that share isolated environments; when moving from one to another, different rules of conduct apply).

Immersionism places the focus on self-expression to the ultimate level : in the limit, the *self* can be self-expressed through role-playing, for the ones interested into that. The self becomes an art form. Augmentationism, by contrast, places the limit on self-expression on what you can create; art is separated from the individual.

Immersionism places the focus on freedom of the individual in a social environment: society adopts as its fundamental norm the right to privacy and that becomes to a degree its most sacred commandment. Restrains are abhorrent. Augmentationism is pragmatic: privacy is reserved for, well, the private sphere (“out of sight”); the public sphere is regulated by social conducts and norms that asume there is a clear separation between both. While you’re allowed to do whatever you please in private (and that is tolerated), you are limited in what you can do in public (or, if you refuse to adhere to established norms, you’re marked as an outsider).

Under immersionism, personal reputation, trust, and honesty are a consequence of one’s acts and personal choices only; discrimination is based on what you do, not what you are. Augmentationism works like any real-life society: there is the mainstream, and there is everybody else. In the mainstream, your personal reputation comes from the ability to provide external credentials. Borderline behaviour (ie. the ones not providing external credentials) is tolerated and allowed, but the individual has made a choice : of refusing to be identified : and is stigmatised by that choice (again, that is solely their choice; in their personal ghettos they’re free to do whatever they please : but not on the mainstream).

Finally, immersionism allows for a full range of options, from hard-core role-players (very few) to people that simply have no working microphone or valid credit cards for some reason. None are seen as “strange” in this open-minded environment; all participate fully in the society at the same level. Augmentationism allows the full range as well, so long as it’s clear that non-validated individuals are second-class citizens that are allowed their own personal space, but if they want to have full access to participating in the society, they have to forfeit their personal freedoms.

Granted, immersionism is more connected to libertarian and utopian ideals (which doesn’t mean that all immersionists are, in fact, utopian dreamers); augmentationism is pragmatic : there are rules, and the choice to obey them rely on the individual, but you take full responsibility for them (namely, to the extent that it’s only you that will decide if you want to be part of the mainstream society or not).

Immersionism is about having social options; augmentationism is about having technological options (no matter if these ultimately limit the social options).

Note that this has very little to do with “role-playing” and obviously I’m talking about extremes here… there is a *lot* of overlap. I find it amusing that my good friend Extropia, with whom I disagree about her extreme views of extropianism (and she knows that!) goes to the point of not even providing an email address and refusing to send me anything except through notecards and instant messages in Second Life; on the other extreme, Prokofy Neva, a self-proclaimed enthusiast of immersionism, uses voice on podcasts and not only has a valid email address but his real identity and credentials are known by most, and Prokofy’s biggest fight in Second Life is against utopians, libertarians, communists, socialists, fascists, and all sorts of role-players. Most people will obviously fall between the two extremes, of course, and you can see how it’s not so easy to say who actually is an immersionist (a hint on the case of Prokofy: he doesn’t push for voice or validation systems : a clear mark of an immersionist : although he’s not publicly against either technology).

Working towards an augmentationist world where immersionists are not discriminated is the challenge here. Notice that I’m assuming that they *won’t* be *tolerated* : I never claimed the contrary, and they most certainly will be tolerated! But “tolerance” is quite different from *acceptance* in the mainstream society.

As for your smoking comment, I can definitely sympathise with that argument and wholeheartedly agree 😊) And yes, it’s a clear case of not pushing one’s ideals or values upon others but mutual tolerance: “if you want to accept me as a friend, you have to accept that I like to smoke in private and it’s a choice I’m allowed to make, no matter what you think; on the reverse side of the coin, while you’re present, I won’t smoke, nor will I proselytise about the enjoyments of smoking”. Something I can definitely agree with!

I agree with Giulio on all of his points.

Thanks, Giulio, for this.  I’ve changed my stance since reading it, because I would have opposed the introduction of integrated voice (although I don’t understand the difference between this and the voice option that was always available), as I’m one of those pesky people who does have ‘something to hide’, and maintains that there is nothing wrong with this.  I’m an immersionist in SL, I’ve even met and talked with you there, although you wouldn’t know it was me, and that’s the way I prefer it.

The clincher was the issue of choice.  As long as choice is available, and widened, I’m all for extra features.  When I start to be discriminated against for my choice to not use the voice feature, then I’ll be voting with my feet, and leaving for another virtual world that’s more tolerant of diversity.

Ben, this article is of August 2007. The integrated voice option that I refer to is “the voice option that was always available”, that had just been introduced at the time of writing.

I am glad we met in SL, and I respect your choice of pseudonimity. As I say in the article, the ability to choose among a very wide range of options, as wide as possible, is always good. Then it is up to each of us to choose, and individual choices must be respected as long as they don’t concretely damage others.

Note that now, with the new viewer SL2.0, we have another “augmentationist” option: to paste realtime webcam video textures on our SL avatars. This effectively permits videoconferencing in SL:

I will choose to wear my webcam video stream when appropriate. Of course I will never criticize or discriminate against those who don’t do the same, provided they don’t complain against those who do.

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