Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Recreating Cable TV in Second Life

I was watching a Cable TV presentation on the Second Life Cable Network. The presenter is Robert K Logan and he discusses the topic of Media Ecology and prefaces his remarks by describing his interactions with Marshall McLuhan and Ivan Illich. It is an interesting segment in it's own right but it also struck me that it was a pretty excellent example of the task that is the ostensible focus of our group, namely, recreating social movements in immersive environments.
I'm not much of a TV watcher and I haven't really had a TV hooked up in my home for the last 25 or more years. I don't think I have missed all that much although it makes it hard to have an informed conversation about Oprah or American Idol. Oh well...

One thing I did miss out on was the whole Cable TV, community access TV experience. Again, not a big loss for the most part but I have become aware of some truly inspired Cable TV efforts. These were Cable TV stations that were set up to air non-mainstream content and ideas and emerged as venues for a lot of alternative views and social activism.

I recently watched a You Tube of Harold Channer Cable TV presentation. It is a pretty wild and wooly session with fairly low production values by commercial TV standards but it is good enough for the ideas to come through. Channer also references some of the authors we have been considering in Critical Pedagogy although he is talking more from the perspective of economics.

The presentation pointed out that one of the features of the capitalism system is to eliminate the labour component in the interests of reducing input costs and increasing profit. Corporations have always used technology to to reduce their reliance on human inputs. While this has some very advantageous features for humanity in that it has reduced the need for humans to perform some very dangerous tasks it also has some pretty undesirable effects.

The classic case it that or McDonald's outsourcing of it's pay window operations. In some locations when you place an order at the drive through electronic kiosk, the voice that says "Welcome to MacDonald's, Can I take your order please?" is actually physically located in a low-wage, middle-tech country like Pakistan or China. The exchange is conducted via satellite communications systems and the order-taker processes your order and sends it to the cook-staff terminal where is your order is packaged.

Technology has allowed large corporations to eliminate low wage jobs in one country by paying even lower wages in another country. Beyond the issues of corporate ethics the implications are fairly large even for the corporations. What happens when all the wage jobs are gone, who buys your hamburgers?

Clearly, there will have to be a major reordering of economic systems and Channer referenced the work of Louis O Kelso and the idea of binary economics. Instead of working for wages people are able to work as owners of the means of production, the basis of the employee stock option idea.

The other point that was made in the video was that the existing economic system is based on a scarcity model, the science of economics is all about the management of SCARCE resources. What happens when you have an information economy where there is no scarcity of resources, in fact just the opposite. One response is to create artificial scarcity and that is a tried and true tactic. It is going to be very hard to maintain a facade of scarcity of information.

I thought is was very interesting to see some elements of Cable TV being recreated in Second Life for the purpose of airing views outside of the coverage of mainstream media.

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