2010.01.17 19:00 - Groups and Fields

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    The Guardian for this meeting was Calvino Rabeni. The comments are by Calvino Rabeni.

    In reference to the recent closing of the Kira Virtual Intitute for Phenomenology project - and in anticipation of its potential reincarnation, perhaps - Pema and Calvino have a brief chat about what it takes to create a new, energetic group in Second Life.  The challenges of doing that are the same with other groups, with the additional hurdle of getting people established in a new technical medium.


    Pema Pera: Hi Calvino!
    Calvino Rabeni: hello pema
    Pema Pera: I'll soon respond to your email about VIP and phenomenology explorations -- still working through a backlog of email, sorry about that.
    Pema Pera: I'm very glad to see you working with the phenomenology experiments
    Calvino Rabeni: Thanks, Pema
    Calvino Rabeni: No hurry
    Pema Pera: there is a lot of overlap, potentially, with PaB explorations
    Pema Pera: even though many phenomenologists probably don't recognize, appreciate, or are even aware of
    Pema Pera: I had hoped that the Kira Cafe VIP workshop would attract more phenomenologists
    Pema Pera: but getting new people into SL is an enormous amount of work, and effective only in 10% of the cases
    Pema Pera: far far far easier to try to attract participants from those who are already SL regulars
    Pema Pera: among who, alas, I don't know any professional phenomenologists . . . .
    Calvino Rabeni is thinking about where to go with this interesting situation
    Calvino Rabeni: I suppose the overlap is one topic; the other is what phenomenologist might get involved with
    Calvino Rabeni: And how professional phenomenologists might respond to PaB as an opportunity
    Calvino Rabeni: I wonder what happens at a phenomenology convention ?
    Pema Pera: it's a two-step thing: first getting a few pros into SL is by far the hardest challenge
    Pema Pera: any pro is too busy already, doesn't want to spend 100 hours getting comfortabel in SL
    Pema Pera: the second, easier, step is to see what to do with the pros: for starters a Kira Cafe Workshop, closer to an academic setting than a PaB session
    Pema Pera: at a phenomenology convention people read their papers . . . . but then during the intermissions you pick out those who have a real sense of the matter, and talk with them
    Pema Pera: in the evening you then take them to a bar
    Pema Pera: and then you get into the real explorations!
    Pema Pera: hair down and all
    Pema Pera: and no more paper reading!
    Calvino Rabeni: Nothing formal then - you try to get away from that
    Pema Pera: well, doing anything formal in SL is hard . . . Kira Cafe sessions are already far more formal than most of what happens in SL
    Pema Pera: but *if* we would get a critical mass of phenomenologists in SL then of course we could have professional workshops and colloquia too, as we do in MICA, the astronomy organization in SL
    Calvino Rabeni: How do you envision the possibilities for phenomenology + SL? Would it be to support what they already do in RL, or some kind of enhancements?
    Pema Pera: I don't have a specific idea -- by far the hardest is to get a few serious people in there. Once they are in there, it depends on exactly who are there, what they like to do, what makes them tick
    Pema Pera: it is always far easier to find interesting activities to match interesting people,
    Pema Pera: rather than to start with plans for activities, in which case you might not find people good at carrying them out
    Calvino Rabeni: That's true, however interesting people like to hang out where there are other interesting people doing specific activities that seem compatible --
    Pema Pera: yes, once they are into SL
    Pema Pera: currently no professional phenomenologists "hang out" anywhere in SL
    Calvino Rabeni: Like, you go to a conference based on knowing the topic and the sorts of people that topic has attracted
    Pema Pera: first things first :) get them in there
    Calvino Rabeni: When I decided to "hang out" at Kira it was in part based on the activities already happening
    Calvino Rabeni: And part on word of mouth - personal recommendation
    Pema Pera: but you were *already* in SL, Calvino, that was the biggest barrier that you had already scaled
    Yes, the technical barrier was already scaled, but not the motivation barrier.  It took Kira to get me back into SL.
    Pema Pera: the real question is: how to get such pros into SL -- sorry for repeating so many times, but any other "solution" after that is useless, I think, unless you get them in there, don't you think?
    Calvino Rabeni: Sort of - yes it can be a barrier, this much is true - if one is not familiar with the medium
    Calvino Rabeni: I had no OTHER reason to be in SL besides Kira... but I am technologically literate
    Pema Pera: and you had a real interest in exploring out of the box
    Calvino Rabeni: Interest in exploring your topics presented here, that is
    Pema Pera: pros in phenomenology are trapped in a very time consuming box, called an academic career, leaving them very little time to just play around
    Pema Pera: I see only one way to get pros in there: 1) find someone with unbridled energy, a lot of time, great enthusiasm (like you!); 2) get that person to contact *at least* fifty phenomenology pros; 3) my prediction: one out of ten will actually be interested, leaving you with five. 4) with those five, spend a very intense half year setting up something, tailored to the interest of those five
    Pema Pera: that's how I got MICA set up (http://www.mica-vw.org/)
    Pema Pera: I've summarized my, rather frustrating, attempts in that direction in a paper that I gave at an astrophysics conference in 2007: http://arxiv.org/abs/0712.1655
    Pema Pera: section 7 may interest you most in that paper
    Calvino Rabeni: Thanks, I'll be able to look at it later
    Pema Pera: it was that paper that caught the attention of George Djorgovski, who is now the DIrector of MICA; he took over from me, after I had led the group for one and a half years, first in Qwaq then in SL
    The best strategic line in the discussion:
    Pema Pera: so one way would be to write something in a professional phenomenology journal, but only *after* having set up something that at least more or less works
    Pema Pera: Here is another piece of experience (re: my last sentence):
    Pema Pera: I wrote a piece about SL in the newsletter for the Institute for Advanced Study, IAS, the place in Princeton where I work, and I made a simple proposal:
    Pema Pera: how about putting a replica of the tea room of IAS in SL, so that alumni of IAS, those who have visited for one or more years, can come for virtual tea and chats
    Pema Pera: I asked those with an SL account to contact me, so that we can brainstorm about how to set that up
    Pema Pera: The article came out half a year ago.

    Pema Pera: Can you guess the number of people who responded?
    Pema Pera: (of a base of several thousand readers)
    Calvino Rabeni: I hesitate to venture a "public" guess :)
    Pema Pera: well, the answer is: zero
    Calvino Rabeni: Ah
    Pema Pera: so there seems to be *nobody* among the IAS alumni in SL
    Pema Pera: if there had been, the article with a picture of avatars having a seminar in SL would have surely caught their eye
    Pema Pera: and it would have been easy to respond

    Pema Pera: do you see what I'm up against?
    Calvino Rabeni: I see part of it
    Pema Pera: a tale of two worlds -- RL and SL !
    Calvino Rabeni: Yes, there are several disjoint worlds involved
    Calvino Rabeni: Hello Storm
    Storm Nordwind: Greetings both
    Calvino Rabeni: Thanks for your pub-building efforts Storm
    Pema Pera: So here is what I learned: mass mailings dont' work; you have to start asking people personally and individually; then with those who respond you do "something"; and only *then* you start advertising more widely; and then you get a few more people; and if you have enough time and energy, you gain a critical mass of people and things keep growing from then on. A bit like runnind a start-up company!
    Pema Pera: Hi Storm!
    Pema Pera: yes, just saw your note, Storm, let's go over there after the session, or perhaps already now?
    Storm Nordwind: As you wish... I can't say too long anyway
    Calvino Rabeni: We live in a time-starved, information-saturated world, in which it takes many simultaneous things to draw a new group together
    Calvino Rabeni: Lots of overlapping compartments
    Calvino Rabeni: OR not overlapping, which is the problem
    Calvino Rabeni: A bunch of overlapping, weak fields is how I think of them
    Calvino Rabeni: Not like the forces which organize matter
    Pema Pera: yes
    No one knows how to "build" a group, any more than science knows how to "create" an ecosystem, or an individual knows a sure-fire way to create a good, lasting relationship with another person.  And yet, I believe a lot of the principles are understood.
    Pema Pera: there is no simple path or recipe
    Storm Nordwind sees, afar off, Fox playing darts in the pub!
    Calvino Rabeni: Which handily, create a hierarchy based on wildly different strengths
    Pema Pera: :-)
    I make "weather" chit chat while Pema is on the phone:
    Pema Pera: oops, telephone call, sorry
    Calvino Rabeni: My avatar has a very short horizon in SL - it always sees a flat blue plane, like sitting on a small deserted island in the ocean
    Storm Nordwind: By choice?
    Calvino Rabeni: Lack of compute power
    Pema Pera: (am being called out for lunch earlier than I expected, will have to leave now, it's almost 1 pm here)
    Pema Pera: I'll explore the new Village Cafe later today, Storm!
    Storm Nordwind: I too must go. See you soon Pema
    This is about 45 minutes into the discussion.  These "theme oriented" meetings in SL often seem just to touch on the topic area, but not get into any depth, until nearing one hour in length. It seems to take half an hour just to introduce and frame up the issue.  Things get divided up into sound-bites and referenced.  It seems best to think of these meetings as just a step in a longer conversation.  As far as I know, we're not really tracking those conversations other than in the memory of the participants.
    Calvino Rabeni: Good short chat pema, hope to do more later on same
    Storm Nordwind: Bye Cal
    Pema Pera: short, well, 50 minutes
    Pema Pera: but perhaps short for SL standards :-)
    Calvino Rabeni: Bye Pema, Storm
    Calvino Rabeni: Yes
    Pema Pera: bye Storm and Calvino!
    All conversations are ongoing... I would guess, this theme will be continued :)
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