Monthly Archives: March 2010

Can technology take us to a world outside us?

Well, I admittedly have been away from the technology blogging scene and blogging scene in general for a couple of weeks. Spring Break had me working hard for a couple days and then out of town for a couple of days, and this last week has been “recovery” week in which I have been in desperate catch-up mode. I must say, however, that I am starting to love my New Media course more and more. It has quickly become the highlight of my week. This past week we have a very lively and engaging discussion about “The Media is the Message.” After much contempletive thought on it, we decided Avatar was a good example of this and somehow skillfully brought Plato’s Cave into the picture (kuddos to Dr. Bowery and yay for a recollection of my not too-distant BIC past…).

I just wanted to write a quick snip-it about a thought or two that have been following me for the past several days. In reflecting on my undergraduate experience, I realized that my time studying abroad was one of the most best, fondest, and most character-shaping times of my life. And it occurred to me, what happens to students who cannot afford to study abroad? I mean this in a monetary and time-line sense. What if my degree plan doesn’t allow that flexibility? What if I need to keep working to support myself or just cannot afford to go? What happens then?

So I am left with this question: Can technology help take us there, and if so, how? Obviously we can never fully recreate a study abroad situation through the use of any media, but can it help? I think of my own accessibility to French newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations, and this has helped keep my knowledge of (and love for) the French language alive and well. Can we use these new media techniques to bring people into different worlds (i.e., foreign cultures)? If so, how? What does it look like? Can we bring alive language, architecture, art, people? I really have no idea, but I am on a mission these next few weeks to really “think outside the box” on what new media could potentially do for us as educators. Let us see where the journey takes me. Your thoughts are welcome!

New Connections: MMOs

This morning, I am just reflecting on all of the “new connections” made possible by the World Wide Web (and yes, I do feel like an 80-year-old saying that…). I recently watched a documentary called Second Skin which chronicles the life of several individuals who are MMO users (Massively Multiplayer Online games). Most commonly featured in the film are the online games World of Warcraft (WWC) and EverQuest. In this documentary, you see how these MMOs have affected a wide variety of individuals. Some meet their significant other through the online world and fall in love without ever having met (they eventually meet face-to-face, however). Others are dealing with such a strong addiction that they are playing 17 hours a day or more, have lost their jobs, are being evicted, and essentially seeing their lives fall apart due to their addiction to online gaming. So as I watched this film, I was constantly asking myself – can any good come of this?

I will just briefly say that my own bias creeps in when I talk about online gaming. My own experiences with it have only been second-hand, in which friends could not hang out with me or make time for the people already existing in their life due to their need to get into the online gaming world. Perhaps the most common example of this would be WWC’s raids. In these raids, from what I now understand, players engage in a sort of battle with other online players in their guild (much like a clan, I suppose). When you combine the pleasure of the game with the social pressure experienced by being part of a collective team of individuals, the need to play the game just increases. I remember one distinct instance in which a friend and I were out having a wonderful picnic I had made on a beautiful day in the park. It was one of those perfectly sunny yet cool and breezy days that rarely occur. Although we were enjoying ourselves, he had to cut it short because he had to go “raid.” At first, he wouldn’t even tell me the real reason he was leaving, but I did get it out of him. I do admit that this example is very mild of an occurrence, but at that point, I was dumbfounded as to why you would leave the beautiful “real world” to go sit in a dark room and enter the “virtual world.”
But I must admit this documentary opened my eyes a little bit. Although some people do get heavily addicted to online games, people get addicted to things every day: drugs, shopping, alcohol. If a human finds themselves in need of satisfying an emptiness or lonelinesss, they often will find comfort in a variety of things. So the first thing this documentary showed me is that gaming addiction is the same as any other addiction – it’s an issue of hurt, loneliness, and emptiness in the person CAUSING the addition, but it is not necessarily the game causing it. For so long, seeing friends of mine’s lives be negatively affected by these games made me feel like it was something about the game.
The other thing I was able to see was how positive of an experience these MMOs are to many users. It opens up a world of people you wouldn’t otherwise know who often share similar interests with. Many of the individuals seemed to benefit very positively from the opportunity afforded them by entering into an online world. One couple who met and fell in love through playing EverQuest and later started dating was one example of this. The girl in the couple was so cute when she recalled the first time she openly “flirted” with her partner online. She recollected the account as if it had happened in person, even though it was her avatar that had done the flirting. It was so interesting to see how powerful and real these online relationships are. Many of the users explained that they felt closer to their online friends than others in your life. An area of the psychology literature on this area demonstrates that online interaction often leads to higher levels of self-disclosure and honesty. I thought to myself – this must be really therapeutic to someone who does not have a person playing that role in their “real” life.
So, in short, I am still a little leery about MMOs, but I do see some of the positive benefits in them now. I started thinking – what if I used the online world to meet people who shared my interests that I wouldn’t otherwise ever know? What if I connected with others who speak French, or love to cook, or enjoy travel. I think in many ways, the virtual world allows us to escape to places we ordinarily couldn’t go. We just have to make sure we stay grounded in reality, always being thankful for what we do have but not being afraid to take glimpses into these virtual worlds. I think that’s the bottom line: let the online world compliment your life, not replace it.