When looking at the world of animal activism we have to reach back through history to discover how different communication technologies convinced people to consider non-human creatures as sentient beings. Paleolithic people represented spiritual relationships with animals pictorially. Animal activists in ancient Greece promoted their views using an unexpected communication technology, speech. For those who believed in animal welfare, making a speech could be equated with our present day blogging. Past activists utilized their tools as we utilize what we have at hand today. Our use of blogs, wikis, websites, along with the visual and the aural brings substance and spirit to the message of groups like PETA, CIWF, and Defenders of Wildlife. But the same technologies that educate the public about animal welfare can promote ideas in opposition to animal rights. From agri-business and factory farming to massive dairy farms where huge profits are made, technology can be used to gloss over the gritty and abusive practices of food producers. The best response to the problem of potential manipulation by those opposed to animal interests is for activists to maintain traditional grass roots strategies while developing emerging online communities. In these communities, consumers discover opportunities to participate in activist culture. Combining animal welfare efforts with emerging technologies can help change the way the mass of humanity thinks about animals. These convergences become a powerful tool that can help extend the insights of activists to the world at large.The Convergence of Animal Rights and Communication Technologies

Josh Voorhees’s Individual Privacy in an Online World, does a great job of encapsulating the issues and challenges related to online privacy. I especially like how Josh details the five pressing problems concerning internet privacy. Of these fears, I’m especially concerned about #4, the prevalence of Big Brother. Josh writes,

While it is easy to dismiss many drastic claims of online dangers, the reality exists for potential serious implications for the collection of private data all in one place. Imagine if your potential health insurance provider had access to your credit card bills and could tell how often you ate fast food, drank at a bar, or bought cigarettes, this information could then be used to set your premiums and deductibles.

I see the concern here but when I think of Big Brother I’m even more concerned about the government using and manipulating information about me. Say for instance I post a message to a political blog or email list, and then I’m put on the no-fly list—it wouldn’t surprise me if this has actually happened. Recently we learned that Verizon has given out personal information when the government asked for it—they didn’t even wait for a court order.

So, to my mind, this whole issue is probably the most important facing the Internet today.

I have to agree with Joe Reco about MySpace and Facebook. His site examines the arms-length approach to socialization where strangers decide to become freinds. I wonder how a person chooses whom they want to befriend if they’ve never met-face to face? If reading about someone’s interests, their favorite music, or their likes and dislikes captures friends, then where is the depth in the relationship.

After reading one of the articles Joe recommended Found in (My) Space I fear the first impression of a person’s site might lead to quick judgments. As this article pointed out, exaggerations are commonplace and people write misinformation. Mistakes like the one in the Allgier’s case, where a false site was created by someone other than the person in question, leaves journalists writing something that isn’t correct.

I began to see how these sites could be manipulated. Anyone can create a site and put whatever they want on it. This could become dangerous as well as hurtful. And what I find even more appalling is how a university can do research on an individual, bring up his indiscretions, then use the information against him. Earlier in the year we wrote about email and the disadvantage of employers peeking into our mail and reading its contents. I find those who helicopter around personal sites to be of a similar ilk. These two Big Brotherish eavesdropping devices scare me. I guess I will remain terribly unpopular in the high school scheme of things because I will never have a MySpace or Facebook site. I think I’m safer that way.

David Shabazz has a posting with lots of information about liability issues. The discussion of the early liability cases is like a short history of the Internet. The way Compuserv was found not liable for distributing the messages of its users while Prodigy was based on its editing of the content. The early idea seemed to be, kill the messenger, don’t destroy the road on which the messenger has traveled. It seems like the later solutions as in the Internet Telecommunications Act take a more balanced approach.

I can see the need for internet service providers to have the ability to edit or remove messages. There could be any number of reasons for needing to do this. They should not necessarily be liable because they try to clean thing up. In all, this is still a bit murky for me. Maybe that is how it should be—each of these cases probably calls for tighter scrutiny and will be decided on its own merits, I suppose.

After reading Marcie Barnes’s Global Issues in Nutrition Communication: Focus on Food Labeling, I can understand why so many Americans still eat bad food. Even educated consumers run to Sam’s Club to buy loads of ground beef. (How about beef recalls?) Labeling is evasive and shifty, but here is the solution, as Marcie points out. Buy better food. It’s out there with plenty of stores that provide quality products. Your health is at risk if you don’t; again, as Marcie points out, maybe not immediately but eventually.

62% of Americans are overweight and 25% are obese. Pesticides in our food cause brain cell death as well as reproductive damage. Helpful blogs like Marcie’s are priceless but the consumer has to be willing to make a change. If the government continues to mislead and allows false and deceptive labeling, then it only makes sense to buy products from that part of the industry that you can trust: organic, cruelty free, and naturally raised foods. I bet if every American started on an organic diet, with an all-natural agenda to their meal planning, then the medical and insurance industries would lose quite a few costumers.

Traci Grigg’s essay, Let’s talk—Federal funding used to oppose U.S. policy, is an enlightening piece, showcasing how two ideologies—those of the US government and Planned Parenthood—can strive toward a positive outcome for AIDS sufferers in Africa, even when their formulae for getting there are divergent. The government ABC program wants abstinence while Planned Parenthood wants to promote the use of condoms.

The culture in many African countries would not allow women to abstain from sex and it would even be more difficult to persuade a husband or male partner to wear a condom. The female condom might work. Many girls are given to older men and while they might want to be protected or even abstain from intercourse their voices are never heard.

While we are funding groups like Planned Parenthood it seems the money might be better spent on educating against misogynist male cultural ideologies where the subordination of women to men should be unthinkable. Until women can speak for themselves and run their own lives they and their children will suffer the most from the AIDS epidemic. While our government and Planned Parenthood may have good intentions they are both missing the point. The best solution to end the AIDS epidemic is likely to come through educating men and women to see one another as equals.

Virtual reality and online teaching—what do these two have in common? I’ve been looking at a new communication technology and what I’ve found is both exciting and for me a little weird. I’m talking about virtual reality. The biggest thing in virtual reality today is Second Life (SL), a world where people create avatars who may or may not look like their real life creators. Second Life allows people to buy land, do volunteer work, and sell sex, to name a few possibilities. There are Second Life journalists, athletes, and entrepreneurs. What is most remarkable about this virtual world is it can become a dynamic training arena for professors and their students. Many universities have bought land and set up campuses where professors teach online classes. Students come in and join their avatar professor and have real time discussions.

Speculation has it that SL may become a replacement for Facebook and MySpace. I can see this happening because the ability of avatars to interact opens many new possibilities, but then I also can see where deception might come into play. Not everyone looks like the avatar they’ve created, and online interactions can be disturbing, to say the least. Most avatars are young, thin, and good looking; not a true reflection of the real people behind the virtual person. Still, I can see virtual realities like Second Life changing the way people communicate in positive ways. For example, Linden Lab’s Torley Wong has Asbergers. He was uncomfortable trying to read gestures in regular conversation, but found virtual conversation relaxing and much more fulfilling.

These virtual worlds hold much promise for education. Second Life was launched in 2003 by Linden Labs out of San Francisco. The main goal of Second Life was to promote teaching. But this virtual world is also changing in unpredictable ways. For instance, some argue that SL has become one big advertisement for major corporations. Coca Cola, Microsoft, Sears, Nissan, and Rueters have all set up islands. Islands cost up to $1,600. These regions can have waterfalls, sandy beaches, high rises or whatever the owner wants. In Second Life’s estimated 9.6 million inhabitants the real world can see the potential of using the virtual world to spread their advertising word.

Commercialization is a big problem with virtual worlds like Second Life. If huge corporations overwhelm the inhabitants with their marketing goals, then the mission of teaching will be pushed aside. With such an innovative way to create virtual classrooms, though, my hope is that those taking online classes will be so enthralled with the real time action that the Fortune 500 companies can do their thing without corrupting virtual classrooms.

The potential of becoming addicted to these worlds is another possible problem. Obsession with make believe is unhealthy in some ways. Physically, people can become overweight and lethargic if they spend too much time in front of a computer screen. Mentally, they might become reclusive and withdrawn. Second Life has gambling haunts where people lose real money. Virtual sex can be orchestrated by anyone. No one is checking ID’s when you get your free account. And a recent report on TechCrunch has SL answering for virtual pedophilia. Second Life’s “pure uncensored freedom” is causing a stir in the UK and abroad with a secret world called “wonderland.” This virtual playground allows visitors to have sex with children. Nothing is good about this and Second Life will have to take action in order keep the positive aspects of the rest of its communities from being dragged down by this black spot.

Despite all of these concerns, I also see the advantages of virtual worlds. With individuals connecting from the UK, Europe, Japan, and the US this strange new world can be a training ground for universities and a catalyst for up and coming journalists, entrepreneurs, and artists. We should continue to focus on these spaces as opportunities for expanding education. We should also find ways of integrating legitimate business activities in these worlds, providing they don’t overwhelm the spaces with commercialism. And we should continue to see these spaces as worlds where creativity can flower. As in any world, unsavory types abound, but, as virtual worlds continue to evolve, writers, bloggers, and even intellectuals can transform these spaces into something truly positive.

Online Research Sources:

Second Life the official website. If you want to know what Second Life is, and how to play, just click below.

Second Life’s Official Blog is quite interesting. All kinds of information, questions, and answers are here for the curious. Also there are reports of incapacitated Second Life areas. This site is priceless for anyone wanting to know more about SL, and it is updated often.

Making a living in the virtual world, (Oct. 25, 2007). This article from the Baltimore Sun shows us how people are making a real living in a virtual world. From small businesses to heavyweights like Toyota and Coca Cola, the possibilities are endless or virtually endless. This is a good site for business as well as technology.

Universe Hopping for Avatars comes from Digital Trends online journal. Oct. 10, 2007. This is a tech intensive sight with a blog for interested tech users. This is definitely a site for those who want to stay updated on the latest technology.

SiliconRepublic.com. This is an Irish technology online journal with interesting information about Second Life as well as articles on new technology like teleporting. The article I found was Second Life: Live and Unplugged written Oct. 24, 2007. This article goes into SL as a tourist destination.

My Virtual Life, written May 6, 2000 for BusinessWeek’s online journal is an informative article about Second Life as well as other virtual online worlds, such as World of Warcraft. This site details the successful real estate career of Second Lifer, Anshe Chung whose land and monetary holdings are worth $250,000 American dollars. http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_18/b3982001.htm

Here are online UNC library sources that I also used which anyone with an ONYEN can access:

Foster, Andrea L. “The Death of a Virtual Campus (Linden Lab deletes Woodbury University from Second Life).” (July 13, 2007). Academic OneFile. Gale. Univ of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. 27 Oct. 2007

Biever, Celeste. “Let’s meet tomorrow in Second Life: the web has levelled the playing field for people with autism, giving them a bigger, broader audience.” (June 30, 2007): 26(2). Academic OneFile. Gale. Univ of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. 27 Oct. 2007 For more science news and comments see http://www.newscientist.com.

Lush, Cosmo. “The promise of real profits from a weird virtual world.” Spectator. (Nov 11, 2006):Academic OneFile. Gale. Univ of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. 27 Oct. 2007.

“The Strange World of 3-D E-Commerce.” (Oct 24, 2007). Academic OneFile. Gale. Univ of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. 27 Oct. 2007.

Last, Jonathan V. “The avatars are coming.” (Oct 1, 2007). Academic OneFile. Gale. Univ of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. 27 Oct. 2007.