Saturday, September 20, 2008

Interview with Josephine Dorado

Josephine Dorado is a New York-based media artist, performer and social entrepreneur. In her work, she explores the extension of the performance environment with technology, often utilizing movement-based, sensor-driven synthesis and networked telepresence. She is also interested in the process of cultural exchange through creative interplay in virtual spaces, which led to founding ZoomLab and initiating the Kidz Connect program, which connects students internationally via creative collaboration in virtual worlds such as Second Life.

Source : Funksoup.com

Me : What triggered the creation of Zoomlab ?

Josephine: I had gotten a Fulbright scholarship and went to Amsterdam to do interactive art & performance. I was fortunate to get an artist residency while there and immersed myself in the field of networked performance (are you familiar with networked performance?)

Me: No I am not.

Josephine: These are performance in which the artists are in disparate geographical locations, using networked technologies like streaming, etc - to link together and perform. So while I was on the Fulbright grant, I had a very rich cultural experience while living abroad and when I came back, I wanted to share that thought it was invaluable so I thought - why can't we create cultural connection using performance in a networked environment the technology is already there. So the idea of collaboratively creating art & performances together in order to promote cultural exchange came about and became ZoomLab and eventually the Kidz Connect project (and the pilot project)

Me: Have you found school systems being receptive to the idea of using Second Life to teach ? To an average layperson SL connotes "serious" gaming and there seems in that an inherent conflict of interest with education. Do you find yourself having to educate the educators ?

Josephine : Well, there's usually an advocate for using SL a really enthusiastic teacher it only takes one really enthusiastic advocate to push it through the biggest hurdles administratively have been things like setting up the infrastructure in SL for the youth communities and getting support from administration but otherwise, I've met with some very interested educators.

Me: Do you work with elementary schools as well ?

Josephine: Not right now and it is because of the logistics. TSL (teen SL) requires that the kids be between 13-17 so far, we've concentrated on working with teens. Are you an educator too?

Me: I am a mother of a second grader and very interested in her education :)

Josephine: I just met someone the other day that specializes in programs for elementary school kids - and getting them into serious gaming.

Me: Do you see the lack of cultural interaction as a significant miss in the education system ? Or in other words what are you hoping SL with bring to the table that real time interaction among kids - specially in those parts of America and around the world where there is a lot of ethnic diversity. I do have a question about gaming for kids but I'll save that for later.

Josephine: Oh goodness, yes there's a serious lack of cultural interaction. Within the US in general - we're so isolated - and especially within the education system. During our pilot project, one of the US teens, upon first seeing the Dutch students, was surprised and said, "There's black people in Amsterdam?" I guess she thought that they were all blond and wore wooden shoes. :-)

Me: :)

Josephine: Yes, a lot of the kids don't know what is going on outside their neighborhood and don't really care either

Me: I agree.

Josephine: Until you connect them with somebody in another country, and give them something fun to do together - and eventually, within that creation process, they'll bond and begin to care about what's going on 'across the pond'. I think there's a sort of magic that happens when people create and perform together - that's really experiential - what performers refer to as the 'performance high' and that's a very bonding experience that I think can be created within a virtual platform too.

For example, I've done networked performances in which there was a musician in NY and another in LA, and dancers in FL and Houston. The musicians didn't know each other and neither did the dancers. We rehearsed and performed a piece over 2 years, and even tho the musicians/dancers didn't meet each other, they really did 'know' each other.

You get to know someone's style when you improvise and perform with them - quite intimately, even tho it's at a distance. You create presence with each other and it can become quite layered. And I can honestly say that we all consider each other friends, even tho a couple of them still have never met. Similarly within the Kidz Connect project, even tho the teens haven't met, I know they will continue to be friends and connect in TSL.

Me: A big part of cultural connection in my mind has to do with empathy. Do you see SL playing a role there ? Would it perhaps helps kids around the world appreciate the suffering of kids just like them but growing up in Darfur or say Afghanistan ?

Josephine: Yes I definitely think so. you can create projects that promote awareness of those cultures. Are you familiar with global kids?

Me: No I am not

Josephine: They do some very good work. I and my colleagues end up working with them a lot. they also do quite a bit of work in SL they've done projects for example, in which teens are invited to make machinima in TSL around certain subjects, like human trafficking and such for example here's the 'Race to Equality' machinima some teens recently shot.

Me: Kids my child's age are growing up in a world where their most natural element is being connected and online. Does SL not add yet more virtuality in their lives when what they need is more of the real ?

Josephine: Yes, absolutely, they are growing up in a very 'connected' way where they immediately have a digital identity . Good question - I think that the virtual component is here to stay and the point is to learn how to negotiate it how to multitask effectively when to give your attention to reality as well as to virtuality in Kidz Connect, we do 'mixed reality' shows mixing RL and SL by using a combination of SL, avatar exploration and RL streamed video and, not surprisingly, the teens can negotiate the mixture of RL and SL with no problem at all one of the scenes that the kids wrote in the most recent show, starts off in SL and turns into RL

Me: Do you see there being a SL divide as kids of today grow up ?

Josephine: You mean like a digital divide but specifically having to do with SL?

Me: Yes. The digital as in internet and mobile apps is one thing but to be able to traverse back and forth between RL and SL is quite another skill.

Josephine: Well, I think SL might be the current metaverse platform du jour but in a year or less, I'm fairly certain another platform will pop up and be the 'next big thing' so I wouldn't call it an SL divide but I would say that 3D virtual worlds are here to stay. They will be developing more over time. Raph Koster who is legendary in the gaming world, is coming out with his own 3D virtual world that will be called Metaplace it will function from within a browser and will enable cross-world linking so rather than having to use a software client to log in, you'll be able to access it within your browser - now that's a big development the virtual world will be brought to you in your internet browser, rather than bringing the internet to the virtual world. but anyway, yes 3D web is really just on the horizon

Me: That's a game changer !

Josephine: Yes.

Me: How do you see ambient devices converging with SL ? Would it be within the realm of possible to see the world through my own rose colored glasses where everything in my world is just as I want it to be ?

Josephine: People are already experimenting with alternative interfaces for SL i.e., using sensor input instead of mouse input and when you look at interfaces like the Wii which is really just a set of accelerometers and infrared we're not very far from being able to use, for example, camera input which means that we'll be able to do some interesting things with human movement translation into virtual worlds which could also have some interesting implications for people that are physically challenged.

Me: You mentioned the importance of being able to start and stop living in SL and transition over to RL. Do you see every kid who has been exposed to SL being able to do so or would some just fail to learn that particular skill ?

Josephine: Not necessarily to start and stop 'living' in SL - rather, to be able to negotiate within and between the spaces most kids already know how to negotiate and navigate within a virtual world. Most have grown up with gameboys.

Me: See I find that a hard concept to grasp but then I have not experienced SL :)

Josephine: This just teaches them that they can be creative within it and they're encouraged to be. They really take to it very quickly, almost without effort.

Me: I have kept my 6 year old away from gaming simply because I am not sure when it stops being a good thing and becomes addictive. Do you have advise for gaming challenged parents like myself ?

Josephine: Well, there are certainly quite a few resources out there about it - here's a particularly good presentation on "Virtual Worlds, Real Skills" that was given by my friend Rafi from global kids at a conference at MIT and this one about collective wisdom which is a great article too. There is another study about MMO players and leadership.

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