Second Life and Alberti Windows

Windows within Windows (photo by Donna Cazadd_

I just started using Second Life’s Viewer 2.  It’s taken me some getting used to…and I’m by no means fluent yet.  But I have to say that there is one Viewer 2 feature that makes me more than happy to suffer through what ever losses or difficulties there might be in this transition.  One feature that, imho, rules them all.  The new SL Shared Media (SLSM) feature – which allows a wide range of web pages (including flash animations and video) to be displayed (and interacted with!) on any prim in Second Life.  You just build a prim (the basic building unit in SL), drag the url from your browser onto it – and presto! That web page appears.  You can scroll through it, click on it, watch it play out. It really is quite amazing.

While I am completely impressed with the technology behind that capability, I suspected there was more to my fascination with it.  I felt like someone waking up from a really good dream, trying to remember precisely what the dream was about, but only being able to grasp the fuzzy edges of the details…like it’s almost there in your conscience, but all you have is the “feel” of it and not the thing itself. In that same way, when I look at that SLSM function I can almost feel what it will mean for educational experiences in SL, but not quite grasp it.

Leon Battista Alberti

Then I read this amazing blog post from Mariis Mills.  In it, Mariis reminds us of Leon Battista Alberti (pictured here).  Alberti (1404-1472) was a true Renaissance man. He was an Italian painter – but he was also a mathematician, an architect, a poet, a Latin scholar, a cryptographer – in other words, a real polymath.  Among other things, Alberti is remembered for suggesting to his fellow artists that they begin a painting by rendering a rectangle that would be an “open window through which the subject to be painted is seen”.  And that concept of viewing through a window, as a way to further immerse oneself, has been with us ever since (there’s a wonderful book on this idea by Anne Friedberg called The Virtual Window).  Just think of the “windows” through which we gaze today – cameras, televisions, cell phone screens, kindles, computer screens. And what’s more – nested screens, split screens, multiple images.  Windows within windows.

In her post, Mariis (who studies remediation and new media) points out that the hypermediacy of seeing a screen, within the screen of Second Life, multiples the media and, in effect, “erases” the sense of mediation.  Makes it more real.  A sort of “double logic”, as Mariis puts it.

What’s more, I suspect that being able to manipulate a very recognizable something from the real world, within the virtual world, makes it all, well, just that much more real.  That much more authentic.  That much more immersive. To open a window and step through it, as Alberti advised us back in 1435.

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