conceptual heights

When I am forced to speak academish anthropologese, I use to babble about “conceptual spaces of interaction induced by the Internet infrastructure,” or else.

When I was a kid I was forced to read Emily Brontë‘s “Wuthering Heights” in school. Frankly, I never came to grips with it. I mean, just have a look at how Wikipedia sums up one of the main characters, Hindley Earnshaw, who “is Catherine’s brother and Heathcliff’s other rival; having loathed Heathcliff since childhood, Hindley delights in turning Heathcliff into a downtrodden servant upon inheriting Wuthering Heights. However, his wife’s death in childbirth destroys him; he becomes a self-destructive alcoholic, and it is this that allows Heathcliff, upon returning to Wuthering Heights, to turn the tables and to swindle the property away from him.”

Way more fun than writing about conceptual spaces, or reading “Wuthering Heights”, seems to be exploring the conceptual heights of Second Life‘s (SL) threedimensional gamespace. Cristiano Midnight’s Exploring Second Life’s Highest Frontiers from October 2004 is a most hilarious account on the strange above, “on some of the spectacular effects on the fringes of cyberspace-space—engaging horizon colors, and alarming AV[atar] meltdowns. Pictures were hard to come by, however, and descriptions were often colorful and based on real life contexts: one early explorer claimed to see strange, fuzzy, moving lights above him.”.

Gaynor Gritzi's avatar starting to melt down

When I reported on Gaynor Gritzi’s experiments, I knew that she sooner or later would seize the heights with her new jet pack—well, she did and confirms, that weird things happen when you get high in Second Life. Above you see her already suffering severe avatar-meltdown at an altitude of 578,606 metres.

The Right Stuff

This is The Right Stuff, reminding me of several things. More than a decade ago, in an age when I was not yet riveted on a writing desk, not yet incarcerated within an university office, I deduced from empirical observation while falling through the sky, that there are different kinds of human faces. If you ever get the chance of doing skydiving, look into the faces of those jumping with you during free fall. The people sporting the first face type you easily recognize, as their faces do not change at all. The features of the faces of the second type get ridiculously distorted and elongated upwards. The third type is the funniest, as with this people the facial parts wobble, flutter, and jitter insanely, like they were striving to break away from the face entirely every second. Up there you hardly recognize the members of this face-type group again, although you may know them perfectly well on the ground. Moments to cherish. When I first saw types two and three during performance, I in turn was reminded of far earlier experiences, maybe experiences which in the end made me skydive and fly aircrafts myself—oh, those days. As a kid I swallowed the complete Buck Danny comic book series. In one album, as far as I recollect Danny and his faithful comrades were test pilots, the hero looses the canopy of his jet during super sonic flight. A series of pictures then shows how the pilot first looses oxygen mask and helmet, and then how his face gets ever more distorted. I couldn’t find that very panel today, but here is a picture of Buck Danny flying another prototype:

Un prototype a disparu

Back to SL—at about 1,000,000 metres above SL’s flatland, Gritzi’s avatar started to disappear until only the name-tag was left. Fearless she went on riding upwards till she reached an altitude of more than 2,000,000 metres, where she got bored by the whole thing and decided to return to … erh, well … Earth? Back in 2004 Cristiano Midnight had somewhat different experiences and went way higher already:

(8) At 2 million meters, the AV’s body begins to distort. First symptoms involve hands and arms: fingers curl the wrong way, and arms abruptly shorten and lengthen, over and over. Eyes sink down and begin to emerge through the cheekbones.

(10) By 3 million meters, the AV’s eyes have passed through the cheekbones and are flying in formation with the AV, in front of its face. Over the next several million miles, the eyes sink down along the AV’s body to a point just above its crotch. The AV’s fingers distort and eventually separate from the hands, flying in formation a meter away. The AV’s legs enlongate, and the feet shrink. A reddish haze develops around the AV, coloring its clothing and skin. The AV begins to lose coherence.

(11) At 9 million meters, a strange, golden glow appears in the sky at the meridian. At 10 million meters, a granular structure and details emerge in that glow. The granular structure looks like nothing so much as a cityscape seen from far above—or below. […]

[…] I have just passed 12 million meters altitude dead-reckoning, e-key locked down. While my body parts are slowly dissolving, they are still maintaining good flight formation. The golden glow wraps completely across the sky now, and the granulation is becoming clearer, closer, and very suggestive…. […] Looking up now….My God! It’s full of st….

Cristiano Midnight in the heights

See now what kind of guy I am? Loathing Brontë and the idiom of my own profession, instead preferring comic books, blockbuster movies, and computer games—the stuff dreams and real life are made of.