I introduced the meeting by asking how many of the guests have actually visited a virtual world, and 75% of them raised their hands. Impressive. This is not a group that needed much introduction, I thought, and went right to the meat of the matter, with an overview of different virtual environments, like the Palace, Alpha Worlds, Onlive and OZ. The few that have never seen a virtual environment before were fascinated beyond belief, and filled with questions as to why, how, when. Questions that can not be answered in one hour.
We were blessed with a large cozy space in San Francisco that had a 6 ft x 8 ft screen with a T-1 line for quicker and more appealing visual effects. After my presentation, I was honored to turn it over to 3 talented and dedicated women in the industry. Please read on to hear more.
The first two presenters represented the rich community and livelihood of Fujitsu's Worlds Away. Mary Madaras works with existing members and provided a compelling overview of their beta world, which is soon to launch on the WWW (for now it is on CompuServe only), and displayed for us its many visual and social expressive capabilities.
Dr. Janet Richardson then explained her responsibilities as an Oracle/High Priestess of a Fujitsu world called "Dreamscape" and how she motivates transcultural vision, paying particular attention to virtual indigenous culture as it emerges, pragmatically, in online romance. She revealed how there has been many virtual weddings, some which have also led to real life weddings, including herself. Some of her anecdotes and stories left a lasting impression in our minds and hearts.
Dr. Janet Richardson holds a Masters degree in Sociology from University of California and a PhD in East-West Psychology from California Insititute of Integral Studies, San Francisco. She taught Cognitive Development at California State University Hayward, for several years. For the past two years, she has done both world management and ethnographic research in Fujitsu's WorldsAway Dreamscape, a very successful international animated graphics virtual community. Her professional focus involves the emergence of indigenous virtual culture and embodied virtual identity within the virtual community context. Dr Richardson's position enables her to bridge the academic and the corporate, to offer community-building resources from anthropology and transpersonal psychology.
The last presenter was Patricia Appleby who quite eloquently discussed the weaving of computing and spirituality.
In 1988, Patricia Appleby started Interactive Marketing Solutions (IMS), an interactive marketing consulting firm specializing in strategic digital brand marketing and digital asset management resulting in profitable business development for the Internet. Prior to founding IMS, Ms. Appleby was vice president of marketing for Durand Communications Network, and regional marketing manager for cable interests at Times Mirror and Capital Cities. In 1996, Ms. Appleby moved to San Francisco and continues her consulting services for such clients as Broderbund Software, Micomega Systems and CommerceNet.
As a new medium, unknown forms of communication are limited only by our imagination. As in all things, this tremendous creative power also has the capacity for tremendous suppression. It is the classic dance of the yin and yang, yet never before have the stakes been so high. We, as a species, have embarked on a profound opportunity to either embrace the balance or continue to slowly self-destruct. The spiritual and social implications of the Internet must be considered and safeguarded, or what's the point of building it? We will have miscalculated the significance of this evolutionary transition, and the consequences are ominous.
A small group of engineers, socialists, and spiritually-centric people are drawing together to co-create a world we all speak of when our hearts truly meet. Once secured, and a basic behavioral manifesto is written, the World will be freely available to everyone. This totally non-violent, non-reality based VRML world will be open both to traditional avatars as well as avatars represented as energy or light beings. The space or worlds would provide co-creating empowerment tools and provide for liquid realities from which to explore personal or co-created art, dance, music, group meditations, etc. The potential synergism through creation exchange is beyond our current understanding.
Perhaps this is an opportunity for us to use technology to actually evolve as a species. The net can be utilized to begin training the human brain to expand on its innate capabilities. I'm reminded of the old adage, "the medium is not the message." This is an opportunity for us not to get lost in the technology, but to utilize the technology to service our higher good.
"It is an interesting group of professional women (Sociologist, Anthropologist, Psychologist, Artists, Virtual Worlds Marketing people, etc), all interested and engaged in virtual community building and presentation. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and intend to expand our association with this group."
----- Dr. Janet Richardson, Oracle of Dreamscape
"It was wonderful meeting you and being in on the beginnings of yet another Women-New-Beginnings-Journey through WEAVE. I am experiencing a bit of deja vu of my beginnings with the original Women's WIRE when it was a stand-alone Bulletin Board out of South City.
The spirit and innovation, wisdom, community and beauty of the feminine which moved throughout the presentations and discussions was uplifting and palatable (sp?), I really felt the bond among us regardless of how very different our backgrounds and POV's are."
----- Beverly Brown, Career Integration Coach / Writer
"Hello, glad to hear about WEAVE. Sorry I can't come, but I'd like to be on your email list. I'm developing a bunch of fabrics as avatars. It all started with stories I told my daughter, of Scruffrug, a rug who one day, just up and flew. Then a gypsy witch came, that can only be inferred by her movements in a fabric she might wear, such as Quilt. Then came Placemat, Rakusu, and others.. I like the idea that the fabrics have stories and lives of their own, but when draped, you redefine and bring them into new stories."
----- Carol Geary
" I went to the WEAVE meeting to support Wendy Sue, and to go to an arena where I feel ignorant in and to discover new vocabulary and concepts. What I found is that this is important work and not to be taken lightly. It's expansive, where these women are thinking BIG, like the presentation on spirituality spreading into these worlds. My first impression of the virtual worlds is primitive. When I saw the avatars relating to each other, I felt their language to be primitive and restrictive, not sophisticated yet. However, when I left the meeting, I said to myself, "I need to buy a computer and access this." I have not felt this urge until the WEAVE meeting."
Barbara Hoffer, a Motivational Speaker for women throughout the US, concluded the meeting with a special ritual. These are Barbara's own words and impressions:
The last of the presentations at WEAVE's April conclave was one that touched on 'spirit', the thread that holds the cloth together. It was a fitting note to end on... The gathering of both seasoned techno pioneers and techno 'newbies' had spent an evening together, exploring the technology was only what had brought us together in community. Exploring the essence of what keeps community connected was where the 'spirit' comes in.
In closing the meeting, I knew that each of us there had something to say and something to contribute. We were there co-creating the foundation for community. We were each there with our own vision of what this WEAVE community was to become. As we closed the session together, I asked each one to consider the culture that was to germinate and grow. Like any good foundation for a house or for a garden, anything that is to last and flourish has to be grown from a solid base. Spirit, our spirits, were being called forth there to be expressed and put into the mix.
We began our closing ceremony as did the ancients of so many tribes, in a circle. I read the following from the book "The Web of Life: Weaving the Values that Sustain Us" by Richard Louv:
"Visualize the web of your life, intricate and mysterious. The web is there for us all; all of us are weavers. For children, one strand is made of parents, another is the school system, another is the work place and how it treats parents, another is the neighborhood. But all of us, no matter how young or old, need a web of family, friendship, community, nature, time and spirit.
In our culture, this weaving is a kind of lost art, awaiting rediscovery.
Consider the strands. In current times, the web has become our most powerful ecological image. Scientists no longer talk of the food chain, but of the food web. Each organism's life cycle is intertwined with the lives of all other organisms. But, of course, the image predates science. The image of the circular, interconnected structure of social, psychologically and spiritual health appears in nearly every culture's mythology. Long ago, Chief Seattle said, 'Whatever man does to the web he does to himself'."
As each woman spoke, they were asked to speak into the circle one word or thought as to what they would like to see evolve through the development of the WEAVE community. I began, "Interconnectedness".... as we continued around the circle. Though we did not record the exact words that were spoken in the closing ritual, the image of the night lingers with me... and I recall the essence of what was contributed like "co-creation", "a spirit of learning and mutual support", "substance and purpose", "a sense of bigger contribution", "a feeling of space in our togetherness", and even "uncertainty" with some basic fears of the unknown.
Through our spoken worlds, we were each seen. Let our eyes now hear and our ears now speak through actions which spring from the seeds sown that night.
May the spirit move each of us to continue to till the garden, water its buds, and count our blessings as each blossom opens forth in its full flower.