Saturday, December 6, 2008

Role-play / Conflict resolution / Grounding the virtual in the local

Images: From

Warren Sack, after his talk at SFAI on 11.19.08, mentioned that in the excitement over the ability to overcome some limitations of space and time on the internet, people tend to overlook the community-building of the local: grounding a virtual space in the local offers many opportunities for people to connect, over stakes in the neighborhood, common interests, transactions. Craig's List is a good example.

The local can apply not only to space, such as the neighborhood or city, but also time, such as an event or workshop.

Here's an idea for an application that is grounded by participation in a workshop.

Problem: Mideast teen peace workshops produce few results

This article from SFGate describes how Mideast teen peace workshops produce fews and gives several possible reasons for its ineffectiveness: Each year Palestinian and Israeli NGOs bring hundreds of Palestinian and Israeli teenagers together to forge personal ties that they hope will lay the groundwork for future peace. Between 1993 and 2000, Western governments and foundations spent $20 - $25 million on dialogue groups. But the programs have failed to produce a single prominent peace activist on either side. And now the first wide-scale survey of Palestinians involved in these peace programs found that over 90 percent said that they were no longer in contact with any Israelis that they had met through the program, nor was there any follow-up to camp activity that they had participated in. (

Use SL and the social media classroom to follow up and maintain contact

The idea is to set up a space in SL for participants who met during the workshop, to continue to engage with each other afterwards. During the school year and during breaks, organize simple projects that involve learning and use the tools of the social media classroom to keep the Palestinian and Israeli teenagers in touch and engaged. Over a longer break, such as summer, organize SL camps situated locally to bring participants back together for more sustained interactions. Both SL and the social media classroom can be used to work around the issues of distance and cost in this particular case — the bigger issue underlying these interventions is political borders.

Related link: Arava Institute for Environmental Studies (recommended by Natasha Loewy)

SL application: role-play and dramatize conflict and peer mediation

Exploring avatar roles in SL is a good fit for teenagers. Teeagers are "actively engaging in identity production as they turn from their parents to their peers as their primary influencers and group dynamics take hold" (Danah Boyd, "Identity Production in a Networked Culture: Why Youth Heart MySpace," Teens, especially minorities, are interested in seeing themselves represented on screen.

An idea for a final project for summer camp: Have the teenagers come up with skits that dramatize the conflict (act 1) and peer mediation (act 2) that they would perform in SL, to be videotaped and shown in a museum setting. Peer mediation is described in the next section. The Palestinian teenagers would role-play a panel of Israeli teenagers in an Israeli neighborhood, and vice versa. Each Palestinian teenager would pair up with several Israeli teenagers to help research and prepare for the role, and vice versa.

There are many other possibilities for SL projects and activities. The key is to engage the teenagers' imagination and interest. Just as art has the ability to infiltrate places not normally open to more explicitly didactic forms by posing as entertainment, activities on SL can maintain and build on the relationships started in the initial workshop, by offering benefits such as conflict resolution and interpersonal skills, and computer skills that could lead to more future jobs. Computer graphics, having both aesthetic and logical dimensions, can appeal to all sexes. Teenagers also take to communicating and socializing on the internet readily.

Peer mediation: what is it?

Peer mediation is taught by organizations such as Community Boards(CB) in San Francisco to both children in schools and adults. Each panel is made up of three people who help to mediate between two parties whose communication has broken down and can no longer work together to resolve their conflict. The idea is that once you can see things from each other's points of view and start to unobjectify each other, it becomes easier and less agitated to talk about the problem. (An analogy for artists: this is the state when you no longer want any positive feedback on your work and want only constructive criticism to take your work to the next level. You are secure and want only suggestions to change.) It is only at this point, after participants feel understood by the other party, that they are ready to brainstorm and collaborate to find a solution that is beneficial to both.

When the Dalai Lama was asked, "What is your outlook on the middle east? Is there some hope for the future there?" he said, "Too much emotions...too much negative emotions. Frustrations...hatred...anger... I think that's the greatest obstacle. So I think as a first step, this should be cooled down...reduced. Forget these things. I think for the time being, more festivals, more picnics -- let them forget these difficult things, these emotions -- and make personal friend. Then start to talk about these serious matters." (10 Questions for the Dalai Lama)

Peer mediation on SL and the net

Warren Sack mentioned (after his talk at SFAI on 11.19.08) that on the net, the Left and the Right only talk amongst themselves and seldom to each other in a productive way. This problem is less severe in newsgroups, as they are more peer-to-peer and less centralized than blogs which are controlled by blog managers. His piece Agonistics (see the entry below) tries to encourage more cooperative, less antagonistic discussions on the net by rewarding people who use keywords that are later taken up by others.

A mediator and software engineer, Ken White, goes one step further to suggest that it would be a good idea to teach people how to do peer mediation on the net. But can a mediation be done online because of the lack of facial expressions and other nonverbal cues? He pointed out that people online get into flame wars and thus it would be helpful for them to learn how to communicate better.

  Image: Community Boards

Article about CB:
CB web site:

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