Give a Monkey a Hammer …

I’m sure that most everyone, especially most everyone on the internet, has heard of the old logical anecdote that if you had enough monkeys with enough typewriters and gave them enough time that they would ultimately be able to recreate the complete work of Hamlet by William Shakespeare.  For decades there has been much speculation as to just how plausible such a statement might be.  A veritable society formed to bring the theory into a standard.  Calculations were set, odds measured, algorithms established (and later revised), and simulators were developed to try to randomly produce the presumed results. The Monkey Shakespeare Simulator website was one such attempt, but it appears to have gone defunct.
To date, only the minutest successes have been reported in the endeavor to validate the miracles of probability through random infinites mingled with imaginary finites.  In fact, an actual study was conducted in 2003 with real live monkeys to ascertain if a limited experiment might produce anything measurable.  The study was conducted by the University of Plymouth Media Lab using one computer with keyboard, one month, and six Sulawesi Crested Macaques in the Paignton Zoo in Devon, England.  The results were astounding.  The monkeys managed to ledger approximately 5 pages of the letter “S”, just before the alpha male began demolishing the computer with a rock.  The other five led off into a pudding war against the keyboard; defecating and urinating on it.  What was the intention of those monkeys?  They saw something happen on the computer screen when they typed on the keyboard.  They responded.  What can we learn from them?
Okay, before we continue, I need to clarify something.  I do not want this article in any way to offend the dear monkey furries subscribing to The Konstrukt.  I’m a furry also and know just how demoralizing it can be to hear about the exploits of our wilderness counterparts.  We can be so harshly judged by their actions sometimes.  So, I make all apologies in advance to you wonderful furries out there reading this!  ::HUGS::
Let’s get back to what we can learn from the monkeys.  The monkeys were handed a tool which they were entirely unprepared and unequipped to implement in even the slightest of intended manners.  Honestly, didn’t the monkeys produce just the response we should have expected given established data about monkeys?  They could just as well have been given a simple hammer and yielded as much useful information.  So why not give them a hammer?  Perhaps it is because they are more likely to hurt themselves or others with that hammer.  And who are we to say we are not responsible for the actions of the monkey after having given them the tools?  Do we leave it up to the zoo-keepers to regulate hammer usage by monkeys that eventually prove more capable than others at utilizing the hammer in less destructive ways?  In short, monkeys tend to make poor random generators.  Plus, giving a monkey a hammer is naïve and irresponsible.
This all brings us to another question; this time, a very pertinent question.
How does all of this relate to the implementation of 3D Voice protocol to Second Life (SL)?
To answer this question I would first like to cover a variety of concerns and issues surrounding SL Voice.  Hopefully a clear, concise and objective presentation of the great amount of data I have collected will answer the question for us.  For it seems to me that, based on evidence gathered, SL Voice is to SL as a hammer might be to a group of monkeys.  That being said, allow me to present the case for SL Voice.
Over the weeks that led up to my installing the new SL Voice-enabled client, I had attended many discussion groups focused on whether or not Land Owners would enable voice on their Sim’s.  I also listened in, even contributed to countless arbitrary conversations about what the introduction of Voice might entail.  Voice accrued a vast and rapid levity among the populace of SL.  Virtually everyone was addressing it, cajoling this article out of necessity to delve into its ramifications as well as its intended benefits.
I will begin with the obvious and explore probably one of the most prevalent concerns the dear people of SL have.  What are the potentials for Voice “griefing”?  As we know, “griefers” are incredibly annoying.  They can’t actually harm your avatar in SL, but they can inconvenience you terribly.  Their goal is to make your SL experience as miserable as feasible.  In RL we would refer to them as sociopaths (ie, the 14 year old introverted net savvy that stumbles across a hacker trick and makes a worm virus out of their new but limited knowledge).  These people are the most likely to use the “hammer” to bonk themselves in the head, then fly into a rage of indignation and bonk another with their hammer.
With the new Voice toy in the hands of a griefer, one can only expect from understanding the griefer that they will use it to harm others.  Text forces people to think about what words they use in their responses.  Voice doesn’t have such a delay filter.  Consider the horrendous responses people get from random users viewing their videos on YouTube.com.  There you will find represented blatantly:  unbridled rage, anger, hate, racism, foul language and even physical threats.  These text responses were “thought about” before being submitted.  Voice is a much more open and less controlled medium of communication that requires far less thought, yet bears just as few real-time sociological and or physical ramifications and responsibilities as text does when on the internet.
So, knowing all of this, how has Linden Labs elected to protect SL residents from such abuses?  They have chosen to allow us to work out the specifics and to wash their hands of any responsibility for what the monkeys might do with the new LL hammer.  By saying that, I reflect on the fact that Voice in SL is being introduced as an unrestricted medium of communications, with impunity, as a gift to all, not as a privilege.
The worst aspect of Voice griefing is that there is no way to monitor Voice in SL indefinitely.  You could select to record all sound at all times wherever you go to capture what people are saying, assuming you have 100’s of gigabytes of hard disk space to spare and an incredibly fast computer to handle the load.  You could also just start recording when a griefer begins verbally abusing you or others.  But the viability of your recorded “evidence” is practically NULL_KEY.  That means, you cannot prove that your recording was actually taken from the avatar or account you purport.  Abuse Reports for Voice griefing will be entirely handled by the sophisticated system of “He said, she said,” and that of “It’s your word against theirs.”  All I can say…get ready for a virtual verbal pudding fight.  Every monkey gets their own hammer with no restrictions and no repercussions to their actions or grunty words.
Another much deeper, and somewhat obscured facet of this griefer diamond is the power to create social schisms based on presumption.  I have already seen it play out where someone adamant about the use of Voice attacked someone that preferred to not use Voice.  It did not matter to the advocate of Voice what the reasons were behind the other’s decision.  The Voice user right away typed their hateful surmisal that the other must be a “cross-dressing fag”.  After all, everyone disabled with vocal deterioration is a cross-dresser.  And everyone knows that the mute are all really homosexuals.  Let’s just forget about the deaf.  And let’s not even begin to consider those who would like to represent themselves in SL as fierce dragons, robots, mystical beasts of mythology, or even huge bear furries, yet have weak or tiny human larynxes in real life to ruin their fantasy.  Truth matters very little when compared to what people would rather believe or assume to be true.
This brings me to another important issue.  How does Voice effect role-players?  Well, a given fact is that no one has to even enable the Voice protocol in their client.  You do not have to listen.  You do not have to speak.  You can continue right along typing your little paws, claws or fingers away.  And everyone around you that would prefer to use their voices to communicate will most likely ignore your typewritten words.  In their defense, it takes a great deal of concerted effort and practice to respond adequately to text and Voice simultaneously.  Sure some can and will do that, but most won’t either bother or be able to.  Aside from that, Voice steals away from a citizen’s full immersion into their chosen role.  There is potential for the addition of many forms of social schism as a result of Voice stereotyping.
At this point I should mention that there are options available to assist the Voice-Identity of role-players.  These are called Voice Morphers.  These 3rd party software utilities interrupt the sound data coming into your computer through your microphone then alter its pitch and timber, apply effects, and more.   I found MorphVox Pro and AV Voice Changer Diamond to be among the preferred voice morphers.  These utilities are typically not free (although MorphVox offers a free “Junior” version), integrate well with SL Voice, but due to the complexity of voice waves, produce varied results.  Some prove better than others at different effects.
I would now like to approach the topic of spoken language versus written language.  Many are able to write or read other languages while being inept at speaking those languages.  One of the chief concerns I have seen among even those that embrace Voice is the lack of translation or the confusion of inaccurate enunciations.  Though still in development stages, in SL there is a tool available called Babbler; a device that attempts to translate text among various languages.  Decidedly no such tool exists for vocal translation.  Again a potential arises for some to be overlooked as Voice becomes more commonly a preferred method of communicating in SL classrooms or help zones.  SL is an environment with very few physical boundaries.  The linguistic exclusions inherent in Voice restore many of the lines separating cultures and peoples in RL.
Other online communities have managed to integrate Voice protocols in different fashions.  World of Warcraft (WoW), for instance, does not have a first party Voice client.  If Guilds or communities in WoW need voice for faster interactions in huge multi-player dungeon raids, they initiate vocal instances on one of the free third party Voice servers provided through Ventrilo or TeamSpeak.  These are usually tightly controlled and require a great deal of focus and attention to make them work.  Also, you have to earn your way into the raid team to begin with.  The intentions of SL Voice are not so carefully governed nor event-related, requiring no earned privileges or honor points to take advantage of it.  Comparisons being made between SL Voice and voice features in other virtual communities are irrelevant at best.
Second Life has always provided its residents with a strong sense of security against their real life information being exposed.  However, SL offers very little in the way of privacy.  Just a simple hold of the ALT key and a click will help your camera penetrate every solid wall or door and thereby violate any perceived sense of individual privacy rights.  Voice makes this even more intrusive.  You can set your new Voice client to attach to your avatar, or better yet, to your camera.  This means if you want to hear what three or more people are saying vocally to one another in a neighboring Voice-enabled parcel but don’t have access to just walk up to their home and open the door, you can still ALT your camera into their living room and listen in.  The new Voice client gives you the ability to mute others, but does not protect you from being heard by unapproved listeners.
I believe from my research that safe and more considerate means could be adopted to provide a superior experience with Voice chat from within SL.  Event-specific instances would enable teachers to conduct classes and invite students only.  They would also allow individuals to create party-line chats with their friends privately (not within public ear-shot).  Isolated public Voice chat zones could provide appreciable separations among those who approve or disapprove of Voice chat content.  The disabled or the impaired could use Voice chat in concert with speech – to – text and text – to – speech applications to add more accessibility options to SL.  IM initiations are a solid method of controlling who chats with whom and when; Voice IM’s (Calls) are actually a part of the new client.
In summary, the introduction of any new form requires the consideration of detriments versus benefits.  While Voice protocols would seem to have a potent place in classrooms, instance and situation-oriented events or in designated public Voice Chat zones, it seems that Linden Labs’ careless and wanton saturation of uncontrolled and immoderate Voice into their virtual world could prove to be far more harmful than helpful to anyone.  The key issues of “lack of control” and “potential for harm” combined with “inability to prove abuse” make a wide open invitation for chaos that many feel will inevitably harm this vast and sundry community.
Without isolation, privilege, accountability or privacy, Voice in SL could very well become a Pandora’s Box to release calamity into the toddler phase of our growth as a community.  Since the Voice client is still being tested in the state represented in this article, we can only hope that the greater society of SL will find ways of repelling its inherent flaws and harmful potentials when it is fully introduced.  This means more forthcoming work for the Land Owners of Second Life to meet OSHA guidelines requiring new anti-hammer-wielding-monkey safety helmets and ear plugs.
I feel without a doubt that the best way to approach SL Voice, the best advice anyone could give about all the countless concerns, fear or elations brought into SL by Voice is this.  Love one another.  No society can exist without unity.  No community can thrive without caring, charity, and inclusively, commune.  As a people stands for the greater good, calamity will lose its power and dissipate.  Voice is here for SL.  We must strive to make an effort perhaps greater than we might apply to real life community.  We must respect one another’s wishes, dreams, fantasies, hopes, desires, trusts, fears, joys and privacies, all regardless of Voice.  And we should learn to accept one another, not just tolerate or become indifferent towards those we don’t understand.  As in RL, nothing else will suffice to keep this dream alive and growing towards a bigger and better future.

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