Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Multiply and Conquer

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Multiply and Conquer

Article excerpt

Justin Campbell liked to walk as he thought, especially when weather this warm and sunny came through in the middle of November. And he liked working at Stanford's student health, talking with students about their problems, giving them relaxation techniques and other ways to cope with the strain of being at a high-pressure university like this one.

But feeling powerless, that he didn't like.

The mind was a complicated place, he'd be the first to admit it. And an advanced degree in psychology didn't make you any kind of expert on why people felt what they did. But by and large, if you had a good enough collection of tools, some clinical experience, and some common sense, you could usually help people make their world a better place. Most of the time. This hadn't been a good week. In the last two days he had seen ten students, all deeply disturbed because they felt they'd lost something they thought irreplaceable. In a computer.

He sighed. Cyberspace was supposed to empower the human psyche, not damage it. Despite long conversations with the students, he was still mystified.

He'd done plenty of his own graduate research on cyberspace personas, on how people present themselves in artificial realities. He still remembered the middle aged woman who always preferred to be invisible in any cyberspace virtual reality. After months of working with her, they together discovered when she'd lost her self esteem by trying to make herself into what her father wanted her to be, even to the point of making herself a sexual servant for him. Justin had helped her express sorrow and fury and finally her c-space persona had begun to change, first into a glowing light, finally into a woman.

Angst over the loss of a particular persona was understandable, but he didn't quite understand what had happened in the Scape last week or why it had affected so many so strongly. If there were ten students actually willing to seek him out for help, then there were twenty more who were keeping it to themselves, and that did disturb him.

A problem is an opportunity in disguise, he told himself. The fact that he didn't understand only meant that he had a chance to find out. Adventure, he thought wryly.

He watched his striped pink and white running shoes pad over the grey cement path--a clean, neat world against the hard grey of the real world, where things got dirty. Was that what it was to project yourself into a cyberspace and then come back?

He sighed. He had ten students in real pain, mourning the deaths of their constructed selves in this new cyberspace called the Scape, which ran a program named "ALICE." He knew one of the researchers on the project, had done some undergraduate work with her years ago. Maybe he should pay her a visit.

The vendors outside the student union were all dressed gaudily for the holiday, little sparkling turkeys everywhere. Strange how the vegetarianism fad of the late '90s--the so-called "cultural reevaluation"--had given way in the next decade to this new, no-apologies-made, proud to be at the top of the food chain, sort of carnivore lust.

We are alive the turkey signs seemed to say. And we prove it by eating other animals.

Was that why people put so much of themselves into this Scape cyberspace, at the risk of losing so much? Was it just another way of proving that they were alive?

Yes, it was time for a visit. He wandered east, past the chapel with its vivid stained-glass windows, through the red-brick courtyard, and to the computer science department. Perhaps, he thought as he looked up her name on the list of instructors, he should have called or sent email rather than just showing up on her doorstep. Instead he knocked.

Deborah Moreno was a slender woman, short dark hair, with simple features that now turned into a not-so simple smile as she opened the door.

"Justin, hello. What a surprise. Come on in."

"Am I interrupting? …

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