The SLENZ Update – No 85, May 19, 2009

More in mind of beholders than real?

A new take on internet addiction


Internet addiction – a question of perception.
Picture courtesy:

When the preconceptions of  “digital newcomers” and “digital outsiders” are removed from the equation, the prevalence of internet addiction  appears to be limited, according to Dr Nicola F. Johnson, of the University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia,  in a recently released a book.

“Digital outsiders (and some digital newcomers) find it unfathomable to understand the preoccupation that digital insiders have with their online lives,” Johnson argues in her  The Multiplicities of Internet Addiction – The Misrecognition of Leisure and Learning, which is available on Amazon at US$99.95.Johnson, N book

This is because, Johnson says, those those who are not experienced online (digital newcomers) and those who are not interested (digital outsiders) find it difficult to understand the value, worth and social capital received by avid users (digital insiders or those for who have been connected all their lives)  in what appears to be an unhealthy obsession. It is not what they – the newcomers and outsiders – did in times past.

“As I have argued,” Johnson (pictured lower left), a lecturer in curriculum and teacher education, says, ” these practices are not only misrecognised as obsessions or addictions, but they are misunderstood.”

Contesting the claim that computers – specifically internet use – are addictive, Johnson argues that the use of the internet is now a form of everyday leisure engaged in by many people in Western society and one which is reflective of the benefits and employment of microcomputers within society.

She does not assert, however, that internet addiction does not exist, just that it is a much smaller subset of use than usually claimed.

Leisure and learning

Instead she offers an analysis of the nature of addiction alongside an evaluation of the current  usage of computers, and explains how new learning spaces have developed which are also sites of leisure.

“These sites,” according to a publisher’s review of her book, “challenge traditional notions of childhood …”

Discussing  both leisure and learning in this digital age she “informs our understanding of the discourses surrounding internet addiction and our grasp of the emerging relationships between leisure and our learning, as well as the increasing blur between our private and public spheres,” the publisher says.

Blogger Lowell Cremorne describes the book in  Metaverse Health as an engaging read, “not least for the very objective look it takes at the concepts of internet addiction and framing the issue within the realities of a net-connected society that has changed immensely in the past 20 years or so.

She says, Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice is the frame for Johnson’s qualitative study of eight New Zealand teenagers and the illumination it provided on the perception of  dgital insiders, digital newcomers and digital outsiders. Additionally, Cremorne says, there’s some fascinating discussion on how expertise is being developed by digital insiders and how this expertise is, at best, only partially gained from the traditional educational institutions in place at present.

Johnson, Nicola F.It’s the elaboration of the experiences of these eight teens that allows Johnson to weave in a great deal of the substantive research that’s occurred into the nature of addiction in regard to online activity.

Although, according to Cremorne, the book’s research base means it’s more likely to be consumed and digested by those who are doing research or study in the area,  the book deserves wider recognition and debate.

“Work like this balances out some of the excesses on the mainstream media side of the equation,” she says. “It’s only a lack of dissemination of this perspective that will ensure the sensationalism camp prevails for some time to come.”

Born and bred in Tauranga, New Zealand, Johnson moved to the University of  Wollongong in February, 2007, to become a lecturer in the Faculty of Education (her blog). She previously taught in a New Zealand intermediate (middle school) for five years, working full-time while completing her Bachelor of Education degree, and beginning her Master of Education degree. In 2002, she opened a private music school teaching classical and contemporary guitar to students aged from 6-60 to support her full-time postgraduate study. She was awarded a Deakin University Postgraduate Research Scholarship in 2005 and 2006 and received her Ph.D in  2008 for her thesis on “Teenage Technological Experts: Bourdieu and the Performance of Expertise.”

The SLENZ Update – No 79, May 10, 2009


Is this the  the  route

education will take?


The CWRU virtual campus. Picture: Courtesy  Eduscape – Education in Second Life

University and tertiary institution administrations like to play God – or so I have been led to believe – so the experience of Case Western Reserve University, established 1826 in Cleveland, Ohio, in taking some of its Virtual World activities behind  a firewall could prove illuminating  for us all.

It also will provide  an opportunity for control – none of that sex, drugs and rock ‘n’roll, scantily-clad or naked avatars, and griefing,  that some conservatives see as the whole of Second Life – data privacy, confidentiality,  IT security, and, according to Wendy Shapiro (pictured right), the university’s senior academic-technology officer, in an Amanda Linden article in “EDUSCAPE – Education In Second Life”,  fulfills   two of the most important elements of a private educational Second Life “1) a multi-age platform and 2) privacy”.shapiro, Wendy

And when you host your own universe, as Shapiro noted, according to Marc Perry, from the Chronicle of Higher Education, “you get God privileges -You can control everything. You can control who comes in, who gets kicked off. You can control whether people walk or fly.”

CWRU,  the first educational institution to deploy the behind-the-firewall version of Second Life, codenamed ‘Nebraska’, in partnership with The New Media Consortium (NMC),  announced the move at the annual summit on technology and collaboration, CollabTech, held both on Case Western Reserve’s physical campus in Cleveland and their eight-island virtual campus in Second Life.

The reason for the partial move behind the firewall,  according to Perry quoting Larry Johnson, chief executive of the New Media Consortium, a Texas-based higher-education-technology group, is because CWRU’s medical school is interested in performing research involving personal medical histories (and) could use a private environment.

“I think that it’s going to solve a lot of issues that many institutions have with using virtual worlds in general.,” Johnson said. It’s the first step in allowing universities to begin to build their own grids.

“Another function would be programs that focus on both adults and kids,” he said. “Right now, adults need to undergo background checks to access the Second Life teen grid.

This would aid another use Case envisions for the ‘Nebraska’ environment which would involve the campus Hispanic club providing mentors to Cleveland public-school students in the online virtual world.

By the way Second Life is still  interested in getting participants in its beta program for the standalone version of Second Life (Contact: business at

Military training

US Air Force_002

The US Air Force’s MyBase in Second Life

Meanwhile Federal Computer Week recently published an interesting article the handful of  US Government agencies who have turned to virtual worlds to create programs that bring together the best aspects of Internet-based training and the traditional classroom.

It gives an overview of three, two of which will obviously become mainly behind firewall applications:

US Air Force: The Air Force’s training command entered the world of virtual learning in December, 2008, with the launch of MyBase,  in Second Life, with an aim to enhancing Air Force recruiting, training, education and operations and meet the education and training needs of future members of the Air Force. MyBase is currently open to the public but the Air Force plans to establish a secure site to provide virtual education and training, such as certification and degree programs, and later a second secure site to re-create operational environments. For example, it could re-create an air base in Iraq where service members could go to train and also meet others with whom they would deploy.

US National Guard: The Guard started the programme –  a virtual world designed to support training, education and collaboration across government – from scratch two-and-a-half years ago as a training and preparedness program for service members and civilian emergency managers. Lt. Col. Gregory Pickell, chief of the Joint Advanced Concepts Division’s Training Technology Branch at the National Guard Bureau, and in charge of the U.S. Nexus programme, believes it has a broader government application. “We found that the virtual word has the ability to bring people together in ways that are not possible in the real world,” he said. “If you have distance-based education, training or collaboration requirements, Nexus gives you more value for every mile between you and your audience.”  U.S. Nexus was developed for the Guard by Engineering and Computer Simulations. It will enter its beta test phase in June, with an initial operational capability slated for November. One of the objectives of U.S. Nexus is to redefine access to traditional distance-earning applications, making it easier to locate the appropriate course without Google searches or text links. Pickell said, aabout 80 percent of online courses are unknown to the user community because they are located at a university or behind a military firewall. “Our job is to find those applications and bring them into the [U.S. Nexus] parallel world architecture.” Users would access applications in ways that make sense to them, such as a firefighter taking a recertification course at a virtual firehouse. U.S. Nexus supports simultaneous training of geographically dispersed people at a lower cost than bringing them all together in a single place, Pickell said. DOD and the Veterans Affairs Department have discussed using U.S. Nexus to coordinate care for injured Iraq war veterans. The Defense Acquisition University, with more than 320,000 students worldwide, plans to use Nexus for a variety of requirements, including avatar-to-avatar synchronous classroom delivery.

Testing other VWs

US Navy: The Naval Undersea Warfare Center set up shop in Second Life about a year ago. “We have a responsibility… that we look globally for new technology,” Paul Lefebvre, technical director and senior civilian at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport, said. “This is technology that has potential for a lot of applications.” As the Navy’s undersea research and development lab, NUWC Division Newport was tasked with delivering better products to the fleet, Lefebvre said. “So we’re looking how to apply things like Second Life to the fleet,” he said. This includes how to use virtual worlds for operational testing, training, collaboration, product development and design work. This summer, NUWC Newport is planning an experiment that will create a virtual submarine attack center. Some fleet participants will take part in the exercise virtually, where they will access simulated scenarios and perform their mission in a virtual world. Others will take part traditionally, without the immersive experience. They will compare the results of the test to see how participants fare in each. In addition to Second Life NUWC  has tested OpenSimulator, Sun Wonderland, Forterra’s Olive and Qwaq Forums.