Announcing: The Personal History Archive

Announcing: The Personal History Archive

This is the first of what I hope are several grassroots projects IPS will be running this year. I hope you'll contribute!

If you are interested in participating: There are a set of questions here. There is a lot of text on this page but it's mostly to let you know more about the project and what I'm doing. Feel free to skip it and dive in whenever you're ready!

What is this?

The purpose of this interview series is to gather personal stories about how each of us encounter and participate in virtual worlds. My motivation is both academic and personal. Responses will be collected and published here, and may form the basis of future related projects.

I think what we're doing online, and have been doing for decades now, is both 1. incredibly important and 2. Has significant implications for our collective future. I also don't think most coverage of social media or virtual worlds does a particularly good job of covering this "messy human stuff," and I'm not sure we do enough justice to ourselves in recognizing how much work we're doing at changing how the world works one relationship at a time.

While most discussion of virtual worlds leans into gadgetry, software and commerce, I’m more interested in how life online helped you find your people. Some of these stories do already exist online in the form of scattered personal blogs, videos and posts (and a few articles and books). I’m looking to collect and curate these together as an archive to make them easier to find and read, and also to foster more community reflection by encouraging each of you to contribute your own story.

I want to hear more about: how hanging out on MUDs 20 years ago changed your career aspirations, how you got a job through your friend on SecondLife. How virtual dance parties changed the way you play music or experience rave culture. How VR introduced you to afro-futurism, activist politics or just gave you a safe place to rest. I want to know how you met your chosen family, found a new kink or discovered something surprising about yourself. I want to hear what it means to you (good and bad) to be able to participate in activities without leaving your home, or what it means to you to be able to occupy a body or voice different than the one you were born with. I want to know how you grew up online, how you survived, and how all of this has changed you.

Who are you?

I am an artist, designer, software developer and academic who has been working in, on and around virtual worlds since I stumbled into text-based MU*s in the early 1990s. I've worked in virtual worlds directly, as an architect for virtual meetings for IBM, the curator of the IBM Exhibition Space and the University of Kentucky's first Visiting Curator in Virtual Arts. I organized the Social and the Spatial conference and I've spent many many hours building and gaming and hanging out with a lot of you. We have possibly met at a twitter meetup or at an OddBall or a WaffleFest, playing mini golf or at a dance event in VRC, or chilling at a virtual conference in AltSpace or SecondLife or VRC.

You might know me as Andrew, Tezcatlipoca or An.

A Few Notes on Word Choice

  • "Virtual Worlds" By this I am referring to any system with supports computer-mediated interpersonal communication. Typically you can expect this to be something like VRChat or SecondLife or a MUD or MUCK, but depending on your perspective this might equally be Roblox, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter or the Barnes & Noble comment section. I'm mostly interested in systems that help you relate with others rather than publish content or engage in flame wars (for instance, I might be interested in hearing about Instagram or your *chan life if you have a lively community you interact with there, but I'm not particularly interested in gaming social media or the celebrity/influencer/promotional life).
  • "Real-Life or IRL": For lack of a better term I use the phrase "real life" to mean your physical self, the name and body you exist in outside of the internet. I realize that for many people, virtual worlds are equally or even more significant and "real.” Our language fails to keep up.

Some Guidelines

  • The information you provide below (NOT including your personal contact information) is intended to be shared in public. Be as open as you like, but keep in mind that others may read what you write.
  • There are no "gotchas" and this isn't investigative journalism. Feel free to edit, embellish or outright lie if it suits you. Tell me the story you want to tell.
  • These questions are meant to be prompts. Please feel free to answer them in whatever way you chose, including skipping some entirely or responding with a different question or thoughts. There are no wrong answers.
  • I don't mind if you feel moved to geek-out about the broad future impact of new technologies, but mostly I'm interested in personal reflections. I'm less interested in how decentralized blockchain will revolutionize e-commerce and more interested in the money you lost during the SecondLife banking crisis, or that story about how you skipped work and flew across the country to meet a new friend.
  • Take your time, there's no rush.
  • Do you know someone else who has an interesting story they're willing to share? Forward them this! I'd love to hear it.


Note: You can participate by filling out this google form, thank you!

What name and pronouns do you want me to use?

How do you prefer to communicate?

Do you have an image of yourself you're willing to share?

What year were you born?

Where did you grow up? What was it like?

Do you remember the first time you connected to the Internet? What was it like? How did you get there?

Do you remember the first time you logged onto a social virtual world? What was the world? What was it like?

What does it meant to "go online?"

Do you think of the internet as a place?

Do you remember the first time you "clicked" with someone you met online? How did it feel? Was it different than real life?

Why are these relationships important to you?

Do you currently spend time in any virtual worlds? Which one(s)? How much time?

Are you interested in telling me more? If so, how would you like to proceed?

Anything else you'd like to ask or share?