Archive for December, 2006

What is my point?

Posted in cyberlaw, Cyberlaw Project on December 8th, 2006

I have been working with a fellow student on our projects. We have met to go over code issues when his blog wasn’t aligning properly (I’m an old hand at html) and have had a few discussions about our projects. After the in-class discussion, he e-mailed me on a matter that had been troubling me – what is the goal of my project?

A student pointed out that if I simply wanted to advocate for cafeteria plans, pitting the childfree against parents isn’t the best way to accomplish that. They’re right. Yet when I considered scrapping the whole Childfree Issues thing and focusing on the plan itself, the idea left me cold. It was more than just the fact that I would have to start from square one. It just wasn’t my goal.

My classmate’s email helped me hone in on the problem:

i had some thoughts on your project. i think your benefits issue and invisibility issue are kind of tension with one another and it’s probably best to focus on one for the purposes of the project. the benefits issue as you express it doesn’t seem to have a lot of appeal to parents or companies – they’re not getting anything out of this – as i understand it, you’re appealing to their basic sense of fairness, which is especially difficult if they’re not sympathetic to the childfree issue. i’d think the best way to get support on the cafeteria plan would be to show how this could benefit all kinds of employees, i.e. giving them more choice, as opposed to making it a “childfree rights” sort of issue.
the problem with that kind of argument is that it makes the childfree constituency more “invisible.” my gut reaction is that the best idea is to compartmentalize the benefits and childfree-awareness issues into separate projects.
hope this helps,
The invisibility I had mentioned is my project. However, getting the childfree recognized as an interest group is a project that can last for years, probably decades.

The first step is to get people to self-identify. While there is a vocal childfree community, the majority of people who will choose to have children do not join it. I have friends who don’t want kids, and they do not make friends on that basis, or even attach a label to it. It is not something they seek out. Furthermore, as a commenter on my blog noted:

The childfree person is seen as disparaging the lifestyle choices of parents and syblings of alternate views by speaking out about not having children. . . .Many childfree people simply decline to talk about it to avoid arguments that have no fundamental solution because it would equate with the “your living your life wrong” arguments that generally have no result other than to fracture relationships.

If the real challenge is to get people to admit to ones around them that they don’t want children, (the compounding effect being the recognition of that subgroup by society) then first one must change society itself to make it more of an acceptable choice and erase that stigma. It is a cyclical process – one feeds into the other. It also happens to be a process I started a long time ago, the first time I went on CNN to discuss my choice. By being just a normal couple speaking openly about a very personal decision, Vinny and I hoped to break stereotypes and make Americans realize that some people just don’t want kids.

Obviously, this aim is a bit large for a single semester project. What I am trying to do is the second step – getting those who do self-identify to speak more openly and address the issues that are common to all of us.

My goal, simply put, is motivation.

People complain frequently on childfree discussion boards about various unfair policies, such as taxes, employee benefits, stork spots, etc. I have noticed for some time the lack of any sort of organization to channel the frustration people were feeling into action. By creating that channel, I can harness the energy that is already out there and translate it into visibility, into advocacy. If people call talk shows, write letters to the editor, and talk more about these issues, even the small subset of childless people who already self-identify as childfree can make more of an impact than they are now.

This is why my project is two-part and two-stage: the blog to last long after class and the website to begin advocacy on a single issue. It can help to get the ball rolling, show people what to do and embody the future of my project for the purposes of the course.

Since the goal is motivation, divorcing the dichotomy from the project is counter-productive. I don’t want workplace benefits, I want childfree people to start feeling less invisible, or at least to see that visibility is within their power.

I’m not sure how well I can compartmentalize – it is certainly possible to create a separate project just to hone in on the benefits package. Perhaps I can package this separate project as a tool for those I am trying to motivate.

One thing is for sure. Nothing ends when I hand this in.

(In case you’re wondering, the poster is from Australia, which spells sibling differently)

Second Life, Part Two (Project Fest)

Posted in cyberlaw, Cyberlaw Project, Second Life on December 8th, 2006

I entered Second Life today, probably at the expense of the Constitutional Law work sitting in front of me. It feels strange to be doing something so closely related to how I previously entertained myself, even if it is for a course.

On the syllabus there was scheduled a “Second Life Fest” for both the law and extension school students, apparently mandatory for the latter. I suppose I am not up to date on their altered syllabus, since there were not too many people there. Fortunately, I did run into a few ‘at-large’ participants who were interested in discussing the projects (although they had not done projects of their own) and was able to observe those portions and representations of ES projects that were stationed in Second Life. I viewed websites advocating warnings before an avatar enters a mature area, a project about Second Life, specifically Linden Labs owning the creations of the users.

The person who asked about my project had already seen the video, but I was able to discuss it more. I realized that my project was requiring a little too much in the way of explanation, and created a gateway page for entering the website and blog… I might have to refine it, but it forced me to state more clearly what I am trying to accomplish. I also altered the text on the “What Can I Do?” page of the site to reflect the aim, which is a very abstract goal of sheer awareness… More on that later.

Second Life – Part One (A Changing Society)

Posted in cyberlaw, Cyberlaw Project, Second Life, The Internet, Wikis on December 8th, 2006

The course has simultaneously been going on as an extension school course and a project for the internet community at large. Many of the meetings have been taking place in Second Life, a virtual community. In the beginning of the course, we were instructed to download the program and create an avatar. We were later paired up for tours of Second Life (but of course by then I had begun exploring on my own).

I was a beta tester for the Sims Online. In college, Sim City was about the best way to waste time; a shared addiction to that game united me with another young dormer who is now (11 years later) my husband. When the Sims was released I was nearly as enthusiastic, and would spend way too much time teaching my Sims to cook, making sure they slept. The Sims Online was a place to unite with others playing the game. You could join up and make pizza for profit, combine your profits to buy land and build a house.

When the beta test was up, I was offered the chance to stay on, keep my character and her money and all she had accomplish. Perhaps at the cost of all I had accomplished. A monthly fee plus my spare time was too high a cost . . .

Second Life, on the other hand, is free and far less addictive. Instead of doing repetitive tasks to earn money, you can create and share items, which people do, freely. Since an item can be replicated, it is far more of a collaborative environment. You can earn money in-game, and I’m sure people do, but many people are just there to learn, to create, and to share.

It does have a strong connection to many other things in the course, such as Creative Commons, Copy Left, the GNU Software License, and Wikis, especially Wikipedia. People operate by something other than market forces, in a decentralized way to build upon what each other has created and improve it. This is more than just technology, this is a change in culture itself fostered by that technology. Perhaps those of us who marvel at the technological age we are living in will not see it until the future, but we might be living though changes larger than we realize. . .

Class Discussion

Posted in cyberlaw, Cyberlaw Project on December 5th, 2006

The video of my presentation to the class is posted here. I presented starting at 1:38 Tuesday.

Our class uses the question tool – a means by which the students in the class submit and vote on questions to the presenter. I didn’t get to address all the questions during my presentation, but posted the discussion here.

Collaboration . . .

Posted in cyberlaw on December 1st, 2006

So much of the work I have been putting into this is invisible. Since I have already been in the childfree internet community for some time, I am generally aware of what is out there on the internet. Mostly, it is a lot of discussion boards and a few personal blogs. However, a few sites have stood out (as mentioned below) and I asked their creators to participate.

Originally, this request was aimed at getting better content on my website. There have been unexpected, but happy results.

1. Disagreement. I knew that a lot of parents would be opposed to the idea of extending additional benefits to childfree people, feeling that since they are working very hard and making a contribution to society, they deserve extra help. What I did not anticipate is that childfree people would also be opposed to the project. Therefore, I could not possibly have expected and addressed heir concerns. The first participant, the creator of Purple Women, submitted an opposition essay, which I promptly placed above my own essay written from the perspective of the other side for the earlier class assignment.

I was then able to counter or address (and concede) her points – therefore strengthening my own position. Learning the perspective of your opponents does more than allow you to seem sympathetic and to get their attention, it cal also help you see what in your own side may be going unsaid. It made it clear to me that I need to narrow my aim a bit. I redid the entire project with an eye toward emphasising the voluntary aspect of the project. Specifically, the idea that it might make childfree employees less attractive necessitates this approach. A voluntary plan (rather than putting heavy pressure on companies) would mean the only companies affected were those who are already actively trying to recruit childless employees.

2. Promotion. The creator of the childfree podcast asked if she wanted me to do her show next week on the topic! Getting collaborators means that more people will have a more personal investment in the project, and therefore are more likely to promote it. By targeting those who run popular sites, the people promoting my project are now the people who have the ability to drive more traffic to it.

3. Editing. A third collaborator is an editor and writer- a published one! I failed to anticipate that it was her editing skills that would be brought to bear, but indeed they have.

4. A Different Focus. Lastly, i asked the founder of No Kidding! to contribute. He was able to write a piece incorporating the experiences of many different people, since he has spent 25 years getting e-mails from childfree people about their experiences. His focus was less on benefits and more on the workplace generally, which was just great. I hadn’t thought to include a portion about it, but it is a great companion to the project, especially since I am often mentioning that hard-to-change cultural differences make even official benefits all the more important.

I have a week left, and am still waiting to see what others might do to contribute. I am starting to use my other media – my blog and website – to drive traffic to the project. Hopefully, comments will star building on the blog and the project – both the immediate benefits project and the larger advocacy project – will grow.