Despite our love affair with technology, it doesn’t matter how good, groundbreaking or high-quality it is, unless completely autonomous and self-programming, it will always suffer from one fatal flaw. Whether we’re talking cameras, phones, cars or virtual worlds, even the very best of them can deliver disappointly poor performance and results, and often produce outcomes that are completely botched, as soon as you introduce the human component.
We have smartphones now equipped with cameras that are on a par with a decent DSLR, and a whole suite of features and filters offering stiff competition with much of the basic photo editing software on the market, yet a quick trawl of any social media stream will reveal the stark truth: Thousands of poorly-composed, badly-lit, blurred, out-of-focus, rubbish photos. We’ve hardly progressed from the point-and-shoot classic cameras of the ’70s and ’80s that produced the sort of over-exposed, ‘oh dear, mum’s cut your head off again’ shots that fill my parents’ photo albums. The big difference is that hardly anyone sees those albums, whilst the whole world is able to view Jennie’s drunken night out duckface selfies, should they wish to do so, (but, why would you?).
Another pet peeve of mine is people listening to high-quality audio on tiny bluetooth speakers, paying no attention to placement, channel separation, environment or anything at all that is going to make music sound good. Better still, walking through the streets, blasting out distorted sounds from a phone, turne dup to full volume, clasped in a sweaty hand. They may as well be listening to music from a cheap cassette-tape played over a single mono PA speaker, for all the loss of quality they’re experiencing.
Then there are those – please tell me you’re not one of them – who insist on downloading movies in 1080p, or even 4K, and then watch them on a tiny laptop screen incapable of displaying HD. All that bandwidth, data and storage for absolutely no gain whatsoever!
What really galls me though is that it’s often the very same people who insist on having the latest tech, which they then misuse, who complain the most vociferously when things don’t turn out quite as expected. Like, for example, one of my more neanderthal relatives who thought they were the dog’s gonads for spending a fortune on a 60-inch, gesture-controlled 4K TV. They learned quickly that gesture-control doesn’t play nicely if you tend to ‘talk with your hands’ and that 4K programming is practically non-existent at the moment. So, a vast sum of money wasted on something that lets them watch Coronation Street at the same quality as everybody else, albeit on a massive screen that they have to sit too close to because the room was never designed for something that size. Oh, they also moan that movies look like daytime soap operas – a consequence of not reading the manual, and not adjusting the factory settings so that frame-interpolation wasn’t permanently switched on. I laughed at them, a lot!
Inevitably, the same issues occur in SL. The more features we get and the more capable the virtual environment becomes, the less that capability is understood and utilised, and the more people complain that it’s not working as they think it should – mainly as a result of their own ineptitude and unwillingness to set it up properly. I’ve even made the effort to prepare a proper scientific and exhaustively researched graph to illustrate the problem:
You may think I’ve been a little harsh in my estimation of SL user savvy, but trust me, I’m not. There are still masses of people out there happy to splash out on high-end gaming PCs and laptops, expensive graphics cards and super-fast internet who complain bitterly that they’re still only getting average performance from SL, because – no matter how many times you tell them that SL is incapable of capitalising on many of the features of modern technology because its architecture is so ancient – they still think throwing more money and tech at it from their end is going to improve their lot. That’s like giving a old, clapped-out car an expensive new coat of paint and alloy wheels, and expecting it to run smoother, faster and better than it did before!
It’s those same users who will jump on the latest inworld trendy bandwagon, without understanding how it will impact performance. The ‘must own the latest mesh body’ brigade, with all their accompanying HUDs and attachments – the ones who look glorious, but spend twenty minutes stood in one place complaining that nothing has rezzed yet. Heaven forbid that it might be something to do with that horribly un-optimised mesh body and head you’ve spent a fortune on, sweetheart.
And why, oh why, spend a month’s worth of poledancing tips on something that you then can’t be bothered to tweak to get the best from it? I still see mesh people walking round that have clearly had their head severed and sewn back on (or, in desperation, have resorted to the ‘unsuccessfully-hide-the-join-choker’), and I can’t help but stifle a laugh when I see people tottering around barefoot on tip-toe – I mean, it’s a couple of clicks at most to fix your feet; how hard can that be? Too hard, apparently, since some creators are catching on and now providing footwear not conventionally associated with standing on tip-toe, and no doubt, making a handsome profit from it. Easier to shell out on a new pair of shoes than fuss around making your feet look realistic.
Moving aside from those who want the newest and best inworld, then fail to understand or even try to make the most of it, we have the vast numbers of residents who are completely unaware of viewer functionality, any of the new and shiny features that the Lab has introduced over the last couple of years, or how to adjust their settings to optimise their inworld experience. I’m betting that ALM, EEP, animesh, pathfinding and so on, are barely on the radar for the vast majority of users, let alone understood, and they are hardly ever put to use – if at all – hence my graph above. The more features the Lab gives us, the less likely they are to see widespread use. Sometimes, it’s because of a lack of clear communication, often it’s because of poor design and complexity, but mostly it’s because of apathy from the user base.
Invariably, once again, those who do not want to try to improve their experience are the first to complain when things don’t work, lag and perform poorly. Now, I’m not saying that everybody needs to be an SL nerd, but if you’re not even prepared to read the friendly manual, take advice from those who do understand about how to improve your SLife, or make any effort to try to find out why things aren’t working for you, I don’t want to hear you whining on about how ‘broken’ SL is!
I’ll be brutal, I think that most SL residents fall into three categories:
- Those who try and work the problems, or at least ask for help
- Those who can’t be arsed, and whinge
- Those who haven’t a clue, and whinge
The first group I respect and will happily associate with, the others are those who’ll be on the receiving end of much eye-rolling and sighing. No doubt, the whingeing groups will argue that they should be able to log in to SL and have everything work perfectly; and, in a perfect world, we’d be able to do just that, but – like real life – SL is not, by any measure, a perfect world and therefore to expect it to work perfectly is unreasonable. I’d argue, however, that to stick one’s virtual head in the sand and not at least try to improve one’s own experience, and then complain, is also pretty unreasonable.
SL is insanely complex, and whilst it may not exactly be cutting-edge technology, it’s still pretty clever by anyone’s reckoning. That, by definition, means instability, challenges and unexpected outcomes, it also means there will be something of a learning curve if you wish to attain a degree of mastery or get the best from it, and if you don’t want to learn, well that’s your decision, but you then have to put up and shut up when it comes to the consequences. I’m not being mean, that’s just the way it is.
So, if we’re stuck with unhappy users who don’t want the bother of having to mess with settings or try to help themselves, is there anything that could be done from a design perspective to assist? Well, yes – we could have a two-tier viewer with separate modes: Numpty/Expert. In fact, the Lab tried this back in 2011, albeit with modes not quite as cynically named as I would have done, instead we had Basic and Advanced modes, and it bombed. Nobody liked it, nobody wanted it. The problem is that if you’re asking those who want all the bells and whistles, but not the hassle, to log in to a ‘no hassle mode’ that limits functionality, lowers performance and sets the bar at a height lower than they’re already used to, they won’t be interested, and they’ll just go back to using the higher-performance, but glitchier version and continue moaning about it. And that’s exactly what happened – nobody, apart from the most noobish of users wanted a basic viewer and it quietly slipped away to the digital trash heap.
Personally, I’m of the opinion that people will always complain, no matter how good things are; they will always use smart technology in a dumb way; and they will never look to themselves when it comes to finding solutions.
So, if there’s anything flawed with SL, it’s primarily the people using it!
Change your heart
Look around you
Change your heart
It will astound you
Beck – Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime