There are some things in sl that leave me slightly bemused – it’s almost as if there are occasions where being abroad in a virtual world causes some societal norms to completely flip and what might be somewhat unexpected in the real world barely merits a second glance in the virtual world.
One area where this is very much apparent is the information that people choose to share in their profiles. It’s always struck me as faintly ridiculous that some people are incredibly coy about their real lives in their profile: ‘rl is rl, and that’s how it’s staying… don’t even ask me my time zone!’, yet turn over the page and they’ll go into the most intricate and graphic details about their sexuality, fantasies and roleplay limits in sl, with seemingly not the slightest hint of reticence.
No doubt, there’s a lot to be said for a degree of anonymity in sl – there’s nothing wrong with choosing what we reveal of our real selves to total strangers after all – and i daresay that same anonymity means we can relax our guardedness when it comes to telling people things about ourselves that perhaps we wouldn’t blurt out in public in rl, but it’s the extent to which this is accepted as nothing out of the ordinary that surprises me.
Just the other evening, i was sat on the harbour railing, passing the time with some friends, when a stranger appeared. Being the friendly types that we are, we invited her to join in the conversation… it turned out that she was a fan of ska music. That’s not all she was a fan of – the first clue was the bondage apparel she was sporting; the second, her tag, which proclaimed her to be the manager of a certain bondage Sim; as for her profile picks… i’ll leave that to your imagination! Now, i have nothing against people enjoying themselves however they choose to – whatever floats your boat is fine by me – and i’m not overly bothered by anybody expressing their personality; to be absolutely honest, we even had a little laugh and a joke about it in the course of our conversation. Our new friend came across as an intelligent, friendly and likeable person but, as i’ve felt many times before, the complete incongruity of the moment begs to be commented upon.
Imagine sitting with some friends in rl, chatting away about inconsequential things, as we do, when a stranger comes up and introduces themselves, and you invite them to take a seat… nothing unusual with that, but what would you think if that person was dressed in bondage gear? How would you feel if, during the course of the conversation, your new friend disclosed they were into bondage and various fetishes… would you feel entirely comfortable? i doubt it and i also doubt that it’s a scenario that most of us would never come across in our real lives.
i’m not sure that the anonymity of sl is so much a factor either – in rl, a random stranger tends to remain a complete stranger after they depart… If i should find myself next to you on a train journey, we could share all sorts of things about our respective lives, secure in the knowledge that, apart from that brief interlude when our lives have touched, the chances of our paths ever crossing again are minimal – so, in theory, there’s nothing stopping us from sharing our deepest secrets and fantasies… And it wouldn’t half brighten up a boring train journey! Yet this is something that few, if any of us, would ever do – put is in sl and, all of a sudden we feel the urge to disclose all those sordid details, and more to anybody and everybody and having done so, anybody who might want to look us up and contrive to cross our path again would have little difficulty in arranging it.
Perhaps sl truly is a ‘second’ life – one which, on some levels, is completely disconnected from the real world, even thought it is intimately connected with ourselves – because we choose those areas we wish to remain as our second life, distinct and apart from our first life, the normal rules of the real world cannot and do not apply; so we talk freely about ourselves, our feelings and our inner thoughts, in a way that would be taboo in polite society outside the virtual world; we disclose those things that remain secret in rl and choose to keep secret those things that are common knowledge in the real world. It’s a topsy-turvy and somewhat baffling experience and yet it is one that seems to be accepted without a second thought in sl and, surprisingly, it seems to work.
In the back
In the closets of your mind
That’s where skeletons and dirty secrets hide
And I’ll rip out my insides
And leave them on display for you tonight
Good Charlotte – Secrets