Always read the label

We’ve all been waiting with bated breath to see the return of sl second names, wondering what sort of choice of name we might have and how the new system will sit alongside the existing legacy naming conventions. Then came The Bombshell, (although to even know that any announcement had been made about it requires detective skills that even Inspector Morse would have been proud of!) – i shall refrain from commenting on what i think about the conclusion that the lab have drawn, although i could come up several choice names myself for those admirable Lindens who have, once again, failed to come up with a solution to a problem that they created in the first place! Guys, have you not heard the phrase, ‘if it ain’t broke – don’t try and fix it!’?

Names in both rl and sl are an important part of our identity – unfortunately in rl most of us are stuck with names that we’ve had no part in choosing and although it’s perfectly possible to adopt a new and different name, the practicalities of doing so rarely make it worthwhile.  In sl, things are a little different – even though we may not have had the luxury of selecting exactly the name  we wanted to be known by, we’ve certainly had some element of choice and it’s quite clear from the people you meet inworld that many have seized the opportunity as a means of self-expression denied to them in the real world.

It’s a little odd that display names haven’t turned out to be all they’re cracked up to be – maybe it’s because they confuse the issue so much; you have no idea how those around you have set their preferences and therefore no idea how you’re being identified by their viewer which tends to mean that a display name only really means anything to the person who owns it. Those around them, with display names turned off, will have no idea that a particular person wishes to be known as someone else, and those who have both display and normal names visible have to make a choice as to which they’re going to plump for. Since display names needn’t be unique, the element of individuality is also lost and, as a feature, display names have never really taken off.

Whilst we’re considering the veritable mountain of text that can pile up above somebody’s head, it’s worth taking a look at the tags that people around us may be sporting, because unlike display names, these labels have become a means of expression that the vast majority of us really have bought into and as a result, they are probably far more potent in their effect and influence than many of us realise.

At their simplest, our group tag can simply indicate our allegiance to a particular business or venue – but the very fact that we’re prepared to display such a connection in public speaks volumes. Here’s somewhere that we’re proud to be associated with – a place that we’re boasting about, in a way – it’s the sl equivalent of a designer label; one that says to others ‘look where i shop’… ‘look at the great place i’m connected with’… ‘i’m proud to be part of this group!’ It’s a powerful and very public statement which says just as much about the wearer as the group that they’re publicising. Then, of course, many tags include a  ‘job description’ – DJ, owner, greeter, dancer, manager – although it’s far more than just a title: Having something of this nature in our tag imbues a certain status, it sets us above the rank and file and, even if the title means relatively little to ourselves, it certainly elevates us in the eyes of those around us – it’s no surprise that many stores give out a ‘VIP’ tag simply for joining their group!

Many of us customise our tags so that they reflect our status, our character, or feelings, some have a humorous twist or communicate a message about ourselves that we can’t convey in our name alone. i’ve been wearing my ::Cyber Anarchist:: tag for a while now, ever since i tried to break into Linden Lab’s secret inworld HQ, in fact… It sums up exactly how i feel at the moment: i’m going through a rebellious, disrespectful and subversive period and that’s reflected in the way i present myself – both in my appearance and what i proclaim through my tag, (although there was a briefly bizarre moment when a friend misread it as ‘Cyber Antichrist’!)

You see, labels are powerful… They define us – our tag can reflect and can dictate our actions, even our moral standards when it is on display and, more so than our name, we can so strongly relate to the label that we wear that it’s effect can be seen in our words, actions and even our thoughts. In The 5th Discipline – pretty much established as the authoritative text in ‘popular’ approaches to systems thinking Peter Senge gives an account of a group of lathe operators in a factory who chose redundancy over re-training in a different skill – their argument: ‘I’m a lathe operator, how can I be anything else but a lathe operator?’ Such is the power of the labels with which we are bestowed in rl. (Coming to think of it, Rodvik – i’ve no doubt you’ve read that book… how well do you reckon Linden Lab squares up against it?).

Whatever our label may be: ‘Trouble-maker’; ‘Weakling’; ‘Disabled’; ‘Geek’; ‘Loser’; ‘High-achiever’; ‘Lonely’; ‘Failure’; ‘Typical bloke’; ‘Woman’… The list is endless, but these labels exert a shockingly tight hold over our lives – once labelled, whether by ourselves or others, it is hard to break that grip, and the impact they can have on our behaviours, achievements and attitude can’t be under-estimated.

i wouldn’t under-estimate the power of labels in sl either – when i wear my ::Cyber Anarchist:: tag, that’s exactly what i am; it’s how i see myself and it influences my actions – yet i’m the same person as the one who doesn’t wear a tag at all – i can’t help feeling that’s a dangerous place to be! 

s. x

They call me quiet girl
But I’m a riot 
Mary-Jo-lisa
Always the same
That’s not my name
The Ting Tings – That’s Not My Name 

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3 Responses to Always read the label

  1. Pingback: WHAT IS THIS CRAP? » Weekend? Sure… I’ll take one. Got any extras?

  2. shauna says:

    Wow. We both wrote about names today. For different reasons, but cool we were both thinking about names! Nice article, Boots.

    • It’s almost freaky, Shauna – i wrote this over a week ago and it just happened to come to the top of the pile on the day the announcement about last names was made! (Cue Twilight Zone music… Doo doo doo do…)

      s. x

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