It’s similar to ‘look who’s driving my car syndrome’ – i used to own a mini; a proper ‘Italian Job’ one, not like the modern tat they’re turning out, it was red with a white roof and white stripes on the bonnet. It was a sad day that i finally parted company with it… actually, it turned out to be quite a lot less sad when i found out that a fuel pipe had come loose and set fire to the engine on the journey to its new home! i have fond memories of that car – so much so that i’ve bought my own sl version – it’s not quite the same, but it’s close. When you drive a distinctive car like that, you develop an amazing acuity for spotting other cars of the same type and it seems to you that almost every other car on the road is of the same family as yours… That’s ‘look who’s driving my car syndrome’.
It doesn’t always work that way – i also, shamefacedly admit to once owning a Renault 9 and, to this day, i don’t think i’ve ever seen another one on the road. Maybe it’s because they had something called a transverse engine, which apparently means that the slightest repairs cost millions of pounds to fix!
However, i digress. In broader terms, ‘look who’s driving my car syndrome’ becomes apparent when something catches your attention, or is pointed out to you, that you hadn’t really thought of before and suddenly you’re spotting examples of it everywhere. So, if someone happens to mention in passing, ‘isn’t it strange how many bald people are left-handed and taller than average’, suddenly everywhere you look, you’re spotting follicly-challenged sinistromanual giants!
Such was the case recently when i read in another blog, that somebody preferred to be a bit of a loner when in sl and, with that playing on my mind, it seemed that in almost every profile i subsequently perved checked out, i was finding comments about ‘wanting to be alone’, ‘not in sl for socialising’, or ‘I keep myself to myself’. It seems that many of those in sl do not wholeheartedly embrace the social, networking or group ethos. Personally, i don’t see anything wrong in that and, although i’m often involved in group events and social activities within sl, i can be equally happy when left to my own devices and there will sometimes be occasions when i positively shun company and even resent that people can interrupt me with IMs, or know that i’m inworld. The fact that there are residents like me, who for at least some of the time they’re logged in, are anti-social gits only goes to underline why sl is so different to many of the other online environments that it’s often lumped with.
Without getting into the whole ‘What is SL’ debate or trying to define what exactly makes a ‘virtual world’, i think it’s easier just to chip away at the issue and consider what sl patently is not. Many would insist that sl is a social network – albeit one with a fancy 3D graphic interface – and it’s an understandable position to take, although i’d argue it’s a completely false premise. The clue both lies in the nomenclature – ‘social network’ – and the fundamental principles that are common to all social networking platforms.
Whether we look at Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Orkut, Cyworld, Tuenti… and so on – all of which easily fall under the umbrella of social networking platforms – a single defining principle becomes very clear: every social network functions by virtue of its users collaborating, sharing information and interacting with each other either in realtime or as part of a ‘conversation’ – without this interaction, collaboration and sharing, there is no network and absolutely no point to the platform.
Now, if we look at sl, we can indeed see all of the same characteristics evident – there’s a great deal of interaction, sharing of information and collaboration between residents which takes place pretty much continually, however it is not fundamental to the way in which sl functions. In sl, social networking is an optional extra and there is nothing to stop any resident from going it alone, severing all social ties and simply living our their own sl existence, in their own way: even if every resident decided to go solo, sl would still survive and flourish, albeit in a somewhat different fashion to what happens now. Theoretically, at least, we could all decide to live on our own private island and create our own little piece of sl with absolutely no contact with the ‘outside world’. In some ways, most of us adopt that particular strategy on a more ad hoc basis, fairly regularly – for example, when i go shopping in sl, i much prefer to be the only person in a store and if there are others present, i tend to find my own space, rather than mingle with the group. It’s certainly a rare occasion that i will ‘network’ or enter into a conversation with anyone else who happens to be there – as much is true when shopping in rl too; another sign that sl resembles the real world, rather than a social network.
Take away the aforementioned elements from a social networking platform, and you have nothing left; take them away from sl and you still have a virtual world – it’s just that the virtual residents will go about their own lives in their own way. In the real world, i’m very much a loner – at times, almost reclusive – and, having spoken to many others who spend time in sl, i’m not the only one. Consequently, although i do use sl to network with others when i choose to, this being my second life, i also choose to have time to myself, just as i do in rl – time that reflects my rl nature. With any other platform, of the social network type, the only way to do this is either to disconnect completely, or to simply passively observe – in doing so, undermining and diminishing the whole network ethos and construct.
SL: social network? No – although elements of social networking exist within it. Virtual world? Yes – one in which we choose the lifestyle/s we wish to adopt.
Sit on my Facebook,
and let me Twitter all over you
come on over to Myspace
So I can make you scream Yahoo!
The Scribes – Sit On My Facebook (Internet Love Song)