A recent inworld conversation with a friend served to highlight a sneaking suspicion, borne out of experience, that i’ve had for a while. The gist of it is that, although many of us blur the line between sl and rl to the extent that both lives are, in their own way, equally valid there is nevertheless a distinction that most of us are apt to draw – a line that, when it is crossed, makes us rather uncomfortable.

Whilst we may have no qualms about sharing all sorts of details about our lives on the keyboard side of our screens with our sl friends, the same rarely holds true when it comes to sharing our sl activities with our real world associates. We may happily talk about what we get up to in our daily lives, our plans and experiences, even sharing personal and private things with those on our sl friends list, we can be extremely reticent when it comes to talking about the virtual world with our real life friends. To even think about divulging our online adventures to rl friends, family and colleagues is anathema to many of us – even the thought of it makes us squirm, to the extent that there are almost certainly many thousands of sl residents who would rather walk barefoot over hot coals than let on to an acquaintance that they live a virtual existence.

It seems strange that in a society where to have a virtual persona is considered almost mandatory, and to have some sort of online presence is part of everyday life, so many of us still prefer to shy away from sharing our SLexistence with others. we may be more than happy to give out our Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn profile details to anybody who asks for them – but how many of us would find it as easy to give out our sl profile details, or even admit to having one? Oddly, such reticence seems to be specific to sl; few people seem to mind anyone knowing they’re into WoW, Minecraft, Half Life or GTA but, when it comes to sl, we clam up completely.

Real life? Could be!

i think this reluctance to open up about our SLives is fundamentally tied to the nature of sl itself – and it all boils down to the never-ending debate about whether sl is a game or not. Whatever your point of view, (you can always put me straight in the comments!), can i ask you to take the view, for the sake of this particular contention, that sl is not a game, rather it is a virtual world, in which we live out our virtual lives. Therefore, although within sl our virtual life may well include gameplay elements like slaying orcs, ravishing dragons, being rescued by princesses and re-living the Festival of Britain in period costume, there is another, far subtler process taking place that makes sl fundamentally different from other online communities. That process is the building of relationships: making friends, (and enemies), forging emotional connections and sharing our thoughts, feelings and character with those around us.

SL is so conducive to the building of this kind of relationship that we are able to build strong friendships, and more, with a whole range of people who are completely distinct and separate from our real lives. More than that, we have some very strong commonalities that bring us even closer together than if we are considering the rl equivalent relationship – underpinning everything is our shared experience of sl, then there’s the focussing of experience and preference that sl brings: shared interests through groups, locations and activities – the chances are that we will find our sl friends have far more in common with us than many of our rl friends, simply because sl has a habit of bringing like-minded people together. That still only partly explains why we’re often so willing to share our rl experiences with sl friends, but let’s not forget the degree of anonymity that sl brings – no body language, no eye contact, frequently no voice and the liberty to pick and choose precisely what we wish to disclose, with no other clues as to who we are in rl. We can’t forget the physical distance over which sl facilitates relationships either – our friends may be in the same space as us in sl, but in reality they can be anywhere in the world – therefore we can feel close, without the sometimes discomfiting feeling that ‘connecting’ with someone physically, visually or aurally can have – sl is an eminently safe environment, where we set our own limits.

So, that’s why we can talk about our real lives to our sl friends – but why don’t we feel the same ease about discussing our sl activities with ‘real’ people? i’d say that exactly the same rationale applies – all of those things that encourage closeness to others in sl are the very things that can’t apply to rl relationships, or if they do, they take a great deal of time, trust and hard work to nurture and encourage. For many of us sl, and the people in it, are an important and significant aspect of our lives – one which when translated into rl terms can seem very personal, fragile and private. In sl anyone we come across is guaranteed to have experience and a certain understanding of both the real world and the virtual – not so in rl, and to entrust someone who lacks that basic understanding of what sl can mean to us with those private, fragile and personal aspects of our lives is, for very many of us, just too much to ask.

Y’know, sometimes i have days when i look around the people i know in rl and wonder just how many of them also have a second life… one that they’re never going to let slip?

s. x

Can’t you see
What this crazy life is doing to me
Life is just a fantasy
Can you live this fantasy life
Aldo Nova – Fantasy

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4 Responses to SL ≠ RL

  1. SpaceCase says:

    I too sometimes wonder how many people I know in RL are also in SL. I would be very curious to find out if ever there was a RL “SL member outing day” where everyone had an AV name over their head or something. lol

    I have had a hard time even mentioning SL to RL friends. It’s very odd how others react. I don’t know if it is because of popular news stories that SL is full of degenerates, or if it is just something others can’t understand at all. That’s why it is easier to me to speak of RL in SL, because we *all* have a RL. Speaking of SL to people in RL has handed me the following events…

    Early on when I told a friend about SL and spending time in it, they went off on a tirade that if they were to go into “something like that” to please “kill them”. I’m not sure what would’ve prompted such a visceral reaction except maybe they had visited before and had a bad experience? I really don’t know, but it was a bit extreme if they had never heard of it before. Or perhaps the idea of it *is* that scary to some people.

    Next one, I had seen a blog post that mentioned the parents of a close friend from high school days were doing musical performances in SL. The friend is pretty tech savvy, an artist, and a musician, we’ve sort of kept in touch over the years, so I thought to myself: “Oh wow, this is cool! I wonder if they are in SL too?”. So I shot them a PM on facebook with a link to the post saying something like, “It’s so neat your parents are performing in SL. I’ll have to try and catch a show sometime”. I never heard a word back.

    The last is a long time close friend who is also a geek and into tech. They even visited SL with me once years ago when SL was in it’s boom days and asked SL questions afterwards, so I knew they had a concept of SL. Recently I told them about my blog just to show what I have been up to lately, and *no* response at all to the email.

    It’s all very strange, but RL can’t seem to grasp SL. Or we’re all just a bunch of freaking weirdos after all (which I’m content with as well). 😉

    • Wouldn’t it be great if we could port our nametags and profiles to rl? – Strictly visible to other sl residents only, of course, for all the reasons you mention!

      Discretion seems to be very much the order of the day when it comes to mixing the two worlds; to assume that those whom we know are going to have an open mind on the subject – even those who we may think have links to sl, like your Facebook friend – is often an invitation to be spurned and avoided, although i still can’t work out why sl should be any different from any number of other similar pursuits and activities!

      It strikes me that this negativity may well be one of the key obstacles to the poor retention figures for new sl sign-ups – maybe it’s not just the difficult interface and the lack of ‘gameplay’ that puts people off, (although i’m sure that’s a significant factor), but just maybe, new users experience exactly the same response that we ‘old-hands’ face when talking to others about their virtual explorations… who, after all, is going to stick with a pursuit that will lose them friendships, respect and respectability?

      i guess not everyone can cope with being a freaking weirdo! 🙂

      s. x

  2. For me, there is an avoidance of Facebook-like cross contamination. I have introduced a few ppl to SL, always as an alt. I do not want them even knowing my SL identity until they have been in-world for a year and know the rules.
    Then there is the whole “isn’t that some kind of weird sex game” thing – – – – .
    Still, it would be nice to have some RL advertising stuff, caps, t-shirts and such. Just the eye-in-hand and “your world, your imagination” as conversation starters.

  3. monti paule says:

    Maybe one of the reasons why people are open in Secondlife is when logging in, simultaneously they are also connecting to a conduit and influenced in their thoughts which is more conducive to relating to others in comparison to reality of which they are not aware.
    Technology allows the brain to be scanned and observed. But neurologists cannot scan thoughts. Neurologists can apply various stimuli asking the patient what is felt and what’s the reaction, but they don’t know what the mind is thinking. Nor can neurologists be 100% sure the electrical impulses they are observing are a result of that person’s particular consciousness or from some other incoming source. I know this sounds absurd, most neurologists would agree.But they are looking at consciousness and the brain in an external logical way rather than from a multi dimensional view of the mind and consciousness beyond the 3-D rotation, where thoughts fly back and forth instantly and automatically.
    There is no space in consciousness, no distance ,there are levels of perception layered by oscillations like layers of sedimentary rock, but it’s all the same earth. Every bit of the global mind is technically able to be aware of every other bit and an individual’s awareness is limited by development. The consciousness we are all aware of the thing we call our mind is trained by its social situation, environment, and its location in a 3-D state. When in a social environment ideas coming in from others doesn’t seem strange because they are coming in from minds which are similarly likewise programmed. It’s hard for individuals to realise some thoughts coming into their mind may not be there own.If an incoming thought is alien because it expresses a totally unknown idea or technology then an individual might be able to recognise it as not their own thought because of the realisation it expresses a totally unknown idea or technology which they could never have known about. But ideas flooding in are from ordinary people with the same ideas and motivations as themselves. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what one’s ideas and impulses are and what comes from other individuals, or even the collective mind of humankind. Often people think of an idea only to later discover it’s already been thought of. iI’s natural to presume one’s idea is ones own.
    Rupert Sheldrake talks a lot about morphic resonance. He maintains we are all interconnected so that when one person learns a task it’s somehow precipitated into the collective mind, and it automatically becomes easier for others to learn the same task. Evidence of this occurred after Roger Bannister managed to run a four-minute mile. For thousands of years people tried to accomplish this feat but as soon as Roger Bannister did it a barrier was broken and several others did exactly the same as Bannister shortly thereafter. Sheldrake says for example, that through morphic resonance people doing the crossword puzzle in the evening find it easier to do than people who did it in the morning when the paper first came out. Because there had already been a impact on that morphic field. The answers had been deduced by others.
    Similarly Second life creates a morphic field. it’s more precise because of the real-time focus and concentration of people Intensity as they are devoid of their surroundings while focused projecting into the 3-D reality
    The processes of symbiosis in thought and emotion occurring creates a foundation from which all emanates.The morphic Influence brings together those who are of like mind without people realising it.Enabling them to make friends easier than they otherwise would in reality. As a child feels secure in the presence of its parents similarly with an underlying presence of those would have been there and done that, The morphic influence causes people to share their experience according to an intrinsic value of self seeking reciprocation.People learn from those who have been there and done that, Nurturing of the intellect can be profound and private experience. It’s difficult to explain to the uninitiated, and compromised by the familiarity of those friends in reality.

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