50 Shades of grey

Am i the only person in the world who hasn’t read this book? Quite possibly, since it seems that the sole topic of conversation amongst my colleagues at work and pretty much everybody else i come across revolves around it at the moment. i see people reading it on the train, waiting for buses, sitting in coffee shops and parks.

In some ways, not having read the book – and not having any intention to do so – is a bit like having a Second Life account, only in reverse: you’re surrounded by people in the real world who have absolutely no idea that you have an ‘alternative existence’. It’s an isolating feeling – a whole area of your life where you have no common ground and no shared points of reference. If you tried talking about it, others would look at you, sightly bemused and without real understanding, and so you’re distanced, not part of the mainstream  – there are, of course, no external differences, nothing you could hang a label on or that shouts out “i’m different.. not one of the crowd – i walk my own individual pathway!” – although it’s not really that dramatic, is it?

So being the odd one out in the crowd makes you a kind of misfit of your own design – the thing which defines the crowd – in this case a commonality created by being joint partakers of a particular book, or as in my example above, the majority not having an sl account – is the thing that alienates you; not in any significant way, even so, you’re aware that you are ‘different’.

Even though i’ve no interest in the book, it’s inevitable that i’ve picked up a few pointers as to its contents, here and there, simply through the involuntary exposure to it that i’ve received via those around me who insist on incessantly yacking about how great it is – although more sober reviewers seem to have given it a somewhat cooler reception. There is one aspect of the book that intrigues me though: the title.

The first thought that sprang to mind about the title, ’50 Shades of Grey’ – which probably says far more about me than most other things – was some vague notion that it might be a novel based in sl… the ‘shades of grey’ being an obtuse reference to the monochrome world we’re faced with following a login or teleport, whilst we wait for our textures to make an appearance.

Feeling this was almost certainly too fanciful an idea to be true – after all, there’s no way the Lab would have had the savvy to come up with such an effective advertising campaign, although, as i understand it, the book has its origins in the fan fiction that arose out of the Twilight franchise -Hmm: Vampires… perhaps the Lab is behind it after all? – Watch out for the fourth novel of the series, when it’s all revealed to be taking place in a virtual world, followed by an influx of vampire noobs all wanting to do ‘teh sex’, of the deviant variety! (Nothing new there, then).

Dismissing such nonsense, my next thought was that the book was a guide to interior decorating, the title being derived from those paint colour cards you can pick up from DIY stores… “Shall we go for dove grey, plover grey or battleship in a hazy sea mist grey? Or perhaps you’d prefer white with a hint of grey, or maybe light grey with a touch of extra grey?” – Even i realised this couldn’t be the case… sex sells, not DIY (less of the sniggering at the back, i’m well aware of the double-entendre, thank you!).

Having now been enlightened, i realise that the Grey of the title is, in fact the main protagonist, Christian Grey, although where the 50 shades come in seems to be less well defined, depending on whom you ask for information. The best i’ve been able to come up with is that this relates to the different aspects of his character and the way in which he chooses to assert himself, which in a roundabout way, brings me back to sl.

Let’s think for a moment about alts. People have alts for many and varied different reasons – from the purely practical, through to the mischievous. To me, the most fascinating thing about anyone having an alt, is the way in which the same person often chooses to represent themselves in a way that is completely different in style, dress, activities and manner than their primary account – even if there appears to be no practical purpose for doing so. i have friends whose alts are wholly unlike their ‘normal’ selves and, in fact, i find that the way i behave around them changes to fit in with the alternative representation.

However, this ability to change ourselves completely isn’t limited to alts – many of us can find that a simple change of avatar, skin, hair, or even just a change of attire can radically alter the way in which we behave and react within sl, even though we are essentially exactly the same person and nothing about who we intrinsically are has altered. Of course, the same can be seen in rl too – power-dressing, for example can alter both the way in which we are perceived by others but can also alter our own behaviours to a degree that can be quite remarkable.

What is different about sl is not simply the ease with which we can slip into these alternative identities but also the relaxing of those natural inhibitions that prevent us from doing so in rl – when in sl, the risks of being ‘someone else’, distinct and different from being recognisably ‘us’, are lowered to the point where we can change to another ‘shade’ of our identity with little to fear or cause to think twice. Whether this is always a good thing, i don’t know – but most of us do it, and perhaps more frequently than we realise. Oh my!

s. x

‘Cause I’m not like everybody else, 
I’m not like everybody else. 
The Kinks – I’m Not Like Everybody Else 

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