It’s a good, robust, multi-purposeful word, that i tend to use a lot. One of the constant battles of trying to reconcile and write about two very different worlds is that there is so much that is esoteric, insubstantial and indefinable in any useful sense that you are sometimes hard pushed to come up with a term that is generic enough to encompass the ideas and concepts that are swimming around in your head, yet recognises that the indefinable, for the purposes of writing anyway, requires a defining quality.
That is where ‘stuff’ comes into its own.
i can talk about experiences, circumstances, emotions, feelings and a huge variety of other things – both sl and rl – without having to go into them in any great detail, or labour a point, and hopefully you’ll have a pretty good idea what i’m talking about. ‘Stuff’ is a catch-all expression that we somehow are able both to identify with and inherently understand, yet is sufficiently vague to allow us to interpret it in a way that has meaning for us – it’s also a very convenient shorthand. So, for example, i might say: “sl today has been really irritating… up to it’s usual stuff”, and you instantly know exactly what i mean and – by association – you have a pretty good idea of how i feel about it too. There’s no need to go into details about lag, bake-fail, crashing, or whatever else has been problematic: ‘stuff’ conveys everything you need to know, and does so exceptionally well.
Equally, i could say: “Sorry for today’s negative tone – there’s a whole heap of stuff going on rl” – no further explanation is needed. The term is ambiguous enough to cover a multitude of evils… everything from ‘i’m trying to cook supper, feed the cat and pay my bills as i write this’, to, ‘i’m having really hard time emotionally at the moment’ – the exact details are immaterial: ‘stuff’ glosses over the particulars and allows us to connect on a level that we understand and are are happy to deal with. So it may be that some readers would be uncomfortable knowing that i was working my way through profoundly difficult circumstances, but would happily sympathise with a wry smile if they thought i’d just had a difficult day in work.
All this stuff about ‘stuff’ came into my mind as i read a post by a fellow blogger and the comments that followed. You just knew from the tone of the post that the writer was going through incredibly difficult times and one of the commentators had noted how their own style of blogging was very different to that of the blogger who posted – for one, blogging was about letting the feelings out and, in a way, baring all to the world; the other avoided personal stuff at all costs, preferring to blog as their avatar and from their avatar’s point of view. Both provided catharsis but worked from completely opposite perspectives.
It raises, for me, an interesting point – both blogging and sl provide extremely effective filters between ourselves and those with whom we interact. They permit us the luxury of revealing as little, or as much, to those around as we choose; they provide us with the security of anonymity, should we wish, or the full-bright public gaze if we desire it – indeed, we have complete liberty to be selective in what we disclose to those around us in ways that would be pretty much impossible in rl. This effectively means that all of that ‘stuff’ that can cloud, illuminate, surround and affect our real lives can be filtered, watered-down, beefed-up, ignored or altered for the audience, (and for ourselves), that we are sharing our time and thoughts with. There are people i’ve come across in sl whom you would swear were the life and soul of the party, and yet their real lives are anything but; then again, there are those who bring their real lives lock, stock and barrel, right into their second lives and don’t care who knows it!
You might like to take a look at a fascinating article from the latest Journal of Virtual Worlds Research – (in fact there are a couple of papers in Volume 5 that deal with the issues of rl and virtual identities – well worth reading) – that effectively negates the whole SL=RL argument, a platitude that can be frequently seen adorning sl profiles. It acknowledges that sl facilitates the adoption of multiple virtual personalities, without the pathological implications that a a similar rl scenario would presume. It also considers the choice and control that a participant in sl has over every aspect of their virtual identity and comes to the compelling conclusion that however a person chooses to express themselves virtually – no matter how distantly removed from their real world identity – such a virtual identity should not be considered to be fake or fraudulent, since – with that element of choosing one’s virtual self – a person may consider their virtual identity to be more valid and real than their ‘real’ self. That contention merits a great deal of discussion!
Where is all this going? Simply this: we are only ever going to know those around us in sl and, for that matter, the blogosphere, to the extent that they are willing to reveal themselves to us. That itself is coloured by the way in which a person deals with their feelings, expresses themselves and by what they consider to be the ‘real’ person. It follows that, in traditional terms, someone in sl may elect to be 100% ‘themselves’ in their dealings with us, yet in doing so, would be unrecognisable to their closest friend in rl – it’s paradoxical, yet is a profound statement of how – given the opportunity provided by sl – we choose to answer that eternal question: “Who am i?”
What we are absolutely not – both in rl and sl – is what the ‘stuff’ surrounding us and filling our lives would have us be. The ‘me’ you meet in sl or on these pages is the distilled and filtered version that would otherwise be drowned out and contaminated by the stuff that is part and parcel of real life.
But I’m a substitute for another guy
I look pretty tall but my heels are high
The simple things you see are all complicated
I look pretty young, but I’m just back-dated, yeah
The Who – Substitute