Do you ever get embarrassed on behalf of others? – The parents with the screaming child having a tantrum on the floor of the supermarket aisle; the guy who drops all his change on the bus and has to scrabble on hands and knees for his errant coinage; the person in the car in front, completely unable to reverse into that space that the space shuttle could easily negotiate?
These are the people whose embarrassment is not only appreciated from a distance, but i also experience it vicariously along with them – i cringe inwardly, look the other way out of shame and i feel their pain, even though we’ve never met.
Maybe it’s because we’ve all been there, or somewhere similar, at some time or other: We’ve all experienced at first hand that hot flush of colour in our cheeks, the grovelling apologetics and the feeling of sheer helplessness as our life goes pear-shaped in the full glare of the public gaze. It’s a form of empathy, born of the happy knowledge that – this time, at least – it’s not us that’s being made to look the fool. Even so, we feel their pain.
It’s a feeling not limited to the real world – we can experience that same relieved sympathy with those suffering around us in sl too and, because of the peculiar circumstances that being in a virtual world can contrive, sl manages to wreak its own particularly horrific form of cringing embarrassment – let’s face it, it doesn’t take much for sl to make us feel a complete idiot and a dork of the first order, particularly when we find ourselves reduced to the sort of fumbling ineptitude that makes us look like complete noobs!
We can, of course, come up with fairly reasonable excuses for such behaviour – often hiding behind the convenient fallback of good old lag and, it’s fair to say, this evil genius of virtuality is most effective at turning us into shambling buffoons. Only this week, whilst exploring a new store on a Sim that certainly felt like it was fighting a losing battle with the lag monster, i watched sympathetically as customers struggled to maintain a semblance of dignity… people hung suspended in mid-air for no apparent reason, whilst one poor soul fitfully flapped about outside, bumping against the windows, like a demented bluebottle. By far the worst though was the unfortunate girl who ran, for all she was worth across the entire length of the store, only to go crashing into the wall on the opposite side, where she stuck, fitfully waving her arms and legs in some bizarre ballet of awkwardness. i couldn’t help but feel for her.
We can all think of occasions when we’ve seen people struggle like that in sl and it’s resonated strongly with us… but, all too often, it’s ourselves that are on the receiving end. How many times have i bumbled around a Sim, colliding with buildings, trees and other avatars, with seemingly no control over my body, or its movements?; What about the occasions i find myself completely incapable of typing in anything that remotely resembles any recognisable language?; Or, there’s the times i’ve flown across the room as the result of an inadvertent double-click; or wandered around oblivious to the fact that i’m wearing odd shoes, one set of fingernails and two completely different hairstyles!
It’s at times like this that i can almost feel a palpable wave of sympathy washing towards me from those nearby… it’s quite obvious i’m being a fool, but i’ve absolutely no idea at all in what way that might be, until some kind soul sends me a quiet IM… “Did you know that your boobs are on public display?”
Am i just inept, or is it the Lindens getting their own back for something nasty i’ve said about them in the past? Or is is simply that sl has this effect on people, turning even the most well-adjusted, organised and self-controlled of us into rambling, shambling, helpless wrecks?
The room was dark and my skeleton was floating on the wall
My voice trembles inside me
I’m trapped way down in my body
Crash Test Dummies – Here I Stand Before Me