Why is it that whenever i catch a train, things always turn out to be a little surreal? Today’s trip was no exception – for once, i’d managed to arrive early for my train, early enough to have time to pen a quick 100-word story whilst sat on the platform. Then the inevitable happened – glancing up at the train indicator board, i read the dread news that my train had been severely delayed because of a broken-down freight train… which is, of course, why my train appeared a full five minutes early! Nothing makes any sense.
As i clambered on board, i spotted a notice at the carriage door: ‘For the comfort and safety of our passengers closed-circuit TV cameras are installed on this train’.
Now, i don’t know about you, but being filmed by closed-circuit, or any other type of camera, is one of those things that i’m never going to equate with comfort – put me in front of a camera of any sort and i squirm. They do say that Britain has more video surveillance cameras than any other country – that’s something i try not to think about too much; i don’t find it terribly reassuring. In fact, the thought that nameless, faceless men in white shirts and dark suits are spying on me and everything i do is something i find rather creepy, as is the thought that great swathes of my life are being digitally encoded, recorded and stored, ready for instant retrieval and playback at the whim of complete strangers.
Considering the above, i realise just how odd that must sound coming from someone like me – someone who is more than happy to have their life digitally encoded in a virtual world, is perfectly happy that their words are recorded for posterity in the chat logs of whoever happens to be passing and has no problem with being cammed from any and all angles whilst inworld. Weirder still, i have no problems with laying my whole virtual life open to public scrutiny in the pages of this blog.
Perhaps this is one of those occasions when our assumptions about the real and virtual worlds really are fundamentally and tangentially different.
In the real world, our expectation is that we are afforded privacy and that nobody has implied permission to invade our ‘airspace’, particularly covertly and without our knowledge. (The only exception to this rule occurs when using a mobile ‘phone on public transport, when it seems that – without exception – people are more than happy to broadcast their entire conversation at top volume to anybody within earshot!).
The world of sl is very different – here the expectation is that privacy is very much a luxury that we’re only afforded if we make the effort to seek it out. Indeed, we expect to be constantly visible and ‘in the public eye’, whether by virtue of other people’s cameras, chat logs, friend list notifications and their profile feeds. If we should ever choose to remove ourself completely from the public gaze, we can often feel awkward, uncomfortable and antisocial. There can’t be many of us who at sometime have set up their ‘busy’ or ‘unavailable’ tags to get on with some building or scripting, and not been painfully aware that we are actively ignoring and making ourselves inaccessible to our friends.
Whether we like it or not, sl is a ‘social’ network. It works best when we interact with others and, very often, that interaction requires that we lose our inhibitions, our reticence and any right to privacy we may feel we possess. Even so, there are those in sl who – for whatever reason – feel uncomfortable with this state of affairs, even though they still demand full participation in things in every other regard. You’ll see them threatening dire consequences in their profiles for misuse of chat logs, along with disclaimers that no permission is given to quote them or to use their images… these people clearly don’t understand the fundamental nature of sl. My personal favourite is the unsolicited surprise IM: “Why are you camming me?” – i like to respond to that one with, “My superiors are concerned that you may be an enemy agent sent to infiltrate and destabilise our organisation”.
We accept in rl that we are going to be watched, that our lives will be monitored and our actions viewed by, perhaps thousands, of people on a daily basis who we’ll never meet, and without our express permission to do so. Why should sl be any different? And, if you still think being watched every moment you’re in sl is an unacceptable invasion of privacy, then i suggest you take a good long look at what the person sat at your keyboard is doing every time you log in! If you’re still not happy, perhaps you should just mute your speakers and switch off your screen!
Every move you make
Every vow you break
Every smile you fake
Every claim you stake
I’ll be watching you
The Police – Every Breath You Take