If there’s one thing we can be sure of, people are very different from their real world selves when they are in sl. Many that i’ve spoken to will say that they are less reserved, more outgoing, and less inhibited in sl than in their real lives; for many, sl is an opportunity to explore ideas, pathways and leanings that are either impossible or untenable in rl. Indeed there are a large number of people who will say that the representation of the person you’ll meet in the virtual world is far more ‘themself’ than the person you will meet in the flesh – possibly the most absurd contradiction of all, but then again, perhaps also the most revealing of insights.
That is not something with which i have a problem, but i can’t help wondering sometimes just how much my perception of the person, gathered from my interaction with them inworld, may be very different from the reality – and, if people really are very different when they’re logged in to the person who goes about their daily life outside sl, then how much is my perception of them coloured by their virtual behaviour?
If we’re talking practicalities, then the answer to those questions is quite possibly, ‘it doesn’t matter’ – if i’m only ever going to spend time with you inworld, does it really make any odds whether the avatar bears any resemblance, in any way, to the person behind it? Probably not – ignorance, as they say, is bliss and in many ways it’s a lot easier to get to know and socialise with someone on a virtual level, that it can be to reconcile two very different, yet the very same, personalities that form the two sides of the sl/rl coin. That’s not to say it can’t be done – many inhabitants of sl have no problem with this sort of dilemma: within my own circle of sl friends and acquaintances there a quite a few who socialise with each other in both worlds, indeed, i can think of at least three couples i know who met in sl and have successfully, and very happily, developed that relationship into one that spans both worlds.
Long-time adherents of this blog and close friends will know that i am not one of those people. When it comes to the division between real and second lives, i tend to see either/or and that dividing line is, for me at least, a difficult one to cross. You might imagine that there’s a simple explanation for this – but it’s actually quite a complex set of factors that result in the stratification of worlds in my mind, and much of it boils down to the point i made at the head of this post: the person behind the avatar, through design or ‘accident’ is highly likely to differ from their inworld persona in, often very fundamental, ways. Anyone who has ever corresponded with me outside of sl will attest to the fact that this is entirely true when it comes to myself.
Inworld, i am gregarious, fun, sociable and utterly bonkers – sometimes i have to consciously make an effort to shut myself up and let somebody else get a word in edgeways, and yes – i am one of those who would say that this is more representative of the ‘real me’ than you would ever see in the real world. Take me even a small step distant from sl and my personal changes dramatically – there are few people indeed, even close friends from sl with whom i’ve made connections outside the virtual environment, who will ever have received a chatty, amusing or sociable e-mail, or for that matter any correspondence that is more than a couple of lines of bare facts and information. Gone is the gregarious, risk-taking, typo-monster – instead you’ll find a person for whom normal conversation and social interaction is insanely difficult. (So if you ever do get an e-mail from me along the lines of “Hi, here’s that thing i promised to send you. Bye!”, it’s not that i’m being rude, i simply clammed up beyond any hope of recovery after the “Hi”!)
Sad, isn’t it?
Sometimes i do have a crazy moment and think it would be amazing to meet up with someone from sl in the real world, maybe go for a drink or play tennis, or whatever it is that normal people do… but then sanity asserts itself and i safely rationalise myself out of trouble.
The way i see it, sl is sl – rl is rl and, until i can be convinced otherwise, never the twain shall meet. You see, i really enjoy the illusion that sl weaves – the happy, crazy, clever, chatty people that i surround myself with and count myself to be fortunate to know – but the point is that it is only their sl persona that i really know, and it that illusion was to be tarnished or shattered, things could never be the same again. What if that incredibly talented, funny guy that i know so well in sl turned out to be an insufferable bore, with bad breath and an irritating manner in rl? What if that daft girl, with the ridiculously tall avatar and the terribly inappropriate topics of conversation inworld turned out to be ridiculously short, terribly staid and awfully sensible when away from her laptop? Just as bad… what if i turned out to be a massive disappointment to you?
How could we retain the rosy-hued picture we’d built up of each other, if we knew the reality would make us feel nauseous if we had to spend more than ten minutes in each other’s company? Bitter experience has taught us that, in so many things, the reality is never as palatable as the imagined reality… so, to avoid disappointment, maybe i’ll just stick to my imaginary friends. Will you be my imaginary friend too?
I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.
See how they run like pigs from a gun, see how they fly.
The Beatles – I Am The Walrus