Wary of the Web?

229644_10151649324901264_357480897_nA friend asked me a question yesterday, a question for which i’m struggling to come up with an answer. He wondered why it is that only a relatively small proportion of residents seem to make use of the web tab on their profiles. He was surprised that so few people use the space to expand and build upon what they put in their sl, rl and picks tabs, using the redoubtable power of the Web.

My initial thought was that people are just not aware that they can customise this part of their profile – perhaps because the tab comes pre-populated with those loathsome, (in my opinion, anyway), ‘My Second Life’ profile feeds, it simply never occurs to the individual that they can customise what appears there. Since i happen to hale from the days before web profiles reared their ugly head, this was never an issue for me: for as long as i can remember, the very blog that you’re reading has been part of my profile, providing anyone who cares to take a look with a seemingly inexhaustible, and completely customisable, insight into who i am, and what i’m about.

webMy friend was a little surprised that relatively few people take the opportunity to insert a YouTube clip of their favourite music – something that surprises me too, particularly since a great many of us stud our profiles with hyperlinks to that site, detailing the songs and music that floats our own particular boat. Coming to think of it, when you consider the vast potential that being able to provide a live feed to any web page has, it’s amazing how few profiles we see include pages from Plurk, Flickr, personal blogs and websites when the Lindens have effectively given us a blank canvas upon which to express ourselves, or from a different perspective, a completely free advertising opportunity!

Having considered the matter further, i’ve come to the conclusion that it can’t simply be a case of ignorance, or lack of knowledge – i think there’s something deeper, perhaps overtly but more likely at a subconscious level, that influences our willingness – or rather, lack of will – to make use of this particular feature.

There are many who choose to keep their rl completely separate from their sl… open up a bunch of profiles at random and very few will contain much that reveals anything about their outside existence. Few will use a rl picture, and many profiles will explicitly state that rl and sl are separate entities, and never the twain shall meet. Even those who don’t mind connecting the outside world with the virtual will often stop short of what we in the blogosphere quaintly term ‘full disclosure’. For example, many residents will maintain both a real life Facebook profile, for real life friends, family and colleagues, along with a completely separate Facebook profile for their avatar and there is often a distinct and impermeable delineation between the two.

The key point, for me, is that for a great many of us, sl is an extremely parochial environment, with clearly and strongly defined boundaries. We tend towards a ‘tourbus’ mentality – whatever happens in sl, stays within sl, or is kept within strict parameters – if we were to allow that tightly managed virtual reality to leak out into the wider world, or for that matter, the wider web, we create a breach of confidence and security that – on an emotional level – destabilises us and makes us extremely wary. If we bring the wider world – or the web – into a closer relationship with sl than that with which we’re comfortable, through devices such as web profiles, friend feeds and profile web pages then we risk crossing that intangible line between real and virtual and stepping into the uncanny valley.

You may argue that there’s little or no difference between providing a Youtube URL in a profile and displaying that page on a web tab, but to my mind there is. You can choose whether or not to click on a link, and by doing so you are physically opening part of the real world but outside the confines of sl – the separation is maintained. Web tabs, on the other hand, have the capacity to bring the outside world right into the virtual world – they cross the boundary, no matter how artificial, that we choose to impose between the two worlds, and they do so without our permission… it’s a bit like your boss walking in on a private conversation that has nothing to do with work – it’s uncomfortable, unwelcome and disorientating – we simply don’t like it.

That’s my take on it, anyway… what do you think?

s. x

I know where I am and going to
It’s somewhere I won’t preview
Don’t have to explain myself to you
I don’t give two fucks about your review
The Jam – This Is The Modern World

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