Creatures of habit

comfortThe recent mini poll i conducted about switching from our viewer of choice confirmed two things for me: firstly, hardly anyone ever takes part in polls; and, secondly, when it comes to sl, we are very much creatures of habit.

It seems that – amongst the small number of people who responded – there’s a great deal of reticence to step outside our comfort zone and try something different to the norm. Now that, of course, may be perfectly justifiable and well-founded – when it comes to viewers, the official Linden one is not everyone’s cup of tea, and there may be perfectly reasonable reasons why we might shy away from even considering dabbling with it, over our normal choice of viewer, but it is a little odd when you consider we are, supposedly, a creative, cutting-edge, adventurous community who enjoy the challenge of exploring and building within an environment that many would consider to be alien and difficult to understand.

primternet_001Certainly, there can be a steep learning curve when changing viewers, and if a viewer doesn’t have the functionality that we take for granted with our existing choice, our reluctance to branch out is a little more understandable, but i’m not so convinced that our habitual preferences are always quite so solidly founded on practicality and owe more to a stubborn resistance to change – even when to do so is to our definite advantage. Take the, oh so predictable, tide of ire and discontent that inevitably follows any update of the Firestorm Viewer… why is it that so many, feel so strongly against upgrading? It would be so much more understandable if the developers were forcing people to switch to a new version that reduced functionality, but this isn’t the case, (the clue is in the word itself – ‘update’). Even so, it appears that there are still around 65 000 users clinging desperately to versions of Firestorm which lag behind the current versions by at least 4 releases – many of these users are employing viewers incapable of rendering mesh and completely incompatible with server-side avatar baking, yet they still rage and stamp their feet when Firestorm announces its intention to block them. You can’t help wondering whether these same people are sat watching the noise on their analogue TVs, swearing at their immobile leaded-fuel cars and cursing shop-keepers who refuse to accept payment in pounds, shillings and pence!

Why are so many of us content to stick with the old and dysfunctional, when ‘new and improved’ is there for the taking? Perhaps it’s because we’re inherently distrustful of ‘improvements’ – that’s understandable… Starburst will always be Opal Fruits to me, in the same way that Snickers will never be as good as Marathon, (and yes, they were appreciably bigger in the good old days!), but it’s pointless me refusing to eat the things until the powers that be recant, and rename them – i have to accept that change happens, and move with the times.

That said, i think there may be something deeper going on when it comes to sl, because this noticeable reticence to break away from our self-imposed comfort zones, can be seen across the board when it comes to sl, not just with our jealously guarding our choice of viewer. SL appears to be able to tap into a deeply-seated psychological need for order and routine. i’ve often written about how rarely i tend to break my own habits and routines inworld, and how i even have to make a conscious decision to do something different or unexpected. Inworld social activities, sl groups and our circles of friends encourage habitual behaviours and often constrain our movements along with what we do, when, where and with whom we do it. SL, is – for many of us, i suspect – actually a very small place indeed, with maybe just a handful of places and people with which we are intimately familiar.

waiting2_001Why this should be, i don’t know – perhaps it’s because, in a fundamental sense, sl is nothing like the real world. Unlike rl, we are very much in control of our virtual lives, but maybe because we are so conditioned to live in a world where our time, activities and location are so very much dictated by others… our work, our families and our responsibilities, when we’re set loose in the virtual world, where those considerations are far less limiting, we psychologically need to impose some form of constraint as a coping mechanism. They say that if you take an animal that has spent all its life in a cage, then one day remove the cage, the animal will continue to act as if the cage were still there… the world outside is just too challenging, too outside the norm to deal with – is this what happens to many of us in sl? Do we need to to build an imaginary ‘cage’ around ourselves, simply because sl offers a much wider, broader range of experience than the real world? And is that why we so often stubbornly cling to the known and familiar, even when to do so, makes no sense at all?

s. x

And doesn’t that sound familiar? Doesn’t that hit too close to home?
Doesn’t that make you shiver; the way things could’ve gone?
And doesn’t it feel peculiar when everyone wants a little more?
Missy Higgins – Scar

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