We have a TV programme here in the UK called, ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ – as have a number of other countries around the world – which researches the family trees of everyday celebrities, taking them back to their roots. It makes fascinating television, indeed anyone who has ever spent time researching family history, whether their own or that of others – will tell you how compelling and all-consuming it can become. As for myself, i’ve teetered on the edge of researching my own family line a number of times over the years, but never found the time or sufficient inclination to tackle it properly. i have helped out a couple of friends with theirs, which has led to some late nights poring over old documents and has found me trudging around churchyards on more than one occasion. Perhaps one day, i’ll get around to doing it for myself!
What would really entice me is the thought that somewhere in my family history there’s something that links me to greatness or, better still, notoriety… however, i’m a pragmatist and i’m under no illusions that the majority of ancestral lives are little different from our own today – apart from the cars and TV programmes about family trees! Even so, those friends who have come to me for help with looking up their pasts are always genuinely enthused and excited about even the most common and unremarkable of their ancestors and most people’s family trees hide surprises, twists and conundrums that were never expected by those who come later. The Wizard of Oz scenario when the curtain is pulled back to reveal that the great Oz is actually a little man with a microphone is one that is played out frequently when researching one’s ancestry – people are often not always what they seem and can be very different from what have believed them to be, (see the link to Ainsley Harriott’s programme above, for a perfect example).
The same is, of course very true when it comes to sl – in the vast majority of cases, the avatars that surround us, whom we befriend, spend our time with and share our virtual lives are our only perception of the real people who created them. Unless we have had the opportunity to share our lives with another resident on a level that goes beyond the viewer, there’s no way of us knowing whether the representation of the person we see on the screen is in any way representative of them at all.
In sl, if we are to forge any sort of meaningful relationships with those around us, we are required to take them at face value and accept the face that they present to us through the virtual medium. This, inevitably can be fraught with difficulty, or makes life very easy, depending on your point of view.
Establishing relationships based on that understanding and not knowing the facts can lead to interesting and sometimes bizarre perceptions on our part of our virtual companions. With those whom we have made some sort of contact that goes beyond ‘inworld’, our mind-pictures can be essentially correct, and extremely close to reality – it’s surprising how little factual information we need to get close to the truth, much like that email that regularly does the rounds tlelnig us taht it dnsoe’t mttaer waht oderr the ltteres are in as lnog as the frsit and lsat oens are in the rhgit pcale – we fill in the blanks, and it can often be surprisingly accurate. However, without those essential facts, we can often seize on any morsels of information – whether or not factual – as a means of establishing our own picture of those around us, often with weird results.
To give you an example: i have an inworld acquaintance of whom i have some very clear, but almost certainly wildly inaccurate mental pictures of. At various times, depending on the particular snippets of information i’ve gleaned, i’ve imagined them to be on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, the president of some unknown independent territory and/or a female version of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman – this latter mental image has been conjured solely because she’s been known to go AFK with the words: “Off to feed the troops”! Crazy, i know, but that’s the weird way in which my mind works!
There are a few possible lessons to be learned from this:
1. It’s probably best not to look behind the curtain, unless you really do want to know what’s behind it;
2. It’s none of your business anyway;
3. Even if you tell people the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about your real life, complete with pictures and HD video, no-one’s going to believe it anyway;
4. It doesn’t matter;
5. No, really – it doesn’t matter;
6. What people imagine us to be is almost certainly far more interesting and fun than the reality;
7. If you want to be interesting, don’t tell anyone anything, (and wear a false moustache);
8. Never become associated with me, because it’s almost certain that my mental picture of you, based entirely on random nonsense, will be utterly terrifying!
Which leads to the inevitable and rather frightening question…
How do you picture me?
I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you
That I almost believe that they’re real
I’ve been living so long with my pictures of you
That I almost believe that the pictures are all I can feel
The Cure – Pictures Of You