Outside, it is snowing, as it has been on and off all day. I’m not hugely bothered by it – worst case scenario, if it continues tonight and tomorrow, I’m either facing a long, long journey home or an extra night away. However, it’s been a long and demanding day, during which for much of the time I’ve been both cold and wet.
I’m looking forward to getting back to the hotel, where I can have a hot cup of tea, a hot shower and put my feet up, maybe even have a bash at spending a bit of time inworld, if the hotel WiFi is up to it.
It turns out that it’s not. It’s actually pretty good, but the combination of that, my rather ancient netbook, and the way in which SL has developed in the few years since I last logged in from anything other than my desktop PC has contrived to reduce my inworld experience to something rather less than satisfying.
To begin with, Firestorm decides that my graphics capability is, well… hopeless. Most of what’s around me point-blank refuses to render – I’m surrounded by amorphous blobs, weird shapes and lattices and vast expanses of grey. When people finally rez, they never get beyond grey, featureless and motionless effigies; as for me, I haven’t even managed to get that far – I’m just a white egg, with a name floating above it.
Then the error messages start: SL fails to find various bits of first me, then my clothing in the database; my gestures totally fail to load and streaming audio and chat come in fits and starts, rendering me incapable of following any conversation or contributing in any meaningful way to what’s going on around me, not that I have any real idea what that might be anyway.
Suddenly, it dawn on me that it’s quite possible I’m stood in the midst of a group of friends whilst being rather lacking in various body parts and – more embarrassingly – my clothes. Thankfully, one kindly soul takes a reassuring screenshot: Everything is fine, thank goodness!
It’s a frustrating experience – away from home, tired and at a loose end, all I wanted was to touch base with a few SL friends and relax in good company for a couple of hours, but the technology has let me down and I’m disappointed. It’s an object lesson to me that advancing technology, although few would deny its benefits, becomes ever more demanding when it comes to the architecture upon which it relies. The trouble is, there’s really no alternative – other that resorting to a text viewer, like Radegast – which I’m afraid I don’t find at all appealing – there’s just nothing else that will fit the bill; there’s no such thing as a low-fat SL if you want sound, vision and real time interaction.
Looking to the future, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see a thin client for SL that won’t demand that our machines be capable of being faster, stronger and better than ever before. Cold comfort perhaps to those who might struggle to keep pace with changing tech and will slowly see SL become clunkier and less efficient as time goes on. However this is nothing new: as new features, better viewers and greater functionality have regularly demanded that the systems we run them on are themselves constantly upgraded and fit for purpose – it’s the nature of the technology beast, and there’s no way we can escape that harsh reality.
It still comes as a bit of a shock though when you’re left with no choice other than to try and persuade something less than ideal to support your SL habit and it’s just not up to the job.
At least I’ll be back home soon where I can revel in the joys of good old, all-singing, all-dancing SL… and hopefully, fully-clothed and in possession of all my bits too!
The simple things you see are all complicated
I look pretty young, but I’m just back-dated, yeah
The Who – Substitute