It’s a Tuesday evening, I’ve arrived home, made a cuppa, caught up with my emails and my usual ports of call on the Web, before settling down to a couple of hours writing – interspersed with more tea – eventually putting the blog to bed at around 9.00pm. At which point, I’m usually wondering where on earth the evening has gone, and I really should throw something together for tea. Depending on my mood, food will normally follow and then my thoughts will turn to SL and unwinding.
Once inworld, my evening becomes less structured, but in recent weeks I’ve been gravitating to my local pub. That might seem an odd thing to say about SL, but in many ways The Killing Moon fulfils all the requirements that a ‘local’ in RL will posess. Friends who live on the sim, as well as those who’ve set up home elsewhere, will drop in to socialise, the occasional stranger will wander by, and somebody will regularly do the virtual equivalent of ‘feeding the jukebox’, and we’ll enjoy the music together. We might feel like a dance, whilst others will quietly enjoy a game of dice, or sit around chatting. It’s a relaxed, completely unorganised get together – no tips, no greeters, no agenda and no expectations – just a group of people getting together to while away the evening. As the time passes, people start to drift away, leaving a few die-hard punters to eke out the last minutes before chucking our time. It’s fun.
And it begs the question, why on earth am I spending my time socialising online in a virtual setting when I could be doing the self-came thing in a real pub, amongst living, breathing people, and getting out of the house, rather than spending the vast bulk of my free time sat in front of a computer screen? Is the internet redefining – or ruining – social interaction?
If nothing else, social media and its bedfellows have changed the way in which we relate to one another – in may ways, it’s broken down boundaries to socialising that previously would have been difficult, if not impossible to overcome. Distance, time differences, and cultural barriers need no longer separate friends – indeed, the whole concept of friendship is being revolutionised. To be somebody’s friend in the virtual world is about building a persona: A life made of snapshots and snippets, sound bites and clips; we pick and choose what we’ll share, and with whom – virtual friendship is not about spending time getting to know another person, it’s about others letting us see the edited highlights of their life.
That’s a very different scenario to spending an evening in the local pub with a group of friends, and for the socially awkward, shy and retiring, it’s a game changer – far easier to enjoy an evening’s company online, than face-to-face, even with good friends… And therein lies another point. To go out and meet with friends takes effort; not so bad if you’re going straight from work to the nearest establishment with a group of colleagues, but it becomes increasingly more problematic the further removed you are. Friends living at a distance, family commitments, transport arrangements, timing and venue can all contrive to make a simple night out a major logistical exercise and when you start throwing in taxi fares and the ever-increasing cost of a night out, sometimes the outcome simply isn’t worth the effort… how many of us have made our excuses, rather than go through the hassle of getting organised, or simply can’t afford to spend the cash?
Then – unfortunately – there are those of us with few friends, or through circumstances may find it difficult to link up with what friends we have – maybe a move to a new locality, our working pattern or putting the family first means that we just don’t get the opportunity to meet up, or that it’s simply not as easy to get out of the house as it may be for others. Life is such that there will be times when those things we’d like to be doing have to be placed on the back burner in favour of those things we have to be doing.
So, there may be many reasons why socialising online is an altogether more realistic option – indeed, it may be our only option in some cases – but it’s not without it’s drawbacks. Can we really get to know people on a friendship basis if we never have the chance to interact with them in person? Some would say you can, but I think that it’s not a friendship in the traditional sense; whether that matters to you is entirely subjective.
Perhaps the most concerning thing for me though is that it can become the easy option and an alternative to getting off the chair and out into the real world, and that’s something that occasionally pushes its way into my conscious thoughts, along with a decent helping of guilt and self-loathing. I know I should get out more, but I also know that I can make the excuse that I spend quality time with friends inworld – and even if I did go out, that’s not something that is likely to happen, because – frankly – it’s not the sort of thing I find easy to do. In that respect, SL is my saviour… without it, I probably wouldn’t socialise at all, and I don’t think that would be entirely healthy.
As with so many things, it’s a question of balance – not necessarily one of ensuring that SL and RL time are divided proportionately, but rather one of balancing what is good for me, with what I’d rather be doing. At the end of the day (quite literally), it’s about enjoying life, whether that’s in the company of others or solo, and whether real or virtual. If it makes you happy, it can’t be all that bad, surely?
He bag production, he got walrus gumboot
He got Ono sideboard, he one spinal cracker
He got feet down below his knee
Hold you in his armchair you can feel his disease
Come together right now over me
The Beatles – Come Together