Way back in the day, when the internet was young and you needed a degree in geekology to navigate the online experience, in the days when ‘browser’ meant a grass-eating quadruped, the vast majority of communication across the information superhighway was of a type we’d consider pretty basic by today’s standards. In reality, behind the scenes very little has changed, but on the outside the internet has become very much more accessible and user-friendly, in much the same way that graphical user interfaces, like Windows, have simplified most of the arcane processes that go in the background of our computers, to which we are today almost entirely oblivious.
It wasn’t always like this – there was a time when internet devotees were very familiar with the nuts, bolts and fiddly bits that make the internet tick. We we still acutely aware that, at its heart, the internet was a mass of ones and zeroes – a simple binary universe, although nevertheless capable of incredible feats of technological wonder. Some of us still remember the tedious process of transmuting thousands of lines of meaningless text into images – something that nobody has to worry about today – and remember fondly how much fun counting in Hexadecimal can be!
Then a revolution started: newsgroups and message boards were jostled out of the way by a new kid on the block – real time chat, and the internet was changed forever. Over time, chat clients became more complex, started to incorporate graphical elements, and of course today they can incorporate video, file and client sharing and pretty much anything else you could want, short of putting us physically in the company of those with whom we are chatting. Although – in a way – that’s something that SL almost manages to achieve by way of our avatars.
Amongst many other things that SL is capable of being, it is also – at its heart – a very fancy chat client that can cleverly provide the illusion to those participating in conversation that they are physically sharing the same space, as well as offering the more mundane types of verbal/textual interaction. In fact, it achieves this so well that much of the time it barely registers with us that we are in fact for much of the time participating in a glorified chat room.
However, there are times when we do stop and make a special effort to chat, either in small groups, or one-to-one with others – not distantly in IM, but face-to-face, just as if we were meeting up in RL – and it’s these occasions that can often be very special.
I think that the early part of my time in SL was split 60/30/10 into chatting, exploring and other socialising, respectively. For years I spent a huge amount of time in the company of others, just passing time in conversation; on many an occasion these conversations would last long into the early hours of the morning, and I’d reluctantly tear myself away from them when I was literally falling asleep at the keyboard, with daily life a constant battle to catch up on lost sleep! I’m not sure what happened to change the status quo, it was probably a combination of things: A change in personal circumstances, SL friends moving on, other interests such as building coming into the frame. Whatever the reason, the chat sessions became less frequent and for a long time what had once been a staple of SL activity for me became something that rarely occurred.
More recently however, I’ve found myself yearning for that kind of human contact again – another thing that SL can do very capably is produce a sense of remoteness and distance between people, and I fear that in some measure that’s exactly where I’m at. So I’ve been rediscovering the simple joys of spending time in the company of others and just passing time in conversation, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience.
With all the sophistication and potential that SL can offer, it might seem a little odd to shun the stimulation and excitement of the wider virtual experience, in favour of such a basic and simple diversion, but as so many profiles make plain, there are real people behind these avatars… And chatting is something that real people do an awful lot, so why shouldn’t we do it in SL too?
Let’s talk about the star looking like a toy
Peeking through the branches of a tree
Talk about the girl talk about the boy
Counting all the ripples on the sea
Captain Sensible – Happy Talk