I’m spending a few days based in Llandudno, a small seaside town in North Wales. There’s a fair chance that many of you will never have heard of the place, and even if you have, I doubt that anything notable about the town would spring to mind. However legend would have it, although it’s difficult to establish with any degree of certainty, that a certain writer by the name of Charles Lutwidge Dudgeon – better known as Lewis Carroll – wrote ‘Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland’ whilst staying there. In fact, the very hotel in which I’m staying was the holiday residence of the Liddell family in 1861- as verified by the census taken that year – who were visited by the author that year whilst in the town, and whose 8 year old daughter, Alice, was to be the inspiration for his heroine.
It’s a strange feeling to think that the room in which I’m writing this post might be the very room in which Carroll was inspired to pen his classic story. I can only hope something of the great man might rub off on myself during my stay!
Many have employed imagery from Carroll’s story when discussing SL, and the phrase ‘down the rabbit hole’ has almost become synonymous with SL. In fact, it was thanks to watching an episode of CSI:NY bearing that title and in which SL provided the underlying plot line, that I myself first took my tentative steps into this strange virtual world, although I got no further than Welcome Island, thanks to a low spec computer, and it would be quite some time before I was to try again.
The comparisons that can be drawn though are pretty clear, although some of the most obvious similarities between SL and Wonderland have rarely been commented on. Let’s face it, Alice’s Adventures isn’t really for the faint of heart – it’s visceral, distasteful, disorientating, surreal and challenges our perception of reality and morality. And SL is frequently all of those things too.
We can, of course, sanitise and sugar-coat Alice in order to make it more palatable and easier to deal with – much as we might leave the sprouts, (or the oysters, perhaps?), on the side of our plate to make our meal more appealing – and the same is true of SL, but if we really are prepared to follow the white rabbit deep into the murky depths of the virtual warren, we need to steel ourselves for what we might find, and we’ll struggle with some aspects, for sure.
SL can reveal what lies behind the thin veneer of respectability that we so carefully cultivate and wear whilst engaging with polite society – our closest friends may sport profiles that bemuse, confuse and confound our understanding; they can so often be a looking glass that reflects a reality normally well hidden when the protective anonymity of SL isn’t available to us. We find ourselves surrounded by people like the walrus and the carpenter, who will warmly take us by the hand and walk with us, before cheerfully gobbling us up without a second thought!
As in Wonderland, the normal rules simply don’t apply in the virtual world. It can be disorienting, sometimes overwhelming, and it can completely change our perspective of what is ‘normal’. It’s a dark, disquieting place when we choose to see it in all its glory, which is why most choose the alternative of the nice-not-nasty version where nobody gets their head chopped off, there’s nothing sinister about tea parties, and we treat any bottle labelled ‘Drink Me’ with a healthy dose of suspicion.
Pretending the weirder, darker side of SL doesn’t exist – even though we know it does – is a coping strategy that works extremely well for most of the time and there’s nothing at all wrong with taking that route, but however we choose to see the virtual world doesn’t change the facts… Like Alice’s Adventures, it’s not really for the kids.
But also, just like the story, SL is an absolute classic!