Let me start, right at the outset, by assuring you that this post isn’t about you! It’s not been inspired by anybody in particular, nor is it the result of any particular event, occurrence or situation. If anything, today’s post is an agglomeration of experience and thoughts that have taken some five years to reach a conclusion – and that conclusion is the result of many, many inworld – and real life – interactions with other people whose paths I’ve crossed over that time as a result of SL.
With that out of the way, I’ll come straight to my conclusion – and it’s one which surprises me. It is this: As far as I’m concerned, SL and RL are not the same thing, and no matter how many profiles may protest that we are the same in both worlds, that does not hold true for me.
I think we can make such statements about our inworld and real life personæ far too glibly, without really considering all that we should. I’ve done it myself and there was indeed a time when I’d happily say that there was essentially no difference between my virtual and real selves, but I’m bound to say that I was wrong – and fundamentally so. That’s not to say that SL and RL are emotionally and intellectually divorced, they are not and in many respects it is true to say that the SL version of me is the ‘real’ me. SL does allow me to explore aspects of my character and personality that – for various reasons – I’m unable to do in RL, and SL certainly allows parts of my personality to come to the fore that are almost totally suppressed in the real world. However that in itself is clear evidence that the virtual and real person are, in fact, very different in the way in which they interact with others, deal with the world around them, and tackle challenges. That isn’t necessarily the way it works for you – your mileage may vary – but it is an essential factor in determining where the line should drawn between ‘real’ and ‘not real’ when it concerns myself.
I’ve been around SL a good few years now, and during that time the line has occasionally become blurred. There have been a number of occasions where an emotional investment into SL has spilled over into everyday life – and I’ve learned that this is something at which I am singularly inept and emotionally ill-equipped to deal with. Certainly, there have been times when virtual relationships have developed beyond the confines of SL – with somewhat mixed results. Some have been incredibly fulfilling, positive experiences whilst others have been incredibly damaging, destructive and painful. Whatever the impact and outcomes, I’ve struggled to reconcile the bilateral nature of such situations, possibly because expectations and understandings built upon an appreciation of inworld personalities has been both distinct and very different to the real world actuality.
Conversely, there are specific circumstances when the ‘real’ me gets the upper hand in virtual situations. I’m not by nature naturally gregarious, although those with whom I socialise inworld may find that very hard to believe. However, where this does become very noticeable are those occasions that I’m not part of the crowd; times that I become uncommunicative and distant – that’s the real me coming through. In RL I’m very much a loner – preferring my own company to that of being around people, fiercely independent, and resentful when my ‘me time’ is invaded by others. It is my natural fallback position when alone and left to my own devices, even inworld, to revert to type… I have to make a real effort to accomodate ‘intrusions’ into my time and personal space, I’ll rarely initiate IM conversations, and even when friends may be gathered elsewhere I’ll often choose to stay put. These behaviours can be somewhat baffling, even irritating, to those who know me solely from virtual interactions, however anyone who knows me in everyday life will recognise me instantly. Again, there is a clear delineation between real and virtual, as far as I’m concerned, although it will often be far from clear to my virtual acquaintances.
It will come as no surprise that I am extremely cautious when it comes to fostering situations that could blur the line even further. Essentially, I’m involved with SL because it’s fun and it stimulates me intellectually and creatively – that is all. Strange as it may seem, I don’t log in to make friends – although I have many very good and authentic friendships as a result of SL – and, for the reasons I’ve already discussed, I’m certainly not seeking any sort of relationship that might traverse the path into RL; and in this instance I’m not only thinking about romantic associations. Of course I’d love to meet some of the people I know from SL in a real world setting, and I’m sure that we’d get on just as famously as we do in SL… At least, that would be the case if we simply happened to meet in RL without having first known one another inworld. Why? Because our expectations and conceptions of each other are primarily derived from what we know from our inworld interactions, and bearing in mind what I’ve discussed above, I’m pretty certain that you wouldn’t actually be getting what you expect. I make a pretty rubbish real life friend… I don’t call, I don’t write, I don’t text and you’ll rarely see me from one month to the next – and personally, I think it’s unfair to expect anyone else to make that effort for me, if I can’t do it for them!
And that is why, for me at least, it is necessary for the two worlds to remain separate – that way there are no complications, there’s no awkwardness, and no expectations based upon incomplete perceptions of personality. It’s a hard line that I no longer allow myself to cross because I can find it difficult enough to manage two separate lives as it is, without having to cope with something that cohabits both of them! This is why I don’t share my SL experiences with anyone from the RL side of my life; no-one in the real world knows about this blog; I don’t even have a presence as an avatar on social media. SL is SL and RL is RL – and, for sanity’s sake, that’s how it has to be for me.
Maybe that’s an unusual stance to take, and I know it’s certainly not the norm within my inworld circle of friends, and indeed, amongst those friends there are those for whom the merging of the two different worlds has been both life changing and the most natural thing in the world. That’s great, but we’re all different and my life is not your life… but it works for me.
Try to get it right this time.
Don’t wanna sign my name on no dotted line.
Movin’ down roads, I cannot find that I’m not blind.
Hugo – Different Lives