Go for a stroll around the average city centre or take a ride on public transport, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that a good proportion of the people you’re seeing are in fact not real people at all, but some sort of advanced cyborg, having all the usual attributes of human beings, but for a few discrete giveaways that they are, in fact, robotic representations of people.
Once you know the signs, they’re pretty easy to spot… Stray wires emanating from ears, the occasional blue glow of LEDs discretely tucked away, fingers tapping away on miniature handheld control panels, and conversations held with invisible third parties as they presumably make contact with the hive mind. Listen carefully, perhaps from across the train aisle, and you’ll hear the ‘tsk tsk tsk’ as electronic impulses flow into their sensory centres.
I could be wrong though – they might just be listening to music: Ear buds embedded deep inside their auditory canals, heads nodding gently to the rhythm of their favourite track.
Despite having become very much an everyday and unremarkable practice, going about everyday business, whilst plugged in to a musical accompaniment isn’t something that I’ve ever personally managed to get to grips with. To me, the act of shutting out the outside world just goes against what feels natural, and whilst I can appreciate that the addition of a personal musical backing track to the mundane business of getting from A to B, waiting in queues and generally killing time no doubt makes those interstitial moments of daily life a little more enjoyable, it’s not for me. Perhaps it’s because I can’t dispel the feeling of appearing vaguely ridiculous that having a couple of wires sprouting from one’s ears, or worse, going the way of full-on headphones and looking like a DJ that’s left their decks at home, instils. Or maybe it’s simply because I enjoy the full use of all my faculties when I’m out and about it public – even at home, if I do feel the need to resort to headphones, I’m cursed with the habit of removing them every few minutes, to strain my ears to hear the imagined noise somewhere else in the house that they hadn’t quite managed to mask. Then again, in could be that music is a very personal thing for me, and taking it out – albeit unheard by others – into the public domain feels like some sort of weird betrayal.
So, as always, I’m the weirdo – whilst everyone else is wandering around, aurally bathed in the soundtrack to their everyday lives… I’m the one on my own, doing my own thing.
Yet inworld, it’s an altogether different picture: Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, I almost always have the audio stream playing to accompany me. Building, shopping, exploring – there’s always music, and even though it’s rarely my personal choice of music, there’s something I find rather uplifting and almost always enjoyable about the whole thing. If nothing else, I frequently find myself exposed to genres I wouldn’t necessarily choose myself; to music and songs that are new to me; to tracks I’d forgotten that I loved, and even in those places where the stream is little more than ambient noise, it almost always works for me.
I’ve grown so used to having this constant stream of sound inworld that when it’s absent it’s a bit of a shock to the system. I also find myself assuming that everybody else is listening-in too, and I’m frequently surprised to find out that that’s often not the case at all – in fact, I’d go as far as saying that in SL the trend for constantly listening on the go that is so prevalent in RL isn’t replicated. I know many people who turn off the stream inworld when they wish to pursue the everyday activities of SL – indeed, some find the constant background music something of an annoyance and rarely bother turning it on.
At least we have that facility in SL. There are few things more annoying in the real world than being subjected to somebody else’s bad taste in music, simply because they don’t have the grace to turn it down in public or you happen to be unfortunate enough to fall within range of their speakers or annoyingly shrill earphones. Many is the time I wished I’d had a volume button in RL.
Or better still, an off-switch for the next oblivious android who sits behind me on the train, blasting out George Michael’s greatest hits on their not-so-smart phone throughout the whole duration of the journey!
Dead rock and roll
Everything has been done