Anyone who has ever lived in a communal environment or suffered the indignities of an overnight journey on public transport will understand that particular concept. When faced with the reality of living even a small part of our lives without the comfort of personal privacy, our instinct is to cover up, hide away and mentally create a space of our own, away from prying eyes.
It is said that the Japanese, accustomed to living in traditional homes where the walls are, quite literally, paper thin have become adept at confining themselves to their immediate surroundings, mentally blotting out all extraneous disturbances. The Balinese, familiar with bathing publicly in rivers, consider themselves invisible whilst doing so. As for the British… We hide behind newspapers, or stare fixedly at advertisements for life insurance, furiously avoiding any form of eye contact our social interaction with anyone around us.
At least, in the real world, most of us can eventually escape to our own private retreat, somewhere: A place we can be ourselves, away from observers, closeted in our own little worlds – safe, and secure.
That’s not a luxury that we’re afforded in SL. Inworld, we’re never truly hidden from the inquisitive gaze, unless we’re in the fortunate position of owning our own private island – and I’m guessing that not many of us do. Here we resort to ever more devious means of secreting ourselves away, in the vain hope of securing at least some degree of privacy.
We may hide away in the sky, disappear underground or beneath the sea, surround ourselves with ban lines and security orbs, but these are all pretty futile when it comes to keeping the intrusive and inquisitive out. Even when ensconced in the most artfully disguised retreat, our whereabouts are betrayed by a quick glance at the radar, it’s then but a simple matter for anyone to cam straight in to our most secret of hideaways, to reveal our most private moments.
Of course, there are social conventions that the more sensitive of us tend to follow: Unwritten rules that we’ve never had explained, but which we all tend to instinctively know. Sky boxes are private spaces; don’t disturb someone if they’re working on a build platform; camming in on someone in a residential build isn’t the done thing; wandering into a stranger’s house and trying out their sex toys is highly inappropriate, and so on. These are all elements of virtual etiquette that most of us tend to observe, most of the time. There’s no mystique about them and you don’t need to be a genius to work them out – there’s no real need for them to be be written down, verbalised or otherwise expressed in formal terms, and they’re not hugely different from the RL expectations and norms of behaviour by which most of us routinely abide. Nevertheless, it seems that there are those who seem to think that the niceties and common courtesy of the real world simply don’t apply within the virtual setting.
There are few things more unnerving than quietly relaxing alone at your cosy inworld hideyhole, only to feel that disturbing feeling that somebody is watching you – actually, there is one thing, at least, that’s more unnerving, and it’s getting that same disturbing feeling just at the moment you’ve slipped your clothes off to try on a new outfit. You check the radar, and there – somewhere on the other side of the sim – is a suspicious-looking green dot. Your privacy has been invaded with callous disregard to those unwritten rules, and more importantly, your own propriety.
And it gets worse… Dare to challenge the offending peeping Tom and there’s a strong likelihood that the response will be one of pious indignation: How dare you question the morality of an innocent bystander when it was you who was brazenly flaunting yourself for the world to see! How dare you take umbrage over the right of all and sundry who wish to ‘explore’ every detail of SL? How dare you deny someone the absolute right to do what they want, how they want, and when and where they want – this is SL, not reality!
It’s usually at that point I reach for my MP7 and blast them into virtual Kingdom Come… Well, if you ain’t gonna play by the rules, why on earth should I?
Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you.
The Police – Every Breath You Take