It can be tricky enough to successfully balance the different priorities that make demands upon our time and energy on a daily basis; throw SL into the mix, and the challenge becomes greater for those of us who indulge in the virtual world – some might say it’s more an academic exercise, since the formula is pretty straightforward: RL comes first, SL fits into the gaps. However, most will say it’s more complex than that, and the choice between putting RL or SL first is far more complicated than it may first appear.
Perhaps the struggle to prioritise real world and virtual world commitments isn’t always entirely something for which we alone are to blame; at its heart, SL is a social platform, and it can be at its most rewarding when the social media aspect of the virtual world comes to the fore. By definition, this is going to involve us interacting with others, participating in shared activities, and ultimately, building relationships with those with whom we share our virtual environment. This is where conflict can lurk.
Entering into a relationship with someone – even a completely virtual one, where the only interaction is entirely fabricated to at least some extent – is a social contract. Even if not explicitly expressed, it comes with expectations, implied behaviours and some degree of commitment. It also creates emotional bonds which can be unconscious, but nevertheless incredibly strong. This is true, whether of a simple virtual friendship or a relationship of a somewhat deeper and more complex nature. Herein lies the problem.
SL relationships, of any kind, require us to make the same sort of effort as real world relationships. That can equate to time and effort, being put to inconvenience, and undertaking activities that conflict with our schedules and lifestyle. Generally, if the relationship is one that we value and are happy to invest in, this needn’t cause us too much trouble, but there will inevitably be occasions when we have to decide what is more important to us – the real or virtual – and that can cause difficulties. Any relationship, after all, necessarily involve us and at least one other party, and with that comes an obligation to manage the expectations, needs and feelings of those other parties. You may consider that this is little different from relationships in the real world, but unlike real life, SL is very effective at distancing us, (and those with whom we share it) from reality.
Inworld friends, partners and associates do not necessarily have the advantage of those subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, clues that are self-evident in RL. The information available to those who share our SL is nowhere near as rich or accessible as that available to those who are part of our real lives, consequently pressures and constraints and other demands upon us, that might be obviously apparent in RL, are pretty effectively hidden from those around us in the virtual world. Their only frame of reference is that of their own lives and those with whom they share relationships outside SL. If I’m not married, have no children and no significant demands on my time in RL and I know nothing of your own real life, it is easy to understand how I may make the assumption that you are equally unpressured, and have ample opportunity to lavish your time upon me inworld… The reality may be very different.
Lacking much of the information that may be freely available to us outside the virtual environment, it is very easy for those amongst whom we do spend a great deal of time with inworld to draw incorrect conclusions and make assumptions that are erroneous. Many of us have experienced the wave of concern that flows over a group of people when one of their number is conspicuous by their absence: ‘I hope Tarquin is OK – he hasn’t been online all week’. It is, of course benign, all borne from genuine concern and caring, but can be completely misdirected. Similarly, those of us familiar with such situations can find ourselves feeling almost obliged not to absent ourselves from inworld gatherings, knowing the concern it might spawn amongst our friends and companions. So we find ourselves in the somewhat bizarre position where – because of our virtual relationships – we feel compelled to meet the expectations of others even if doing so compromises our freedom of choice, and may even have a deleterious impact upon our real lives.
Crazy world, huh?
Because we are your friends.
You’ll never be alone again.
Well come on, well come on.
Justice vs Simian