It’s that weird, was bound to happen at some time, moment that you always half expected but never really thought would happen. You’re happily minding your own business, going about your daily SLife just as normal; a stranger comes along, says ‘hello’ and you get chatting. You are, of course, perving their profile, checking out their details, groups and picks; you click on the RL tab, and…
“Oh crikey! I think I know you!”
Some go through their whole Second Life holding the muted hope, or otherwise in abject terror, that their next door neighbour, the girl across the street, or a colleague they work with is one day going to bump into them inworld, and things will never be quite the same again.
I’ve come perilously close on a couple of occasions – although each time it’s turned out to be a false alarm: A case of mistaken identity, although I’ve been in the similar, but slightly less terrifying position or running across an avatar that lives or works just that little bit too close for comfort in RL. You can probably tell that having my virtual identity unmasked is not a prospect I’d particularly relish, particularly if it was by somebody I know in a professional capacity or whom I associate with regularly in RL – to me, it’s akin to that feeling you might get if you caught that person going through the contents of your mobile phone, computer or underwear drawer, without permission.
Not everyone will feel this way, some would be quite happy to discover their boss or that girl they fancy from the coffee shop also frequent SL and they would relish the opportunity to hang out together inworld and share a few virtual experiences – as for myself, the thought just leaves me cold. SL is a part of me that is very private, if I am to let other people into that side of me it is always going to be on my terms, and those terms – for the time being, at least – will only be virtual stays virtual, real life stays real life. Whatever happens on the SL tourbus, stays on the SL tourbus.
When interactions with others cross over the contextual boundaries that we set, whether real or imaginary, it can get confusing at best, distressing at worst. We’ve all experienced the weirdness of running into one of our teachers, years after we’ve left school – our brains try to resolve the paradox of trying to see them as anything but ‘teacher’, we want to address them as ‘Miss’ or ‘Sir’, and there’s a terrible wrongness we experience when we try to treat them as an equal, everyday person. It’s one of the reasons I don’t enjoy socialising with work colleagues – I struggle with dealing with the professional boundaries that are disregarded or blurred during purely social interaction – I’ve never really been able to see people out of their usual context; perhaps that’s why I find it difficult to cope with personal relationships, to make the transition from casual or social acquaintance to ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’, means reconstructing my whole perception of someone, and more importantly allowing them access to my life beyond those boundaries that a purely platonic relationship sets.
I suppose that’s the other part of the equation: To let somebody across a self-imposed boundary for some may be a relatively straightforward decision and process, for me however it’s not so easy. In my case, those boundaries are there for a reason – they are not just an arbitrary line representing one thing on the one side, and something different on the other – they are more of a barrier. Those boundaries for me represent my comfort zone, my safe haven and security – allowing anyone past them makes me vulnerable, removes an element of control and can be frightening. In SL, I can be who I want, in whatever way I want and explore ideas, concepts and situations that I’d avoid like the plague in RL – and that’s why that virtual boundary isn’t to be broken. If my neighbour, friend or colleague was to find their way across that line and break the spell, then I’m doomed… I become accountable for my actions, have to justify myself, obey the rules, and – worst of all – expose the part of me that’s hidden from the real world, to others.
So, even if I do know you in RL and we happen to run into each other inworld, it’s almost certain that you’ll never find out, and if you do manage to work it out… Please, keep it to yourself, I really don’t want to know!
Don’t wanna see your face
Don’t wanna hear your words
Manic Street Preachers – Stay Beautiful