We’ve all done it – said something in open chat that should have been directed towards a friend with whom we were having a simultaneous conversation, or sent a message to the wrong person whilst juggling multiple IM chats.
If you’re lucky, little harm is done – you gloss over your random interjection, and move on. Sometimes you may not be so fortunate, and you’ll have just revealed an embarrassing fact, or something that you’d rather have remained private to the whole room. “Sorry, wrong window”, you mutter, before hastily trying to change the subject and move on. Then there’s the worst case scenario – and I will admit to finding myself in this unfortunate position – where you find yourself in the position of diplomatic peacekeeper, the voice of reason trying to broker a sensible solution between two warring parties. Swapping between two IM windows, you hit ‘return’, realising too late that you’ve just sent the wrong message to the wrong person… Believe me, you can dig yourself into some pretty awful holes when words that were solely meant to placate and empathise with one injured party are accidentally said to the other, and suddenly you find that you’re now the object of everybody’s ire!
Stripped down to its bare bones, SL is at its very heart just a glorified chat client. That is the core of all social media: A platform that enables participants to interact with one another through the medium of communication. Certainly, SL adds a lot of bells and whistles that enhance and expand the way in which we communicate with each other, but the fundamental tools we employ within the virtual environment to interact with each other are basically unchanged since ancient times – the spoken and written word.
In fact, take a look at pretty much any of the technological advances that have been made throughout history, and they tend to fall into fairly neat categories – medicine, transport, communication… And perhaps the most significant and visible achievements in recent times have been in the field of communication. We take modern communications technology very much for granted and, almost without us noticing, that same technology is subtely changing the way in which we perceive how, why and where we communicate.
By way of an example, this morning, over the course of a single train journey, I’ve been an unwilling party to several long, and somewhat sensitive telephone conversations. It’s not that I was intentionally listening in, rather that I had little choice, because these days it seems we are incapable of conducting a private conversion in a public place – once that phone is pressed to our ear, that’s it; we retreat inside our own little world, oblivious to those around us and the information that we are publicly sharing. I’ve heard people give out their credit card details, addresses and times they’ll be away from home, details of their friend’s medical procedures and test results; accounts of criminal activity, and vast amounts of mundane, but personal and sensitive information that I’m pretty sure would never normally be disclosed to a stranger in any other circumstances.
We are becoming an indiscrete society.
However, that’s far from true when it comes to SL. Inworld we fiercely defend our right to private conversation. Chat logs are considered sacrosanct and dire consequences are threatened against those who abuse them. It’s even frowned upon by some to report words spoken in open chat as part of general public conversation and woe betide anyone who should dare to repeat somebody else’s words when their profile clearly states ‘you do not have my permission to quote me’, (oops… Did I just quote your profile without permission?)
Much of the conversion that goes on in SL is pretty inconsequential anyway and, has little value in being recorded except, perhaps, as a future record of human social interaction? That in itself has merits: Throughout history we’ve recorded the important and significant conversations and speeches, but we’ve been less diligent when it comes to the everyday, inconsequential things, and so we’ll never really know the jokes our ancestors would laugh at during an evening in the pub, or what the chatter would be in the medieval market place. Apart from a few isolated examples, we have little of note in the historical record of everyday people interacting.
To be honest, some of the nonsense that we spout inworld would only have value to a psychiatrist, who would – no doubt – have many questions with which to ply some of us, should we be foolish enough to allow them access to our chat logs! I rarely dabble in voice chat, but much the same can be argued of that too.
In a way, i like it that SL is a bastion of ‘old fashioned’ values and standards when it comes to communicating. It may seem something of a juxtaposition for a social media platform to champion the values of privacy, propriety and moderation which seemed to be appreciated so much more in the past, but I think there’s a time and a place for such things, and it’s a shame we seem to be losing those principles in RL… Long may they continue to be an essential tenet of virtual life!
I had to interrupt and stop this conversation
Your voice across the line gives me a strange sensation
I’d like to talk when I can show you my affection
Oh I can’t control myself
The Jolly Boys – Hanging On The Telephone