I bumped into somebody I haven’t seen for years at the station this morning. I can’t say it was a terribly comfortable crossing of paths – it was the mother of an ex, from whom I split up with in my early twenties – I never really got on with their mum back then, and of all the people in the world that I’d chose to run into, she would be pretty low on the list.
To be honest, I didn’t even recognise her – the years haven’t treated her all that kindly, and if she hadn’t made the effort to say hello, I would have remained oblivious. It was a bit of a weird conversation, which although very brief, gave her sufficient time to tell me my hair had changed, ask where I was living and working now, tell me that her mother had died, along with Lucy and several other people whom I’ve never known or heard of, and explain that she was off to Hereford to accompany a friend to hospital. An amzing amount of content for a conversation that lasted less than a minute!
However, as I’ve mentioned, if she hadn’t recognised me, I certainly wouldn’t have recognised her, and that conversation would have remained unspoken. Now that I’ve escaped to the safety of the train, the incident has got me thinking about SL and our ability to recognise one another inworld.
Now, that may seem an awfully silly thing to question – after all, in a world where everybody has their name floating over their heads, it’s almost impossible not to recognise somebody – but what I do think is noteworthy is that, even without any such blatant descriptor, the vast majority of us would have little difficulty in identifying those whom we know well inworld. It’s not just a case of facial recognition either, particularly when you consider that some people in SL change their skin, hair and face almost as frequently as they change their underwear in RL. Much of that stems from the familiarity that we develop as friends and acquaintances, from whom we pick up the nuances and traits uniquely associated with them. These small, but telling, identifiers may manifest themselves through a specific AO or dance that we associate with that person, their habitual behaviors or subtle, almost invisible hints that only those who know them well would spot, but are dead giveaways to those in the know.
In fact, such – often unconscious – attributes can be so powerful that they are enough to reveal the identity of a friend even if they are appearing incognito… On many occasions I’ve had little difficulty recognising friends and companions even when they’ve logged in as alts bearing no outward resemblance to their more familiar alter ego. It’s testament to the powers of perception that we all possess, and to how much depth there can be to relationships even when the ‘physical’ manifestation of a person’s characteristics is entirely a construct, completely removed from reality.
With this in mind, it’s would be wise not to underestimate the power of SL when it comes to the forging of friendships and all that it entails and represents. It’s all too easy to make the assumption that a virtual friendship is of a lower order than the more traditional kind, yet the depth of understanding and connection that is clearly demonstrable between friends inworld – even those who might just consider themselves as acquaintances – must surely be evidence that people can identify with each other at a far deeper level than perhaps we credit?
It certainly pays to remember that there is a person behind the avatar, not merely because that person has feelings and those same frailties and sensitivities as we ourselves, but also because the connections we build with those around us run far deeper and are far stronger than we might imagine. When people are that closely connected in the real world, it’s important that we cultivate and care for that relationship… And maybe we should pay the same care and attention to our virtual relationships too?
Well, who are you?
I really wanna know
Tell me, who are you?
‘Cause I really wanna know
The Who – Who Are You?