I think we’ve all experienced one of those moments when, out of the blue, a friend, colleague or family member has dropped a complete bombshell that we’d never have anticipated, without warning and often in totally incongruous circumstances or settings. Moments like, when out shopping with a close friend you’ve known for years and, seemingly at random, they turn to you, holding up a skirt: “Do you think this will suit me? And by the way, I’m gay!”

Such revelations are often followed by a stunned silence, as we try to process this new and totally unexpected information, in a setting that’s really not conducive to any sort of heartfelt emotional response, and by the time we’ve managed to compose ourselves, we’re already on the back foot, as our friend seems to think that a brief pause is all that we need to assimilate this new found knowledge… “So, the skirt; is it me, do you think?”

Such moments are, thankfully, a fairly infrequent occurrence in RL, and they’re often the precursor to a whole series of related events and extensive follow-up conversations over coffee, wine and kitchen tables – I suppose that is the nature of families and friendships.

Sometimes, on reflection, we might realise that such revelations were perhaps not quite as unexpected as we initially thought – perhaps there were subtle clues that we’d missed or ignored, pointers that we’d not really taken notice of previously, or hints dropped that we’d never picked up on. Other times though, the bombshell can truly come from nowhere. The nature of such things is such that there’s never really a right time or place for them to come out into the open… When exactly is the right opportunity to tell someone you’re getting a divorce, leaving to spend the rest of your life in Bratislava or that you once killed a man? So the chances are they’ll come at the most unexpected moments too.

Is not just in RL that people can drop bombshells…they can happen in SL too, and they can be no less revealing and earth-shaking. Unlike the real world however, because we rarely know our inworld friends as well or as closely as those in RL, many of the subtle signs and prompts that might otherwise alert us to potential bombshells are simply not there. So when the bomb drops, it can be an incredible surprise and shock.

I’ve found myself in that situation a number of times, and it can be extremely uncomfortable. Not only are you in a position where a friend is telling you something possibly very personal and of huge significance, but because we are unlikely to have the same closeness in terms of relationship than we’d have with a friend in RL, we may struggle to know how to react, what to say or understand why we are the recipient of this privileged information. In such a situation, it’s hard to know what to do or a say – in real life we might offer a consoling hug, crack open a bottle of wine, or possibly call the police; offering a text *hug*, /me uncorks a bottle of Chardonnay, or picking up the phone to report a crime committed by somebody you only know in pixel form are just not the same, and are almost certainly not the most appropriate responses to a weighty disclosure.

This is where SL tends to fall down – as do most forms of ‘social’ media – in terms of being sociable, they don’t really work that well at all. To be on the receiving end of an emotional bombshell we need to be able to react in an emotionally intelligent way: Frequently, this will mean providing a tangible response that requires some kind of interpersonal exchange that goes beyond mere words; or may mean ‘being there’ for someone… A bit tricky, when you’re patently not there, wherever ‘there’ may physically be, and in circumstances where giving your undivided attention may not be an option.

We understand that SL certainly can provide a means of building relationships and fostering friendships, but they doesn’t necessarily mean that they are of the same calibre as those we may enjoy outside the virtual world, and they may fall down badly in some respects – not because we cannot empathise, but because some of the basic essentials of a strong, supportive relationship are just not available to us in SL, or are at best, a poor substitute for the real thing.

So, if you are thinking of dropping some sort of bombshell on someone inworld, just be aware that their response might not be what you’d necessarily expect… It’s not that they’re not taking it seriously, but there’s are very good chance they’re in some sort of virtual shock, and may take a while to come around!

s. x

No alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises, please
Radiohead – No Surprises

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