The world today is all about communication; we’re reliant on communication more than ever before in history, and technology has evolved far beyond the wildest dreams of those who lived before the communication age. I can’t help thinking that if the same efforts had been put into finding a cure for cancer as have gone into disseminating pictures of cats across the internet, we’d have probably beaten it by now.
Our communication demands have increased exponentially too. A hundred years ago, it could take days, even weeks, before significant events happening elsewhere in the world filtered through to distant audiences; today, we can watch the news as it unfolds on the other side of the world… We can even interact with it in real time, or become roving reporters ourselves, thanks to the technology we now have at our fingertips. We spend more time than ever texting, typing, calling, Skyping, Facetiming, blogging, vlogging, tweeting, status updating, Snapchatting, communicating with a myriad other methods of keeping in touch with our nearest and dearest, as well as those in our wider ‘social’ circles, as well as complete strangers, lurkers and voyeurs who, for whatever reason, choose to take an interest in what’s going on in our lives.
The most frightening aspect of the whole thing for me is how utterly dependant on comms technology we’ve become. Many of us find it hard to ‘switch off’, and when we’re denied access to our connections, we feel bereft and lost. Far too many of us are now incapable of functioning without our constantly updated communication stream to accompany our daily lives. When you consider that all it would take is a single, high-powered solar flare to wipe out global communications, you have to wonder just how we’d cope if such an event were to occur.
So much for the real world, but what about SL? I’m very conscious when inworld that I’m in an environment that is fundamentally underpinned by communicating. SL is, after all a social network, and without the essential interaction between members of that network, it becomes something of a lost cause. Communication inworld isn’t just limited to the words that we type, or voice, either – there’s a surprising amount of non-verbal interaction that takes place too. It’s surprisingly easy to determine somebody’s emotional state, for example, (especially our friends), from their choice of clothing, degree of enthusiasm for the current activity, and the phrasing or lack of engagement in conversation. I’ve often had a friend drop me an IM asking me if I’m OK, with a remarkable level of insight into my emotional state at the time, simply because they’ve correctly gauged my mood from the non-verbal clues they’ve picked up from my avatar.
It’s surprising how easy it can be to ascertain when someone is upset, tired, moody, happy, angered, frustrated or feeling isolated, even without anything written or spoken to draw our attention to it, and I wonder if this is an emerging social skill that we’re developing as a result of the changing nature of our natural environment?
Even so, it seems that being part of an online social environment, able to interact with ease with both friends and strangers in a huge variety of ways is simply not enough. Quite apart from the individual connections we make with each other, along with the groups we join and the places and events we frequent, there are a growing number of us for whom inworld contact is simply far too restrictive. A growing number of my friends and acquaintances in SL maintain contact whilst outside the confines of the virtual world, to the extent that some are puzzled when they realise I’m not aware of upcoming events, in the dark about conversations that have taken place, or haven’t seen photos and discussions that are otherwise, apparently, common knowledge. “But it’s been all over Facebook”
they protest, and are then completely dumbfounded when I tell them that I most certainly am not all over Facebook, nor indeed do I have a FB account. You see, when it comes to the wider social sphere, I barely participate and have little interest in doing so.
Really, I’m a pretty private person – both in the real world, and in SL – and I have to say that SL is something of a departure from my real nature, which tends to be one that shies away from contact with others, socialising and constantly communicating using any means at my disposal. My phone is barely employed, I have no interest in social media, and I probably wouldn’t be all that bothered or affected if that big solar flare does decide to throw a curve ball any time soon.
I guess I’m just not a social animal.
I know just what you’re saying
So please stop explaining
Don’t tell me ’cause it hurts
No Doubt – Don’t Speak