I’ve gained a wealth of interesting, (some would say, worthless), knowledge as a result of my time in SL. I’m not talking the sort of academic or technical knowledge that you might think I’d value and would be of some use to me either inworld or in RL; rather, it’s the trivia and cultural curiosities that tend to stick in my mind.
It helps that my circle of friends encompasses a diversity of people from all walks of life and from all four corners of the globe, (has it every occurred to you what a meaningless and inappropriate expression that is?) – so I regularly have the opportunity to engage with people on a variety of subjects about which I can be somewhat ignorant or which might otherwise struggle to cross cultural, generational and geographical boundaries. Then again it can simply be that SL exposes me to people a wider variety of backgrounds, circumstances and situations than I would normally come across in the real world, and I frequently find that many things that I myself, or those with whom I associate inworld take for granted are, in fact, not quite as universal as we imagined.
A friend asked me the other day if I’d turned up to chew bubblegum and kick ass… It was clearly a reference to something that they assumed I would instantly have grasped, but on this particular occasion, I had absolutely no idea – helpfully, she later emailed me a link to the movie in question, and all became clear, but it is something that happens fairly frequently and it’s especially noticeable when spending time with friends from the States. It’s natural to assume that because we speak the same language and have a fair amount of things in common, that the everyday references, nuances of speech, pop culture and even everyday words and activities will be understood, but frequently, confusion can set in, often with moments of hilarity due to misunderstandings and misinterpretation. To borrow an error message from my Basic coding days, we can often ‘fail to parse’ the concepts that are being communicated.
That’s by no means a bad thing: Aside from the aforementioned humour, it can provide a wealth of fascinating topics for discussion and insights into other cultures, and it can highlight just how different our individual world view can be, even in comparison to our peers and contemporaries. So often, I’ve been in discussions when friends have brought up the topics of music, television programmes or movies they grew up with and assumed, quite naturally, that my own experience and formative memories would be much the same; and, equally often, it’s turned out that they’re not, and the divide grows even more noticeable when having that sort of conversation with those in different countries, even when we share seemingly similar backgrounds.
So many things fail to successfully cross cultural and geographical boundaries, at least initially – many, of course, do subsequently make the transition, sometimes years later, and often thanks to the influence of the internet or television, but even then there’s a huge difference between reminiscing over something that is intimately connected with your past, and discovering it for the first time in later life. Nevertheless, talking about those things can provide a fascinating and illuminating window into the lives of those around us and the cultural differences about which we might otherwise remain ignorant. There’s also the weird way in which the most unlikely things can influence the thinking of a whole generation too… It never fails to surprise me just how frequently the theme music from a children’s television programme can trigger a wealth of memories within a group of people, or how a classic zombie B-movie can colour our perceptions.
So much for the real world, but as SL enters its mid teens, I’m starting to see a similar parallel inworld too. Perhaps the most noticeable social milestone is defined by the pre/post last name divide – although that may lose some of its importance, now we know last names are coming back – although the Lindens have made it clear that the old, legacy last names will never be re-used, preserving that essential nolstalgic element for those of us who have them. Beyond that, comparative noobs, like myself at a mere ten years, can spot clear differences between ourselves and the pioneer virtual generation. They are the ones who look back misty-eyed to Wednesday restarts and Grid downtime; weekly town hall meetings; teleport hubs and flying penis griefer attacks, and sometimes its all too obvious that I lack that shared experience. They talk of sims that have closed down forever – but at the time, were the place to be seen – glitches that saw your head stuck up your butt and bodies that came with underwear baked on: Experiences and situations that they will often assume to have been part of my own experience too, but sadly not.
Then again just as in RL, such conversations can be enormous fun, satisfyingly revealing and offer a brilliant insight into not only the historical Grid, but also those things that influenced and shaped the virtual lives of the avatars around me.
In a way, it reveals the hidden side to them that I wouldn’t otherwise see… They live!
And I’m all out of bubblegum!
Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes,
That call me on and on across the universe,
Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box they
Tumble blindly as they make their way
Across the universe
The Beatles – Across The Universe