Strip away the glitz and glamour, all the mesh and fripperies, the shopping and dancing, the building and the bonking from SL and you’re left with what was once the staple diet of the internet – chat. In fact, all the elements that once made the internet great, back in the day when it was the preserve of hackers and nerds still underpins SL: Our chat and messaging isn’t much more advanced than IRC; groups are pretty much a primitive version of usenet; and if you think about it, hopping around the Grid by way of TP links is little different to surfing the net using hyperlinks.
If none of the above makes much sense, don’t worry, you can cheerfully ignore it!
When you consider all the technical complexity of the virtual world, you’d imagine that chat would be a pretty simple concept to implement and something that few of us should expect to struggle to get to grips with. Judging by the sagely nodding heads I imagine I’m seeing as you read these words, that couldn’t be further from the truth!
Second Life’s chat is famously borkened! It seems that the Lindens are always working on new ways to improve it, none of which ever seem to work, and indeed, for those of us who remember IRC in its heyday, there is little to suggest that we’ve moved forward a great deal in technological terms. However, it’s not just the technology that’s naff; considering we’re a species for whom communcation is key, and a huge number of us spend an inordinate amount of time glued to mobile phones, messaging apps and social media, we’re not terribly good at holding virtual conversations. It’s a case of what helpdesk support agents call PEBCAK – problem exists between chair and keyboard.
Even the best typists among us seem to turn into gibbering idiots when faced with SL. Our typos, additions, omissions and insertions mangle language, sometimes beyond recognition. Group and local chat become a typographical battle ground as competing topics vie for supremacy, whilst those caught in the flack struggle to make sense of multiple topics, interspersed with random gesturbating and incoherent ramblings. And that’s just in local… Throw a couple of IM windows and a group chat into the mix, and we’re really in trouble!
Personally, I struggle even at the best of times, with just one IM window open, but when I’m engaging in multiple private conversations, as well as local chat, it’s the virtual equivalent of patting my head, whilst rubbing my stomach, whilst hopping on the spot, whilst hula hooping and reciting Jabberwocky backwards in Serbian! I’m not very good at at it. Here we enter the WW realm… The dreaded wrong window. I’ve committed some appalling faux pas in my time and seen others do even worse, and it seems that the gods of chat constantly conspire against us to ensure that if we are going to WW ourselves, then it’s never going to be with an inoffensive and innocent remark, instead we’ll find ourselves blurting out to a room full of people. (or worse, one of the other’s that we’re currently juggling multiple IMs with), “How about a bit of bum sex?” – Of course, it’s far too late once it’s out there… No matter what you say to try to put your shameless remark into context, or explain it away, nobody’s going to believe you, and faking a crash is only going to ram it home, (oooerr missus!).
It doesn’t stop there either, text chat is fraught with potential disasters waiting to happen, thanks to its inherent inability to convey anything but the most basic information. Without nuance, inflection, tone or non-verbal pointers, communication can be a minefield, especially in tricky situations. Throw in dodgy grammer and inelegant phrasing and the chances of ending up in a textual punch-up are increased dramatically. Thankfully, we have the faithful emoji, humour and plain old ‘explaining ourselves’ to assist, but since only around 7% of communication is verbal, one can only imagine how ineffective chatting via the medium of text alone can be.
The safest course of action is to avoid any sort of communication, interaction or engagement with anybody else inworld at all. Hold up a cardboard sign saying, ‘I’m not rude, just terrified of cocking things up’, and only log in when you’re certain nobody else you know is around. Sure, it makes for a boring SL, but better safe than sorry, I say!
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
Disturbed – The Sound Of Silence