It’s odd how we can get stuck into a rut of our own making without even realising it. Often it can be a result of a natural reticence to break out of our own comfort zones and break the carefully constructed mould that we normally inhabit.
We like to be comfortable and immersed in the familiar, which is why so many of us dislike and fear change – something that I’m well used to dealing with in in my everyday life, since my RL job is to deliver and manage transformative organisational change. On a personal level, I like to think that I cope with change extremely well, and all the evidence supports that, but drill down a little deeper, and you’ll find that – like most people – I have my routines and habits that are pretty deeply ingrained, and if challenged I’ll find all sorts of excuses to justify continuing pursue them and not divert from my preferred behaviours. Excuses like, ‘that’s not me’, ‘I prefer to do things my way’, ‘it’s out of character’ – all these and more have always seemed to me to be valid reasons to hide behind, and they’ve pretty much become part of my psyche, but just lately I’m started questioning whether those assertions are entirely true, or am I – albeit for perfectly good reasons – hiding behind them and deluding myself as to their true nature?
And what has led to this bout of self-analysis? Weirdly, it’s SL chat.
You’ll probably be aware, due to the frequency with which I mention it, that chat – especially of the IM variety – is something that I tend to shy away from inworld. There are few things I find more irritating than being barraged with messages within moments of logging in: I need breathing space and time to get my bearings before settling down to a conversation. Neither do I enjoy multi-tasking as a result of having to contend with IM conversations whilst undertaking other activities inworld – I get annoyed if I’m interrupted whilst building, exploring, shopping, or just relaxing and then having to feign interest in having a discussion with whoever has contacted me. As for juggling multiple IMs at the same time, there are few things in SL that I find quite so stressful.
All this, combined with my dislike of adhering to the social niceties of the shared virtual experience, means that I’m not one to readily indulge in idle chatter, and I’m pretty good at shutting down any less than meaningful conversation within moments of it starting, but just recently I’ve been acting somewhat out of character and although I wouldn’t go so far as saying that I’ve been actively initiating conversations, I haven’t been rushing to finish them off as soon as they’ve started… And, I’ve even found myself successfully negotiating the odd multiple IM conversation and actively engaging with those who want to chat with me and, moreover, making the effort to commit to the conversation. It’s been an interesting and illuminating experience.
I’m not a naturally talkative person. Those who know me from SL may find that hard to believe, since in company it can be a difficult job to shut me up! However, put me amongst a bunch of strangers and I clam up completely; similarly, in one-to-one private conversations I struggle to maintain momentum and eventually, inevitably, succumb to the uncomfortable silences. In this respect, there’s little difference between me in the virtual world and real life: When I have little choice, for example in a professional capacity, I can talk both hind legs off a donkey, but put me into a personal setting and you’ll barely wrest a word from me. In many ways, the public-facing me is a facade; a complex act of misdirection, designed to keep people at arm’s length.
Ask me whether I have any real control over any of this, and I’d avow that I do not, however my recent forays into social chitchat in SL would seem to suggest that I am actually capable of interacting with others on a human level… Which comes as something of a surprise to me. I’ve always considered myself something of a loner and mysanthrope, with – if the tests are to be believed – a moderate pysychopathic tendency, (but nobody’s perfect!), so finding that I am capable of engaging personally with others, even if only moderately, and only in a virtual, ‘safe’ and anonymous, environment is a bit of a game-changer.
Over the years, SL has taught me a great deal, and I honestly thought there wasn’t much more that it might have up its virtual sleeve to reveal to me… Perhaps I need to rethink that.
So, erm… Here goes. If you do happen to run across me inworld, why not say ‘Hello’ and have a chat with me?
Don’t talk to strangers
Cause they’re only there to do you harm
Don’t write in starlight
Cause the words may come out real
Dio – Don’t Talk To Strangers