It’s that weird time of year inworld when, for people like myself who don’t happen to reside within the boundaries of the 50 states, the reality that SL is an American-centric product hits home hard.
Now, I’m not into bashing anyone of any nationality – my friends and acquaintances in both the real and virtual world encompass every part of the globe, and that’s something I’ve always valued immensely. The opportunity to learn and appreciate other cultures, ways of life and share my own with those from elsewhere is one of my greatest pleasures, and it’s something that SL enables in a way that would be difficult to achieve in real life. In fact, it’s so easy to mingle and mix with those from all over the planet, when inworld, that it’s easy to forget sometimes that, geographically, we are often widely dispersed. I personally think that’s a wonderful thing, and to its credit SL usually does a great job of bridging cultural gaps and raising the profile of different lifestyles across every continent.
However, there are certain times of year when those of us outside the USA realise that we are in the minority, and also somewhat out of sync with those who make up the major part of the inworld population – no fault of Linden Lab or those fortunate enough to live in the States, but it’s quite a jarring experience, when for the rest of the year, we tend to get by blissfully unaware that we’re separated by thousands of miles. I’m sure that those of you on the other side of the Big Pond, also feel the same sense of disconnection, and I know from experience that you also feel the effects.
It all starts in mid-March, when for the majority of Americans, the clocks go forward. This, of course also means that SLT advances an hour, and since the rest of the world don’t alter their clocks for another couple of weeks, the outcome is guaranteed to be temporal carnage. Nobody knows what time events start in SL any more, Americans turn up an hour early for appointments based elsewhere in the world, and wonder why nobody else is around, and then have to leave an hour early to go to work, leaving venues feeling half-empty. And then, just as everybody has finally managed to get their head around the change and is starting to settle down back into some sort of routine… Bam! The rest of the world switches to Summer time, and everyone is baffled all over again.
Then, in amongst all that, lands St Patrick’s Day – a celebration that 99% of the world outside the States has little or no interest in, and finds themselves utterly bemused by the fact that America has suddenly decided it’s inexplicably an integral part of an island, just off the West coast of Wales. The deep affinity that Americans apparently have to St Patrick is evidenced by the fact that it even has its own Marketplace category – which, to most of the rest of us, seems just a little odd. My interest piqued in this regard, I was curious to see whether the patron saint of my own country generated anything like the same level of interest, so I searched for ‘St David’ on Marketplace, and was disappointed to find it only produced a mere 14 results, of which – unbelievably – precisely 2 were relevant, and 11 of those remaining were actually for… Yep, you guessed it, St Patrick!
So, for a couple of weird and glorious days, we have a bunch of American leprechauns, drunk on green beer, turning up an hour early for parties, then leaving before they’ve even got properly started, and absolutely nobody, wherever in the real world they might be, has any idea what is going on.
At this point, things quieten down a little. Hangovers are nursed, shamrocks and emerald green outfits are neatly packed away into inventories, clocks are adjusted, routines re-established, and everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief at the prospect of things settling back into their well-worn tracks. Indeed, by the beginning of May, all seems to have reverted back to normal; and then, quite unexpectedly and without warning, everyone Stateside starts handing out bunches of virtual flowers, giving unsolicited hugs and wishing their friends a happy Mother’s Day.
‘Erm… no’, we protest, ‘that was way back at the end of March!’
Yes, once again, the rest of the world has fallen out of step and we are all abruptly reminded that – to misappropriate L P Hartley – ‘SL is a foreign country; they do things differently there.’
It used to be, before the golden age of travel and communication, that we were acutely aware of the limiting factors that geographical distance and different cultures imposed upon people. A couple of hundred years ago, it would take a lengthy voyage, or ongoing exchange of handwritten correspondence to forge a connection with someone from another distant country, and that separation, imposed by distance, ensured that cultural differences were able to remain distinct and noteworthy. With the advent of the telephone and more accessible international travel, distance became less of an obstacle, and a certain amount of cross-contamination of cultures began to erode social differences; yet still, even as recently as the 90s, you only had to make an international phone call to realise the immense distance between countries still remained – a couple of seconds frustrating and annoying lag between the two sides of a conversation, drove that home, if ever you were in any doubt.
Today, however, things are very different. Communication is almost instantaneous between any points on the planet, and the McDonaldisation and globalisation of cosumerism means that wherever you go in the world, there will almost always be a sense of familiarity and commonality. We truly are becoming a global village, and that’s something that most of us today have grown to be comfortable with, accept without question and treat as normal.
That is, until mid-March, when suddenly, it becomes abundantly clear that those global gearings are not as tightly meshed as we’ve become accustomed to. Suddenly, we’re confused, flustered and our neat little picture of the world working as it should, becomes disturbed and untrustworthy. Suddenly, we’re very much aware that – no matter how close we may be to SL friends in every other sense, there are still some aspects of life, even those as simple and unremarkable as a shift in dates that we normally wouldn’t think to question, where the distance becomes painfully obvious.
I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing though. If there’s one thing that makes the world interesting, it’s those little quirks and differences between us. Life would be terribly boring if we all did things the same way, and I for one, am eternally grateful that we don’t! And, I think sometimes it does us good to be reminded of that fact and for us to be jarred from our comfortable, cosy, everything in its place and as it should be mentality.
They do say that variety is the spice of life, after all!
A connecting principle
Linked to the invisible
The Police – Synchronicity