An equally inconvenient truth

We live in interesting, and rather disturbing, times.

The virtual bubble, rather than bursting, seems to be deflating like a hot air balloon wallowing and billowing on the ground, awaiting the inevitable moment when, bereft of shape and substance, it is packed away into a musty old crate and left to rot away. A fun experiment that ultimately proved to be too expensive, too niche and too optimistic. All that tech that we were so excited about – virtual headsets, new 3D worlds under development, and augmented reality for all, seem to have become rather embarrassing attempts to shoot the moon, and the companies behind them are quietly reassigning staff and resources to more profitable and accessible projects. New virtual worlds are ditching their pursuit of the all-round 3-dimensional experience in favour of the more traditional keyboard and mouse approach and all those technologies that we dreamed would change our world seem to be going the same way as 3D TV – a rather embarrassing and costly flop!

This is coupled with a changing social consciousness (unless you’re an orange-tinted American hotel magnate – in which case, please just file this under ‘fake news’ and move on to your own inevitable and ignoble extinction). With astonishing rapidity, a significant proportion of humanity appears to have come to the realisation that all those things the Voice of Reason and Common Sense have been telling us for at least the past 50 years is actually concrete fact. That we will indeed, possibly within our lifetime – and certainly within the lifetime of our ever more precocious offspring – witness the last of the polar bears, elephants, frogs, rainforests, coral reefs, honey bees, shoebills, mangrove swamps, glaciers, whales, polar ice, low lying coastal areas and fertile plains, as they march relentlessly towards permanent oblivion.

People, even schoolkids – who should really be enjoying themselves, falling out of trees in the great outdoors, rather than petitioning parliaments to do something to ensure that there will actually be a future great outdoors, with real living, breathing trees for them to fall out of, in the foreseeable future – are starting to get angry. And, even though I’d suggest it’s rather late in the day to get indignant about Maccy D plastic straws killing the orcas, I suppose that with enough impetus and radical action, maybe the breakneck speed at which we’re approaching Tipping Point can be slowed, even arrested, maybe?

However, it’s never that simple.

You see, all that amazing technology that we once thought would change the world for the better is indeed bringing change, only its not necessarily in the fashion we’d like. Every time we bid in an eBay auction, order an environmentally friendly recycled item off Amazon, watch a YouTube video about climate change, or even spend an evening doing nothing much in particular and dossing around in SL, we are unconsciously contributing to the problem. Every time we save the planet by not driving to the cinema and having a night in with Netflix, we’re playing a part in melting the glaciers at Kilimanjaro’s summit, and every time we upgrade our phone we’re depleting the earth’s finite resources of lithium, gold, platinum and helium… Forget recycling, the planet will likely die before we get around to reclaiming half the stuff we use and chuck away routinely.

But, who amongst us is prepared to pay the price of reducing our own personal technological impact upon the world around us? If they were to shut down the server farms that power the internet giants, depriving us of Google, Facebook, SL and bitcoin for five days a week, would we complain, or just shrug our shoulders and accept that it’s a necessary evil that comes with the territory if we want to reduce the fossil fuel consumption and crazy amount of atmospheric heat that are associated with these services? If we were to put aside any transport solutions that didn’t rely on hydrocarbons or battery power, would we be happy to walk or stay put instead? And, would we really enjoy a simple meal, grown in our own back garden over ordering a burger by smart phone, made from beef raised in South America on land cleared of ancient rainforest, flown 4000 miles across the ocean and packaged in a non-biodegradable styrofoam box created from palm oil by a minimum wage burger flipper, before being delivered to your doorstep via already clogged roads on the back of a dirty, polluting 2-stroke engined scooter?

I have a feeling that few of us would be prepared to make those sacrifices. We like our conveniences and our technology far too much to give them up, or even reduce our dependence on it. If for example, by logging in to SL for just an hour each week, rather than 15, you could reduce your annual carbon footprint by a ton, would you do it? If inworld designers were to close their Photoshop accounts, cut their processor use to the absolute basics in order to save the polar bears, would you put up with just having old clothes in your virtual wardrobe? If rather than using the fastest, most up to date graphics card for SL, you had to survive with slower, onboard, non-dedicated hardware, is that something you could tolerate if you knew it was stopping sea levels rising?

Those are surprisingly tough questions for us to answer… But, should they be?

I’m not judging anyone, and I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to taking natural resources for granted, but I can’t help thinking that the majority of those who are prepared to stage ‘die-ins’, civil disobedience and strikes would probably do the planet a much bigger favour if they ditched their mobile phones and stopped spending their down time paying online games and watching giant 4K TVs every night! The simple fact is that evolving technological change is inconsistent with preserving or improving the state of the planet, but we as a species have become so reliant on technology that we can’t countenance an existence without it – and although climate change, destruction of habitat, overuse of natural resources, growing population, plastic contamination, greenhouse gases, desertification, hyper-salination and an ever-growing IUCN Red List, along with a whole host of other – mostly human-generated – destructive forces are a complex and wicked problem, where our technological reliance is but a small contributor to the whole damned mess, and for which there cannot be any single simple solution, you have to admit that humanity has managed to deal itself a particularly unpleasant hand, and one which ultimately is highly likely to lead to it’s own demise. Somehow, idiotically, humankind has managed to shoot itself in the foot.

It’s a terrible dilemma. If we do without those things upon which we’ve come to totally rely, there’s a good chance we may well not make it… And if we don’t do without them, it’s a dead cert that we won’t!

Which makes writing about a virtual world that only exists thanks to modern technology, rather poignant in its irony.

s. x

Freed from the memory
Escape from our history, history
And I just hope that you can forgive us
But everything must go
Manic Street Preachers – Everything Must Go

 

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Hard habits die old

I am a creature of habit, and I suspect that many others who frequent SL are cut from the same cloth. I tend to log in at around the same time, on the same days and hang around with the same people in the same places, with very little in the way of variation or change. I know that many of my friends do much the same thing – partly because they spend a lot of time in my presence, at the same times and places that I’m around, and partly because if they’re not around, I can usually predict with a fair degree of accuracy where they might be found.

Occasionally, the real world will intervene and mess us around, upsetting itineraries and changing our plans. This is usually unavoidable and those of us who may be tempted to put the virtual world first and jeopardise real life commitments should probably take a step back and get a stronger grip on reality!

Virtual life may throw the odd spanner in the works too. New friendships can sometimes fool around with our nicely ordered and structured inworld routines – and whilst we may not actually resent spending time with new people, visiting new locations with them and doing things when we’d previously have been doing something completely different, they can put a strain on our sense of order and control. We feel conflicted between nurturing and enjoying the company of our new acquaintance and maintaining our own familiar routines. Similarly, when SL imposes upon us and our time – even if for good reason – we can find ourselves irritated by that imposition, no matter how positive the reasons behind it. For example, landscaping a new parcel, creating a build or preparing for an event or fair can take their toll on our normal activities and pursuits, and although we may enjoy what we’re doing instead, it’s always with the frustrating knowledge that our usual routine has temporarily been put on hold.

I’ve always been a little jealous of those who seem to be able to flit around SL (and presumably, RL too), without any thought for routine, going wherever the whim takes them, unconcerned about places to be or things to be done. They remind me of my early days inworld before I’d established any real sort of routine, had few friends, no land or places I had to be and not even a place to call home where I could get changed. Certainly, that kind of SLifestyle had its disadvantages but, on the plus side, it was a free and easy time when I undertook a huge amount of exploring, discovery and investigation of the virtual world, its opportunities and possibilities – things that, although I still do them today, it’s nowhere near as much or as frequently, and more often than not, they are activities constrained by the demands of the routines that I’ve established since.

It’s a bit of a mixed blessing, growing into the virtual world – the longer you’re here and the more you socialise and integrate with the virtual community, the less freedom it seems you have to do all those other things that you’d like to do, but can’t, because you have things to do… If you see what I mean!

I know people inworld who have far more friends than I, who seem to have a full and varied social life, and yet if you dig a little deeper, their entire time inworld is completely dictated by the associations they have formed and the activities to which they subscribe. There’s no freedom to vary the routine and no leeway when it comes to fitting in anything outside that routine. They might appear to have everything going for them, but in reality, it’s just the same old routine, week after week. Of course, that’s fine if you’re happy with it, but it does seem to me to go against part of the ethos of SL, where we have the freedom to be who we want to be, do what we want to do, and create a life that we want… And, if we’re not careful, it seems that over time we can restrict our own freedom and end up in the very same type of routines that we try to escape in RL by heading off to the virtual world.

A cautionary tale, maybe: One that maybe I should take more heed of myself!

s. x

It’s the same old song
But with a different meaning
Since you been gone
But it’s the same old song
The Four Tops – It’s The Same Old Song

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, SL | Leave a comment

Bomb!

I am the sort of person who, it seems, is readily mistaken for an authority figure in real life. I’m regularly accosted in shops by people asking me where to find certain items, who are then disappointed to find that I don’t work there, and I’m just as frequently the ‘go to’ person for complete strangers to wander up to and ask for advice, whether it’s the fairly understandable and mundane request for directions, to the more esoteric and off the wall requests, such as ‘Do you know where the queen stays when she’s visiting this part of the country?’ – yep, I was asked that one by a complete stranger just recently.

I’m not sure why it should always be me that people turn to, especially since I’m always the one to be singled out even when in a group of far more obvious people. Let me give you a rather bizarre example from recently: Picture me, trying hard to relax on a super-crowded train, on the second leg of a 6 hour journey home after a long and hard week working away from home. I’m alternating between dozing off, trying to get comfortable and failing to pass the time by fiddling with my tablet, when – completely out of the blue – I feel a tap on my knee. The tapper turned out to be a gentleman sat across the aisle from me, with whom I’d had no prior contact or interaction, he leaned forward conspiratorily, and pointed at a rucksack in the footwell of the seat next to him…

Random gentleman: “I think he got off the train and he’s left that there!”

Me: “Oh dear”

Random gentleman: “What should I do?”

Me: “erm”

Random gentleman: “It’s just that they do tell us we should report these things. I mean, you can’t be too careful, can you? What if there’s a bomb in there?”

At this particular moment in time, I was less concerned about the possible presence of a bomb on the train  than I was about the fact that of the hundred or so passengers sharing the carriage with me, including the two people sat across the table from him, and a whole train crew somewhere on board, this particular individual had singled my knee out to tap, and decided I was the most qualified person to deal with his concerns out of everybody on the whole train!

Was I wearing a high visibility vest, t-shirt with the words ‘Bomb Technician’ emblazoned across it, military fatigues or any sort of uniform or other designation that might have indicated I was the most appropriate person to speak to? Nope! I wasn’t even the person in the closest proximity to him, or the rucksack in question. Yet, for some unknown reason, Yours Truly had somehow assumed the mantle of public safety and security expert, without even knowing why or how. And, yes, this is precisely the story of thing that happens all the time.

Thankfully, at just that moment, the guard appeared at the end of the carriage, and my random stranger gratefully accepted my sage advice to present his concerns to the guard, which he did. Quite what the rucksack’s owner made of all the fuss when he returned from the toilet a couple of minutes later later, I don’t know, since I was making a spectacularly successful attempt of feigning sleep by the time he returned, and mercifully managed to avoid any further freaky exchanges for the rest of the journey home.

Thankfully, occurrences of this nature may happen rather too frequently not to be slightly alarming in RL, they are few and far between in SL, where it seems I have no air of authority whatsoever. In fact, even when I do hold a position of inworld power, influence or expertise, its amazing just how frequently I’m overlooked, ignored or just simply not considered as someone you might approach for help, advice or for a decision to be made. It’s certainly not something I’m complaining about, since SL would feel far too much like it was an extension of the real world, as it pretty much what I do on a daily basis in my real world job, (in addition to being the resident bomb and royalty expert in any given situation!). It does feel a bit weird though, especially when I’m with people who know me well, yet still manage to avoid approaching me when it makes perfect sense to do so.

My inworld friends often joke about how scary I am, but I’m beginning to wonder if there might be more than a grain of truth in what they’re saying. Certainly, I can be pretty forthright and honest in my opinions and advice and I don’t suffer fools gladly, but does that mean that I really do come across as frightening, or is there something more subtle at work here? Personally, I like to think that maybe there is… I know that I can be extremely self-confident, and that I’m capable of demonstrating a fair degree of strength of character – which, incidentally, is the end result of some testing times and a lot of soul-searching and hard work on my part. I never used to be that way – but I do think that not only can that be intimidating to some, but it can also be evident without being specifically expressed. I won’t say that I ooze confidence, but I’m sure that it must come across at times, even when I’m not trying.

Perhaps that’s why random strangers on the train ask me for advice about explosive devices, and perhaps that’s why I’m such a scary person inworld.

But, I’m a pussycat really!

s. x

I am the power of a woman, strong like music, true like friendship, but without my friends, there would be no music, only spoken words.
My Ruin – Terror

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL, Tales of the Road | Leave a comment

Spoilt for choice

One of the ‘joys’ of frequently working away is the necessity of routinely eating out at restaurants and hotels. Whilst this may seem like a dream come true for many, the reality – like so many things – can be very different.

At first, it’s a pleasure – a bit of a treat and a novelty that you don’t think you’ll ever quite get used to. However, before long the novelty fades and you find yourself viewing the whole exercise as something of a chore. There are few things more depressing than walking into a restaurant and adding for a ‘table for one’ and when you’re on your third meal out that week, you find yourself desperate for some proper, home-cooked food, or the simplicity of rustling up some cheese on toast, curled up on the sofa in your PJs, accompanied by some proper tea in your favourite mug. Then there are the never-ending battles to stay within the meagre budget you’ve been permitted whist trying desperately to keep the pounds off the waistline – both lost causes, I’m afraid.

And some places, there’s just nowhere to eat. Thankfully, I didn’t have that particular problem this week, with a wealth of establishments to choose from – and an opportunity to try somewhere new, and very enjoyable it was too. I couldn’t help but chuckle though when I looked at their drinks ‘specials’ board, which proudly proclaimed :

I assumed that the wine drinkers of this town are an undemanding bunch!

It brought to mind some of the wine related conversations I’ve had in SL, which, on occasion, have verged on the intensely oenophillic – although I’m no wine buff really, I just know what I enjoy – which is something that can be said for SL in general. Most of us are well aware of the huge complexity and diversity of activities that the virtual world offers us, and yet the majority of us manage to mask out much of it in order to concentrate specifically on the elements that we enjoy… We know what we like, and we stick to it, even though we know there’s a whole virtual world of alternative things we can do to fill our time, we tend not to go down that route unless circumstances contrive to send us that way.

Even the most outgoing and adventurous of us seem to like our routines and established pursuits and what may seem to be a very full and varied virtual life can often revolve around a surprisingly small and limited range of people, places and activities, and because of that, there’s always the danger that we may become jaded, even bored with SL, despite the colossal number of things we could be getting up to. Like going out for a meal too frequently, it can become a bind and a chore; something that lacks the lustre it might once have held, and may even become a negative experience.

There’s a simple test we can do – even if our Second Life is currently fulfilling – ask yourself the question, ‘When was the last time I did something completely different?’

William Cowper tells us that ‘variety is the very spice of life’, and I’m sure that few of us would disagree, but so often we settle into a comfortable, regular, reliable, dependable – and possibly boring – routine. Maybe that’s somewhat unavoidable in RL, and many of us head off to the virtual world for that very reason: When life gets routine and dull, we seek refreshment and stimulation by bringing SL into the mix… And yet, after a while, so many of us have replaced the routine, dependable rituals of real life, with routine, dependable rituals of a virtual nature instead. That strikes me as odd, especially when there’s such a variety of entertainments that the virtual world offers us in abundance, much of which may be denied to us, for a variety of reasons in the real world.

We may, of course, think that our virtual lives are deeply fulfilling, but it’s surprising how often that fulfilment is defined within a very narrow spectrum – maybe it’s clubbing, shopping, roleplay, or building, but surprisingly frequently it rarely encapsulates more than a single, or perhaps two, divergent experiences. It’s a bit like the specials board… We’re happy with wine, and may even appreciate a glass of both red and white, but for some reason we never ask to see the wine list and the huge number of possible varieties, vintages and tastes that we could choose from, if only we were willing to experiment a little.I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but it does seem a shame to miss out simply because we prefer to stick with what we know.

Personally, I’ve always tried to seek out new experiences in both lives – I’m never content with just red or white – which is not to say that I don’t occasionally get stuck in a rut, but if I do, I don’t hang around there for long and I’m always looking for something new and different… And, in SL, ‘new and different’ could be a whole new ball game altogether!

s. x

When we all give the power
We all give the best
Every minute of an hour
Don’t think about the rest
Then you all get the power
You all get the best
Opus – Live Is Life

 

 

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Out of circulation

You may have noticed that these posts recently have slowed to something of a trickle. And those who know me inworld may also have noticed I’ve been fairly conspicuous by my absence, only logging in on a couple of occasions a week, when previously – and indeed for pretty much the last ten years or so – it’s been almost every day. In fact, for many years, Saturdays have been the only day when you’re unlikely to run across me at all.

So, what’s going? Especially since it wasn’t all that long ago I was regaling you with tales of wonderful new experiences and things I’ve been up to in SL after a long period of ‘same old, same old’. It seems that I’ve abruptly gone from sudden renaissance to sudden apathy.

I’m not all that sure why either. It’s not that I’ve been so busy or indisposed in RL that I’m unable to spend time in SL; nothing in that respect has changed. Rather, it’s been a conscious decision not to bother and it’s difficult for me to put my finger on exactly why I’m feeling this way.

Have I become bored with SL? I don’t think so, and it’s not that sort of feeling anyway. I’ve been bored with the virtual world before: Logging in, only to while away the time doing very little and feeling unstimulated and unsatisfied. It’s not that. It’s more a case of me just not feeling bothered about getting online and choosing to fill my time with other things instead – I just can’t whip up the enthusiasm at the moment for some reason. I’m also finding that people around me, not just my close circle of friends, but complete strangers I run into all over the Grid seem to have become – not to put to fine a point on it – just a little bit boring themselves.

I should clarify that last point: By ‘boring’ I suppose I mean rather too predictable and regimented, but also, incredibly bland. It seems to me recently that people are doing the same old things, week in – week out, time after time, after time. And, whereas it’s perfectly obvious that there are scheduled events that people will subscribe to on a regular basis, I do find it odd that anyone would want to do the same thing every single day, for the duration of their time inworld, with the same crowd of people, even if the location might change. As for the blandness, I’m starting to think that everyone looks and acts the same, no matter who they are, or where you might come across them.I’m not saying that the Grid hasn’t become a more polished and aesthetically pleasing place, and the same goes for avatars, but it feels like it’s at the expense of quirkiness and originaliy.

It just seems to me that SL has become terribly serious and that nobody seems to be interested in being silly, odd or individual any more. The whole business of shopping,  getting dressed and going out and ‘enjoying’ yourself has become terribly regimented, expensive and labour intensive, and that’s a feeling that others have expressed to me too, although it often takes a bit of probing to actually bring those feelings to the surface. I find that if I should turn up somewhere sporting my own weird and wonderful style, I’m frequently the odd one out in a sea of immaculately turned out, plasticky perfect avatars, all mechanically slavishly dancing in perfectly synchronised movements. Sometimes I want to shout at them and shake them and ask them what’s happened to their individuality, but I’ve a horrible feeling that they’ll just look at me blankly, incomprehension in their eyes, like something out of a zombie B-movie.

The worst thing for me is that I’m starting to become very conscious that I’m the one who’s different. When I’m socialising, I’m the one literally dancing to a different beat; I’m the one for whom a nightclub visit in SL is the exception rather than the rule; I’m the one who’s constantly frustrated that the popular clothing creators are simply not interested in making anything that caters for anyone other than the masses… Surely there must be others inworld who aren’t interested in evening dresses slit to the thigh, bare midriffs and low cut, flimsy tops? Apparently though, there’s no real market for quirky, odd, unusual, grungy or downright weird mesh clothing, so I’m stuck with the ever-dwindling suppliers of decent system clothes to satisfy my somewhat off-the-wall tastes.

Nobody explores anymore, and the interstitial spaces in between shopping and going out seem to be solely filled with hours of standing motionless in skyboxes, trying to make your clothing fit. I find that odd.

So, maybe I’ve lost my virtual mojo, not because SL has become boring, but because the people who inhabit it are inexorably heading in that direction. And for rebels like me, that means the virtual world becomes an ever more empty, soulless and alienating experience.

Just like real life, in a way!

s. x

And nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all
The needle returns to the start of the song
And we all sing along like before
And we’ll all be lonely tonight and lonely tomorrow
Del Amitri – Nothing Ever Happens

 

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, Rants, SL | Leave a comment

Methuselah

I’m getting old!

Obviously  I’m not oblivious to the inevitable passage of time and the accompanying signs of aging, but apart from the odd ache, the realisation that I can no longer do all night what I used to do all night (sleep, that is… Without needing to get up for a wee), and the disturbing grunts and other noises I’ve taken to making when I get in and out of a chair, in the main, I manage to stay fairly unaware of the natural processes of entropy.

Then, whilst idly testing through the comments on a ‘true stories that really did happen to me in work’ website, I came across the fatal phrase:

“Whilst I was working in customer service, around the turn of the century…”

That stopped me dead. ‘around the turn of the century’ – now there’s a phrase that I never expected to hear used in my lifetime in that particular context. As a youngster, the 21st century seemed like the dim and distant future, a theoretical point in time that was so distant as to be incomprehensible. Then, as Y2K loomed, it suddenly all became very real,  although I have to say that my actual millennium eve, when the calendar finally clicked over from 1999 to 2000 was something of a disappointment, as was the fact that planes steadfastly refused to fall from the sky, traffic lights obstinately continued to work, and all the other promised horrors of the Y2K bug singularly refused to manifest themselves

Until then, the phrase ‘around the turn of the century’ always feel that it referred to ancient history. The realisation that the century turned all over again, during my lifetime, shook me up a bit.

I imagine that it’s the same for those who experienced the swinging sixties at first hand, rather than through the recollections of their parents, when they hear a Beatles’ song and remember buying the single when it was first released.

I am indeed getting old… I remember evenings spent taping songs off the radio and hoping the DJ wouldn’t speak through the intro; I remember panicking about the immanent demise of cassette tapes; I remember when Doctor Who was still a bloke, and moreover, he was Jon Pertwee; I remember having a black & white TV, and when remote controls didn’t exist; I remember being so excited at upgrading my 14k modem to a 28k and the sweet music of its digital handshake; I remember Netscape Navigator.

I remember experiencing SL on a 386sx PC that could barely display Internet images, let alone run a virtual world.

That’s quite disturbing too… Ten years is a very long time to have a life in a virtual world, especially considering that for much of that time I’ve logged in almost every day, and usually for hours at a time. That’s a lot of virtual hours logged during which surprisingly little has really changed inworld, despite the many momentous real world ‘upgrades’ and changes that have taken place during the same timeframe.

People, relationships and places, of course, have come and gone and sometimes changed beyond recognition, and technological advances mean that some things are a little slicker, a little more polished and the overall virtual experience is somewhat improved, but I don’t think there’s anything really comparable to many of the massive changes that have taken place in reality. Whilst I accept that there are those who may log in after a number of years’ absence and struggle to get to grips with this new-fangled mesh clothing, it’s nowhere near as radical a change as a time traveller might face in trying to buy something at a typical electrical goods store to to play their old VHS tapes on!

Much of what made SL unique, interesting and fun back when I joined up hasn’t really changed at all: It’s still a mad, quirky, bizarre and confusing place; negotiating doorways and spiral stairs is still a challenge even with ten years’ practice under my belt; goods still cost pretty much the same as they did in the past, and people still spend an inordinate amount of time complaining about the same old things they’ve always complained about.

Very little has changed at all, and for a geriatric avatar like me that’s great news… Because so little change makes me think that maybe I haven’t been around for quite as long as it feels.

However, the there’s something else about SL that makes me feel slightly less old: Second Life didn’t even exist at the turn of the century, and I arrived much later than even that… On that basis, I’m practically a complete noob! (Which would also explain why I’ve still to master walking through doors and climbing stairs!)

Yep, gotta say, even after all these years, I’m still down wiv the kidz! Innit though bruv! Safe.

s. x

People try to put us d-down (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Just because we g-g-get around (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Yeah, I hope I die before I get old (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
The Who – My Generation

 

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL, SLarcheology | Leave a comment

Second Life: Second wind

Interesting times for me. After years of settling down into my own routine and feeling comfortable in my second life, in the past few months it’s all started to become rather unsettled – not in a bad way, I hasten to add, but my routines have started to become less routine and my day to day virtual experiences have developed a whole new array of unexpected territory to explore.

Whilst, on the outside, its all been rather subtle and unlikely to be obvious to anyone but my closest inworld friends, I feel that my character and the way I interact with those around me also changing as a result of the new challenges that SL has seen fit to send my way, and to quote the oft repeated mantra from so many profiles, ‘I’m the same in SL and RL’, so I can’t help thinking that what’s happening to my virtual self may well cross over into the real world too… And I’m not entirely sure what I think of that!

I’ve been doing a few things out of character lately in the virtual world: Firstly, my friends list has experienced a growth spurt, and unlike the majority of the pre-existing names featuring on the list, I’ve been finding myself able and willing to spend time with these people and, horror of horrors, chat to them about all manner of things in IMs – something that has never come easily to me. Please don’t think that this is any reflection upon any of the more established friends I have inworld – I wouldn’t swap them for the world, and for some of them, I’d willingly walk barefoot over broken glass… It’s just that I seem to have unlocked something that’s never been there before, and I’m not really sure why with some people things are a bit different, and with others, I’m the same old me.

I’m not one for social gatherings amongst strangers, or in unfamiliar places and settings, yet recently, I’ve departed from the beaten path on a few occasions and mingled happily with others in circumstances that previously would have found me hiding away in a corner. I’ve also found myself giving up my precious ‘me time’ in favour of ‘we time’, putting aside solitary pursuits that I previously would have preferred and instead spending time with others, chatting, shopping, dancing…

It’s all rather odd, and very much out of character and I really don’t know where it’s coming from.

I wonder if I’m becoming more social and gregarious with age, or maybe I’m mellowing somewhat and letting down the barriers that I’ve spent a lifetime erecting. Unlikely though that may seem to me initially, it does sort of make sense. The last ten years or so of my life have been one long process of reconstruction and re-establishing a sense of self, and perhaps that process is now bearing fruit. In RL, life has made me one tough cookie, and that has naturally been replicated in SL. I’m completely in control of every aspect of my life and no-one, but no-one, gets allowed in unless I trust them implicitly and it’s on my own terms – it’s a defence mechanism that works, and it’s not something that I relinquish without very good reason. The same is also true of SL.

The vast majority of my friends have taken months, sometimes years to become established; the vast majority of my time spent inworld has always been spent in solitude and doing my own thing; the vast majority of social activities I’ve partaken of fall within a tiny circle of places, people and events. This has been a conscious preference, driven by a personality that is hard coded for self preservation.

Until now, this has been sacrosanct and inviolate, but clearly something is undergoing a paradigm shift, and it’s almost as if I’m testing the water in SL before I take the plunge and start exploring new horizons in the real world. That is, frankly, terrifying!

However, many of the new aspects of my virtual life the have started to unfold were, if not terrifying, at least unnerving and capable of sending me into a flat spin in the past, yet I seem to be taking them on board without too much obvious angst… So maybe that’s a positive sign for reality too?

To be absolutely honest, I’ve been perfectly happy with my life, both real and virtual, for quite some time now, and I would have continued in that vein until I fell off my twig; however life can be both perfidious and benevolent when it comes to fate, not to mention occasionally mischievous, and sometimes you just have to lift your head above the parapet and take the risk that entails.

Maybe there’s a whole new wealth of experience that I’ve expertly managed to deny myself for years, or maybe it’s just a phase I’m going through which will eventually peter out and I’ll revert to type… Only time will tell.

Let’s see what happens!

s. x

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, “Well… how did I get here?”
Talking Heads – Once In  A Lifetime

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Say cheese

It’s been rather a cheesy week inworld. It all started during one of our silly punning sessions, when a newcomer to the group made the mistake of taking to heart the assertion that we could contrive a bucket load of puns from any topic. Foolishly, he made the suggestion, ‘cheese’ and, would you brie-lieve it, the conversation that followed was gouda-nuff to eat, with a glut of caerphilly constructed cheese-isms that would drive any reasonable person to exclaim, ‘I canembert it!’

The cheesiness was to continue, completely unintentionally and somewhat bizarrely, when a conversation with a friend turned to the subject of these particular dairy products – not a usual topic of late night conversation before bedtime, but an interesting one, nevertheless.

That particular conversation was the prompt for me to begin a voyage of discovery, starting with the US Food & Drug Administration and the rules governing the sending of cheese to the States and ending with some in-depth research into the various types of true Wensleydale cheeses. It also led to the discovery that Aldi have stores in the USA – something I’d been blissfully unaware of, as much as my friend had been equally unaware that we have them in the UK too. This led to the rather freakish coincidence of discovering that we’d both been shopping in the same store for the same cheese at almost exactly the same time, albeit on different sides of the Atlantic.

SL can be weired like that: The most random and disparate occurrences can somehow combine to produce an interconnected matrix of improbable connections… And, it seems to happen to me all the time.

I’m not the only one though – not so long ago, we took to naming one of our cohort the angel of death because it seemed that any celebrity they happened to mention in conversation would promptly drop dead within the ensuing 48 hours… And this happened with alarming frequency. Eventually, the poor chap became so paranoid that he was scared to mention anyone by name, since to do so was almost guaranteed to condemn them to an early grave! Then we have the sentient audio stream that somehow, without fail, and no matter what the content of the radio show might be at the time, manages to contrive to play Cliff Richard or The Beach Boys within mere seconds of one of our merry band turning up who just happens to loathe these artists with a passion, second to none. It’s hilarious!

I’m sure you can come up with your own similar examples and I’m equally sure that such weird connections and coincidences occur in the real world too, it’s just that the sheer oddness and frequency of them happening inworld makes them far more intriguing than if they were mere boring coincidence, and like so much in SL, the normal laws of nature, physics and causality seem to bend and flex fast more than they really should in the normal flow of things.

In fact, I’ve seen enough of these peculiarities to convince me that there’s something of some other nature at work here. Let’s not go down the route of calling it magic, for that would be plain daft, but I think we safely say that – in the same way that space-time becomes warped as you near the speed of light, the reality-rationality continuum warps and stretches in ways that are both unexpected and unlikely. We shall call this, Seren’s Theory of Unlikely Patterns in Dimensions (STUPiD, for short).

My theory posits that when a physical object, such as a person in the real world, interacts with a virtual dimension, disturbances in the reality-rationality continuum occur and that the greater the interaction, the more disruptive these disturbances, thereby generating irrationality waves throughout the probability spectrum. Where these waves cross and intersect, spurious anomalies can arise… The unlikely becomes a certainty, the impossible becomes the norm, and as the waves of irrationality continue to crash and collide upon the shore of inevitably, ever greater weirdness becomes inevitable as we walk the promenade of coincidence, trying not to get our feet too wet.

And that, my friends, is the incontrovertible and definitive scientific explanation for the weird and wonderful coincidences that occur with ridiculous regularity in SL. Fact!

Now you know… It’s just STUPiD!

s. x

Is stupid really stupid
or a different kind of smart?
Do we really have a relationship
so special in your heart?
Pet Shop Boys – I’m With Stupid

Posted in Half-Baked, Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Interesting times

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?

Yikes!

s. x

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

 

 

 

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Talk talk

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!

s. x

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

 

Posted in Rants, RL, SL, Techietalk | 2 Comments