Our fledgling Intentional Community in Second Life. It’s a simple, natural setting. We sleep in a cave beside a waterfall.
Yesterday Mia, the woman with whom I’m creating an experimental Intentional Community in Second Life, and I, and our friend Mich, had a long conversation, using Second Life’s voice-to-voice facility, about the nature of new social media, and about when each is appropriate, and about the challenges of transitioning from one medium to another. Specifically, we talked about:
in the context of both 2-person and multi-person conversations. These 7 media each represent (in approximate increasing order) different levels of intimacy with one’s conversants.
One of the issues Dave Snowden describes in his work on how complex systems operate (and social networks are complex systems) is the fact we act in multiple identities. My work identity, my neighbourhood identity, my identity in interactions with my First Life friends, and Second Life friends, and my identity on each of my blogs, are each different, sometimes accidentally (because of how people using these media have come to ‘know’ me, and in what capacity) and sometimes deliberately (because of the need to keep our work persona and our ‘personal life’ persona separate, sometimes even for legal reasons).
So when you switch from one medium to another, it can be wrenching or jarring for several reasons:
As David Wong points out, text is poor communication (easily misunderstood) and less communication (lacking sensory clues to meaning and nuance). But it has its advantages. It gives the inarticulate time to think about a response, which generally makes them sound smarter. It allows for mystery, through deliberate ambiguity — which can be alluring. It is easier to archive and re-read later than voice conversation. And it allows people to role-play, which is (a) fun and (b) safe — you can more easily create and sustain an identity significantly different from your ‘real’ one when you only use text and self-created avatars. I can absolutely understand why some people vow never to ‘confuse’ or ‘cross over’ from an online identity to a more ‘real’ (what Mich calls ‘meatspace’) identity. Each identity is kept completely separate from the others, with no online clues anywhere that might allow someone to track them from one identity or another, and no overlap between the communities and networks they are a part of in each identity. This can be a major juggling act, and necessarily makes you a bit schizophrenic.
The issue of moving from one medium and/or identity to another gets even more complex when the relationship, the community, or the conversation has multiple conversants. What do you do when you’re in a four-way IM conversation and two of the people decide it should jump to voice-to-voice? What if the other two are uncomfortable with this? What if some of the conversants want to go to a whiteboard to sketch out their idea collaboratively, or webcams so they can ‘see’ what each other ‘mean’, and others either refuse or can’t muster the technology to make the transition? Important relationships are built on trust, and trust can be lost easily when one person wants to ‘change’ the relationship suddenly (by moving to a different medium and, by implication, to a different persona or identity). But sometimes the advantages of changing media (and the frustrations of more limited media) are such that the desire to force such a change can be overwhelming.
Add love into the mix and things really get interesting. When two people who have never met in ‘real’ life fall in love, and one of them wants to change media, the challenge to the relationship can be gut-wrenching.
When I first went into Second Life, I was perfectly content to keep my ‘Second Life’ and ‘Real Life’ identities strictly separate. I didn’t want to know who any of my new SL friends were in the ‘real’ world and didn’t want them to know about my ‘real’ identity either. And I didn’t want to use voice-to-voice — as a writer I’m just more comfortable using text than speech to convey what I think is important. But when Mia agreed to help me build a model Intentional Community in Second Life, she quickly persuaded me that clear, fast, candid communication demanded voice-to-voice contact. I was terrified (of what each of us would think of each other) but she was absolutely right, and now I nudge those with whom I share virtual community to talk voice-to-voice as much as possible. I really love the new social media (like GMail/GTalk) that allow you to jump from one medium to another (e.g. IM to v2v) with a single click.
Is it possible to get too caught up in the ‘game’ to the point you begin to take your online identities (and others’ online identities) too seriously, to the point you starve your ‘real’ identity and end up with a stunted social life, neglected ‘real’ world friends and family, and an inability to function properly in the ‘real’ world?
My answer to this question, perhaps surprisingly, is no. Stephen Downes’ brilliant speech on the elusive nature of reality has persuaded me that what we think of as ‘real’ life is just as much a figment of our imaginations as any virtual place we could inhabit. people in ‘real’ life fall in love with fictions, people they just imagine others to be, as readily as if the object of their affection were an invention. And David Wong’s explanation of why virtual worlds are just as healthy places to live in as the ‘real’ world is very compelling. You can learn as much, experience as much, love as much in virtual worlds, interacting with ‘real’ people, as in the real world. You arguably do less damage to the environment through such virtual entertainments than you would driving long distances to consume and then discard crap in the real world.
It’s been argued that it’s irresponsible to ‘hide’ in virtual worlds when so much work needs to be done in the ‘real’ world. I have some sympathy with this argument, for the very few who don’t spend their ‘real’ world waking hours merely reading unactionable information, engaging in impotent debate, and consuming violent, desensitizing video and music ‘entertainment’ that is surely far more escapist than many of the intense virtual world discussions I’ve experienced.
That’s why I’ve been adamant about how I spend my online time, purposefully, in Second Life, and in my IMs (and e-mails when I can’t persuade friends to move to real-time media) with friends I’ve met through my blogs, real-life contacts and other social networks and communities I am a part of. I don’t engage in fantasy, or small-talk, or echo-chamber mutual reassurance conversations, or debates. Every conversation has a purpose — which may be to give attention to learn something new, to understand something better, to convey an important idea or an imagined possibility, to express love and appreciation, to collaborate, or to build community through consensus or exchange. I am a model-builder, and about as far from a cult leader or cult member as you could imagine — I’m neither a leader or a follower by nature: I hate hierarchy and everything meaningful in my life has come through Letting Myself Change and peer-to-peer conversation and collaboration and tossing out possibilities that I hope will be useful to others, when they are ready, and adapted to their own use as part of their Let-Self-Change process. That’s all I could ever ask for.
In a world that permits of infinitely many personas and identities, I am increasingly presenting to the world just one — my authentic self, to the extent my slow learning process has allowed me to understand and represent it. I finally know myself, this one identity, as well as I could ever hope to. I haven’t time to go inventing others, and my oneself has too much to do as it is.
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My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 145 Posts, by category, from newest to oldest ---
Dying of Despair
Notes From the Rising Dark
What is Exponential Decay
Collapse: Slowly Then Suddenly
Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Making Sense of Who We Are
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Post Collapse with Michael Dowd (video)
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
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Complexity and Collapse
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If We Had a Better Story...
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
A Short History of Progress
The Boiling Frog
Our Culture / Ourselves:
The Lab-Leak Hypothesis
The Right to Die
CoVid-19: Go for Zero
The Process of Self-Organization
The Tragic Spread of Misinformation
A Better Way to Work
Ask Yourself This
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
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May I Ask a Question?
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
Learning From Nature
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
Republicans Slide Into Fascism
All the Things I Was Wrong About
Several Short Sentences About Sharks
How Change Happens
What's the Best Possible Outcome?
The Perpetual Growth Machine
We Make Zero
How Long We've Been Around (graphic)
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
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Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
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The Illusion of the Separate Self, and Free Will:
Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark
Healing From Ourselves
The Entanglement Hypothesis
Nothing Needs to Happen
Nothing to Say About This
What I Wanted to Believe
A Continuous Reassemblage of Meaning
No Choice But to Misbehave
What's Apparently Happening
A Different Kind of Animal
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
Reminder (Short Story)
A Canadian Sorry (Satire)
Under No Illusions (Short Story)
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)
The Only Way There (Short Story)
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses' Bodies (Poem)
Distracted (Short Story)
Worse, Still (Poem)
A Conversation (Short Story)
Farewell to Albion (Poem)
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