Saturday, July 21, 2012

Social Life in Second Life

 A healthy social life is found only, when in the mirror of each soul the whole community finds its reflection, and when in the whole community the virtue of each one is living.

Rudolf Steiner

          After my last story about friendship in Second Life (SL) I began to think about what things friends do while together in SL.  This led me to start thinking (About this point is where Significant Other starts to worry.) some more about what are these “things” friends do together in SL.  Essentially, it’s a social life isn’t it?

          We have social lives in Real Life (RL) don’t we?  Why not in SL?  (This is where some of my RL friends start saying I’m spending too much time inworld.)  My earlier ruminations about community explored what communities inworld were like and their connections to RL.  So, if we accept communities and friends in SL why can’t we say we have social lives inworld? 

          What is a social life in SL like? 

          I submit that we come together to engage in shared interests, we use words to share the experiences, and we have emotional responses to these interactions just as we do in RL.  Yes, it is virtual.  And, it is anonymous.  How many people in SL use their RL identities?  Not many.  Yet, we’re having social experiences and interactions which, in my opinion, comprise a social life. 

          Do the differences make a difference?  Virtual versus real?  I’m not so sure.  Once upon a time, RL people had relationships for years based on letters sent by ship all over the world.  (Anyone remember pen pals?)  Sometimes they never met.  Sometimes they did and even got married.  I’ve never heard of anyone denying the validity of these relationships or claiming this was a game and not a legitimate social activity.  In essence, this was a social life for the participants or part of a larger one. (In fact, it still is because there are still many pen pals out there.)   

          Does the anonymity of SL make a difference?  Why would it?  Maybe people engage in behaviors inworld that they wouldn’t in RL because of the anonymity.  (Believe me.  I don’t go to nudist functions or BDSM clubs in RL.  I’m not being judgmental. I’d probably be tossed out if I showed up.)   Some researchers believe that this anonymity causes a lack of honesty in virtual relationships which precludes a “real” social life.  I’m not convinced.  As long as all participants accept the rules of engagement (i.e., avatars with fictional names), I don’t think it’s important.  It’s a level playing field for all engaged.   A person’s RL characteristics which may be detrimental to a RL social life don’t have to exist in SL.  (How many morbidly obese avatars have you encountered inworld?)

          One recurring theme I encounter from residents as I travel across the grid is the importance of being sensitive about the feelings of the person behind the avatar.  This is more important than the anonymity of virtual relationships.  If people are treated with dignity and respect inworld then there is a basis for a social life because people feel safe, comfortable, and return for the experience and seek out their friends again. 

          OK, if one accepts that there is a social life in SL, how can one have a social life in SL?  What comprises a social life in RL?  For me (Yes, I do have one in RL which permits me a perspective even if Significant Other does claim my half isn’t holding up its end.)  it’s friends, going to places with them, and doing things with them once you get there.  A social life is spontaneous although some planning doesn’t hurt.  Regularity is also another aspect of a social life. Coming together and having these common experiences. 

          Finally, should one have a social life in SL?  Why not?  Virtual social lives are just another aspect of the Internet age.  A healthy RL social life can only grow with a virtual social life.  From pen pals, we moved onto telephones then chat rooms on bulletin boards, followed by AOL, well, you get the idea.  Aren’t these all just enhancements to what we do in RL? 

          Like anything else in life, whether RL or SL, balance is necessary.  We’ve all heard the anecdotes about guys (Why is always guys?) in basements living on Cheeze Doodles and Jolt soda who only see life via their broadband connection.  But, the advantages when done practically are that we can safely meet people from all over the world and engage in activities not possible for many in RL.  (Get your mind out of the gutter, I’m talking about the music, art, machinima, dance, and other creative pursuits that people engage in when inworld.  Trust me without SL and the Internet, not too many would be reading what I write.) 

          As for the anonymity, maybe we don’t know whom we’re socializing with, but, the checks and balances of virtual worlds protect us.  Inworld, I don’t worry about getting cracked in the head and having my wallet lifted.  Although, I’m told some of the role playing sims do get a little rough.  That aside, we can take risks in SL that wouldn’t be prudent in RL.  For that matter, do we even know whom we’re meeting in RL all the time?  The stakes are a lot higher there. 

          Other social media like Facebook and Twitter enhance the social life experience in SL.  Many residents use these tools to stay in contact with their SL friends like they do their RL ones.  Will we someday see a blurring of the distinction between SL and RL social lives?  Might we one day bring our SL friends together with our RL ones for parties or other social functions?  Think about it.

          In closing, I believe we’re still in the very early stages of SL social lives or any other virtual world.  Rules of conduct and etiquette are still being formulated.  New worlds will arise and old worlds will fall. 

          What’s your social life in SL like?  I’m very interested in hearing from my readers about how they spend their time inworld with their friends.  If I have enough interest maybe we can meet inworld to talk about this in a forum or a panel.  Please send me your thoughts! 

As always, I’m grateful to all for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives.

Below are a few pictures of some of the communities I’ve visited inworld chosen to just show some of SL’s diversity. 

I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

     If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.

Photo No. 3 Luskwood, Furry Sim

Photo No. 5 Vampire Wedding Party

Photo No. 7 Nowaki

1 comment:

May O. Mingzi said...

Things I do in SL with friends (and sometimes by myself) are go to live music shows, visit art museums, do hunts for free stuff (two pairs of eyes looking for a hunt marker are better than one!), go to classes on building things, participate in discussions about writing and books, and sometimes just sit and chat about things going on in our lives. Socializing is being with people enjoying a common activity. Whether my body is physically in the same room as others isn't really the point, except I can't taste virtual food.