May 10, 2008

Congruence — Words and Actions

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:23 pm by zhaewry

Unlike some things I write about, this is purely personal, and purely about the social side of Virtual Worlds, not the technical side. Its mostly drawn from Second Life ™ (A registered Trademark of Linden Lab) but that’s because I spend more of my time there than most places, I think it is applicable in any immersive social space.

One of the odd things about Second Life, is the ease with which we can, in various ways shade the truth, or flat out lie. In a mostly text world, with avatars which type what we tell them to, and blush, smile, and frown, on cue, the listener, is at the mercy of the speaker for body language, which can be misleading, either due to self deception, or actual intent to deceive. Add the ability to create multiple avatars, the lack of any tie between an avatar’s appearance and real life, and the opportunity for confusion and deception increases.

Almost every resident in Second Life approaches the balance between being a perfect copy of themselves and a created persona differently. This is not surprising, we are all different, and we all have different goals. Some people exist as digital duplicates, with avatars which closely mimic real life. Some chose avatars which are wildly different from their real life appearance. Likewise, the role, and persona people project varies wildly. Some are basically themselves, in a digital body, others, take on personas which vary from their real life behavior. Some immerse in a role, to the point where they don’t exhibit any connection to their real life existence.

Interestingly, the various choices are fairly unrelated. People are complex and they behave in ways which reflect this. Some of the most honest, true to themselves people I know, live as avatars who are quite different than their Real Life appearance. Several of the people I know, who behave most differently from their RL personas actually have avatars which look very much like them. The choices are also fluid, sometimes from moment to moment, sometimes from avatar to avatar. Some people chose to separate roles, having work and play avatars. Some chose to role play with a separate identity, others roll them all together.

This affects us, in a virtual space, in some funny ways. As in real life, we interact with people, we form friendships, and we offer up bits of ourselves to other people. We share our thoughts, our energy, our attention. For many of us, our virtual selves and our virtual friendships are deep and important. This becomes problematic, if the friendships are based on confusion, misunderstanding, or even outright deception. Sometimes its simply a case of differing expectations. Someone who always represents themselves as a close copy of their real life self may be very confused by someone who is engaging in a degree of roleplay or re-interpretation of self.

This leads me to the title of this post. “Congruence — Words and Actions” This, for me, is the touchstone of a virtual persona. Over time, how do their actions compare to their words. Does the person who greets you with a warm emote, actually talk to you, interact and respond, or do they pop into the scene, wave warm greetings and go silent? Does the person who says, “Oh, invite me to your next event” ever show up. More importantly, when someone says they want to be your friend do they act like a friend, or do you feel like you’ve been added to some ever growing roster of casual acquittance’s. Do you feel like you’ve met someone new, or been part of someone’s calculation in how to level up to level 40 of Second Life Mastery, where they will get a Travel Steed, and the ability to turn on other people’s bling?

Friends, are people I interact with. When I enter a space, I greet them, and when I notice we haven’t chatted in a while, I try to track them down and IM them. Fiends are people who drop me a LM to a fun sim they’ve found, or offer me a TP when a good pair of freebie boots is on offer. Friends invite you to fun parties. Friends, in short, just like in real life, drop some energy into your life. Likewise, I try and drop some of my energy, and my thoughts at my friends.

Grace McDounnough touches on this in her thoughtful post on social norms. It’s entangled with how we want to experience our virtual lives. There’s another half to it as well, which Grace mentioned, and Chestnut Rau touches on very nicely in her post on the Second Life Terms of Service and Privacy. This is that we expect our friends to respect our personal space. When we tell them something, we have a reasonable expectation that they will act thoughtfully and not casually share it. When we say something in a private message, or a notecard, for them to know, we don’t expect that to be shared around the sims.

Now, I don’t know any perfect people. I’m not perfect, I don’t expect perfection of my friends. But.. I do expect, that they will try to be good friends, that they will act in ways which match their words. I try to hold myself to that standard. I’m sure I fail from time to time, and I regret that. So, look at yourself, as you float across the grid. Do you say one thing and do another? Do you emote by habit, or do your emotes actually reflect your mood? Do you add to the life of people you consider friends, or do you just share the grid with them. Food for thought

~ Zha



  1. Prokofy Neva said,

    What’s curious is that you, Grace, Chesnut, me and other people unrelated all began talking at once, although unrelated (unless you all pre-discussed) about the problem of erosion of social norms — norms that in fact are a mere ideal, and which in fact we never had in SL (as I commented on Grace’s blog).

    I totally disagree with Chesnut’s reifying of the TOS, as I noted on her blog, too — no need to set these really abusive TOS sorts of restrictions in stone, they’re overbroad. So far, fortunately, Lindens do not police publication of chat logs on third-party sites. This may change. So far, they’ve respected they can’t overreach.

    Having seen the sheer impossibility of trying to establish norms in SL because the company Linden Lab itself doesn’t set the tone properly, and doesn’t shape the policy that could help social problems because of their fixation and belief that all problems can be fixed with “technology” or “tools,” I’ve recently approached the problem from the user end, so to speak, deciding what my own personal grid of criteria if for the “invalid interlocutor”. I’ve spelled it out here:

    So, knowing that I will never get forums-dwellers, event-hecklers, twitter-haters to drop things like their propensity to assume that I’m a cat-lover or have a lot of cats just because I don’t agree with them, I simply take that as a marker for myself as “invalid interlocutor”. Once someone goes in cat-lady mode on me, they’ve essentially opted out of my serious discourse — I can pay attention to them, but more likely will dismiss them and go on to a more interesting person who doesn’t do that.

    Meanwhile, I don’t try to legislate against cat-labelling, I don’t go around hounding and browbeating and tell people to stop making avatars of me with cats spilling up and down the shoulders, I just note: “Here it comes, cat thing again, delete, next.” So it’s like the bulk mail and the viagra ads, it doesn’t work perfectly but well enough.

    I’m happy to keep refining my own personal invalidity grid of 12 points in case it is preventing any legitimate and sincere types from engaging, but I think I have it pretty well refined now.

  2. Prokofy Neva said,

    BTW, how do you get those photos to come out so clear and crisp? Are they photoshopped post-SL? Or do you have some really fabulous computer/graphic card set up? Can you say which one? I want to get a new computer/graphic card that really runs SL. I’m so tired of getting in fact what they tell you to get on their own web site, but it doesn’t work really!

  3. zhaewry said,

    For the photos. I shoot using windlight turned up all the way. No filtering. I generally drop using a simple photo editor, and re-size lossless when I tweak sizes. The hardware is a 1920×1600 laptop, with a nvidia 570M graphics sub-board. (IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad T61P) Ansitropic filtering is on, and I run a light anitalising level in the latest dazle RC.

    From what I’ve seen Linden still works best with nvidia’s hardware, and if you want the best photos, you want a card that allows you to turn every last bit of the windlight pipe on. If you convert to jpeg, you also want to save in the highest quality level. (irfanview, is an excellent tool for quick preview, crop, convert) ~ Z

  4. Zha –

    I’ve been in Second Life for about 6 months now, and have gone through several phases of emotional adjustment to this strange new psychic environment. I remember my initial timidity and awkwardness trying to chat with strangers, followed by a feeling of exhilaration, first exploring in-world, and then joining a community (Confederation of Democratic Sims). I quickly learned to avoid entering houses unasked (I stumbled upon a couple being intimate), and to abstain from open prying (someone disliked my referring to the groups I saw on their profile). Then after about 6 weeks I had my first serious bout of what I called “Second Life Blues”, as I described on my blog:

    I think all Second Life avatars must have these moments where the strangeness of virtual identity leaves one feeling uneasy. You describe it in terms of deception, for me it was summed up in a friend’s statement: “the key word in Second Life is second.” In other words, avatars come and go, fail to show up for appointments, or just disappear for good, because RL always takes precedence over SL. And this blue feeling must take all sorts of other forms corresponding to the diversity of characters and experiences.

    But what finally reassured me about virtual identity was the way I have been able to develop my own. I try to keep my RL name hidden, although I freely share details about my real life (that I am from the States but now live in France, that I am over fifty – I designed my avatar’s looks to show that). But through a variety of media (SL, my blog, facebook, twitter, etc) I have seen Danton Sideways gradually build up not only a very stable identity, but also a bit of a reputation (for good or bad 🙂 ), as well as a specific role in various communities. In a similar vein, Gwyneth Llewelyn somewhere describes her astonishment at finding that her virtual identity has far outstripped in renown her real-life identity. As I gradually gained assurance about my virtual identity, I realized that my in-world friends have likewise been gradually building their own virtual identities, sometimes for a much longer time and with broader scope than I.

    The other aspect of your post, to which Prok has replied above, concerns social norms in Second Life. Thank you for having oriented me towards Grace’s and Chestnut’s blog posts on that subject. I’ve skimmed them but now plan to read them in more detail.

  5. […] Posted in akurion, consultas y medios, glob, la nave de los locos, la representacion, mis conversaciones | […]

  6. Lunette Fouroux said,

    What a thought-provoking post. I have been struggling with these issues myself. I found it very difficult to get used to the social aspects of the SL world. I was always assuming people were talking about their real lives when they were really talking about their Second Lives (now I tend to do the opposite, lol). I think I’ve settled on just trying to be flexible, open-minded, patient, respectful, and honest (without compromising my own or any one else’s privacy).

    I do think the abundance of other social networking outlets can make it more confusing & difficult for newbies to navigate between the real & the virtual worlds. When Lunette had a blog & Twitter account, I started revealing more about my RL than I really felt comfortable with, and thinking I knew people better than I really did based on these their revelations. I found myself wanting others to be my “friends” before we had really developed an in-world basis for true friendship. Now I am trying to focus on having social interactions in-world, rather than in the “public” arena of blogs, Twitter, etc., and waiting to see what happens. I think it is going to end up being a very rewarding experience. 🙂

  7. Argent Bury said,

    I do expect, that they will try to be good friends, that they will act in ways which match their words. I try to hold myself to that standard. I’m sure I fail from time to time, and I regret that. So, look at yourself, as you float across the grid. Do you say one thing and do another? Do you emote by habit, or do your emotes actually reflect your mood? Do you add to the life of people you consider friends, or do you just share the grid with them. Food for thought

    These are the rules I try to live by, and the standard I try to hold myself and others to. Personally, I don’t need to know who someone is in First Life, I just need to know who they *really* are in Second Life. It means I’m a bit slower to trust, but it seems to pay off in the end.

    Thank you for a great post. You’ve inspired me to reflect on my own principles and ideas of friendship, and to ask myself how well I’ve been upholding them so far.

  8. Great post, Zha. One note of clarification on this: “Do you feel like you’ve met someone new, or been part of someone’s calculation in how to level up to level 40 of Second Life Mastery, where they will get a Travel Steed, and the ability to turn on other people’s bling?”

    Someone forgot to tell you that in the latest release, leveling up to level 40 of Second Life Mastery means you get to turn OFF other people’s bling. See JIRA-BLING-005 😉

  9. I do what I can.

  10. Dale Innis said,

    Hey, I was going to make that same point about bling; darn you for stealing my witty comment, Grace! 🙂

    A very nice post, Zha. It seems to me that in terms of intentional deception, the virtual words are very much like the real one; intentionally deceiving people is a bad thing to do. An interesting thing about the virtual worlds is that -accidental- deception is so much easier. We all have different ideas about the relationship between (say) SL and RL, about whether the things that we say apply just in the world and the persona in which we say them, or whether they should also be true of all worlds (including the ‘real’ one) and all alts and AVs that we use. I don’t have any really clever insights into how to avoid this, aside from good and thorough communication…

  11. Dale Innis said,

    … but communication has its own costs. It would be silly and annoying to present every new acquaintance with a sort of prenup, laying out exactly which sorts of statements that you make apply to all of yourselves, which to the current AV but not your alts, which only in the current world, which only within the current RP environment, and what your corresponding expectations are for them. Talk about a conversation-killer! 🙂

    I recall reading someone in the RL transgender community talking about this same dilemma (in spaces) there: at what point to you mention to a new acquaintance that you used to be the other sex? On casual meeting it’s almost certainly Too Much Information, and once you find yourself in bed with them it’s probably a bit too late. Where in the in-between there is the right time?

    So this is yet another area where we need to evolve, and are slowly evolving, standards and norms. And it’s unlikely that we’ll ever all converge on the same set of norms. Drama will always be with us. 🙂 But at least we can work to reduce it…

    And we can start by, as Zha says, at least being mindful, and not deceiving intentionally or through simple neglect.

  12. Dale Innis said,

    (P.S. Arg: that mysterious “(in spaces)” in my previous should be “(in spades)”…

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