Friday, May 23, 2008

The Reality of Virtuality

Allow me to take a break from blowing up friends to write something…. (Back to blowing people up in the next blog.)

I read my friend Rheta Shan’s blog with interest and great respect. Rheta has a way of winnowing the complex down into the simple. She has brought us back to what it means to have a second life: it’s an escape.

However, I have to say I don't quite agree with her. I consider my deuxième vie more a journey than an escape. “Escape” smacks too much of vacation or video game. SL is not a game to me. It’s a social space for the human sitting at this monitor, an experience I am enjoying alone and with others.

I have disconnected from the disconnect between myself as a person in RL and myself as Harper in SL. Am I escaping my RL? No. This IS my RL. She is me; I am her. She is flawed--as flawed as I am. Does she carry the same burdens that I do? No, she is not married, she does not have a child, she has a LOT more shoes and one heck of a home. And she never seems to gain weight. But she is still me. No one else could be Harper as you know her except me.

As I wander on this journey, I meet up with others. We walk along the path together for a while, we talk, we share our personal lives, première or deuxième, we "break bread." It’s really not much different than what I have experienced in a work place, with a group of friends in school, with neighbors. It’s just we are not in our corporeal bodies. It’s pretty “real.”

I have to digress from this issue of the "real" to discuss this business of manners in this virtuality. It's not really a digression as much as a comment on the disconnect of RL from SL. Everyone places a different status on their RL identity. I have become more open about my RL identity. In fact, I let you all know how old I am in RL. However, I have learned to respect the various boundaries that people have placed in front of me as best I can. These are not tacit boundaries as some would have us believe; they need to be enunciated and reinforced by the individuals requesting them because everyone in this new world has different boundaries, and they often find that their boundaries and needs shift as their journey progresses. I have many friends who have simply said, I am not sharing that information, and that is their right. And I have had many violate my own codes (or simply lie about my identity) but shame on me for not telling them my own rules.

Put it this way: in my RL neighborhood, I have neighbors who wander in and out of each other's houses; they don't expect to do the same in mine as I have made it clear that my house is not open to them. I keep the front door closed and locked. No harm, no foul.

Expect that if you show up in an avatar, share your RL voice, share your RL personal information in even a semi-public sphere, it will be discussed among others. (I know you're all discussing whether I am showing gray--I am not!) Expect also that people/avatars, for the most part, are on their own journey as well. Expect that their intentions are, for the most part, benign. Expect that they are humans too--flawed, not perfect.

Back to my original thought now: We feel happiness here. We feel hurt. We feel limerence (thank you, Botgirl). Whether you know my age, my gender, my marital status or not, I am here. I am not escaping. I am on my journey. I am real.


Dusan Writer said...

Not to plug my own comments on the topic because you've done such a beautiful job yourself, and really, Rheta did such a nice job and gave us all deep food for thought, but I really have to point you to Tom Boellstorff's new book which inspired a post in response at my own blog.

Hmmm. Can I put links in this thing? Anyways, come on over. and all that....Tom has such intriguing thoughts on this and so many other issues. One of which is the idea of personhood and the fact that while many wonder about the "blurring" between the actual and the virtual, he feels that this "gap" is actually the source of the greatest possibility, and that moving across boundaries can in fact be a source for strengthening each.

In any case, I posted on it in one big muddled mess, but I've got to see if I can track him down.

Rheta Shan said...

Dear Harper, you are entirely right, of course this a journey, one that meshes our identities as much as it separates them.

I chose to say escapism because escape is an essential part of that journey. It need not be permanent (there is such a thing as too much of a good thing), and it certainly need not be the same journey for each of us — but the important thing about it is that it works, and allowing us to escape form the constraints of our defined RL identity is the essence of it. If and when we come back to this RL identity, as you do, it is by choice, and that is my point — that we need to escape first from that which will not let us choose to be truly free. Be it to choose to be what we have always been.