Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Possibilities, Filters, and Identities

"Huh," says the readership-at-very-small, "didn't take you long to break the one-post-a-day pledge, did it?"

Mea culpa.  Yesterday turned out to be a busy, busy day, with lots going on at a personal level, that I don't propose to discuss any further here, because it is private, and anyway this is not That Sort Of Blog.

However, it led to some generalized musing, based on the idea of how people use the many possibilities of SL to present themselves inside it.  Such musings on personal identity have featured here before, I know; I am actively interested in the relationship between Glorf Bulmer as she appears inworld, and the real-world creature currently giving voice to her opinions in between ham sandwiches.

The interesting question is: when you can be pretty much anything inside SL, why and how do you choose what you are?

Some people, it seems, make sadly limited choices, and I honestly do think that represents a failure of imagination.  The epitome of this, I think, was a guy I saw once, who opined that the great thing about SL was that you could say whatever you liked without getting punched in the mouth.  (He was shouting this on voice in an infohub, thereby getting full marks for some sort of cliche trifecta.)  Now, this is a freedom which has been around online before SL - it was pretty well established when I first ventured online on JANET in '89 - and, well, it seems to me a very meagre sort of ambition, in a world where you can dream golden palaces into existence with a mere effort of will.

But, in a way, the shouty guy had a point.  You pick and choose so much of how you present yourself in SL, and you have a pretty complete freedom to do that picking and choosing, so much more than in RL.  You can check your gender, skin colour, ethnic heritage and even species at the door and pick new ones more to your liking on the inside.  The shouty guy chose to check a whole set of social constraints, so that he could behave in SL in a way he'd probably never do in RL.  And this is fine; I don't have to listen to him, people like him are why God gave us the "block" option.  (Also, of course, he's technically wrong; anyone who's explored SL's possibilities more thoroughly can, in fact, punch him so hard in the mouth that he flies off the Grid - although the resulting AR wouldn't be worth it.)

But... you choose what you bring in to SL, and what you filter out, and you can choose to filter out the bad stuff, too.  I don't mean lie about your criminal past and multiple convictions for mopery or whatever; I mean you can choose to exclude a lot of personal and emotional baggage which colours your expectations in RL.  I came into SL with a general idea of making a fresh start in a new world; my social relationships were a clean slate; my expectations shiny, untarnished and optimistic.  And you know what?  For the most part, they still are.  I have met my fair share, of course, of griefers, liars, trolls and general pains in the backside.... I have also established that they are a lot less common than they appear to be, and that the majority of SL residents are, in fact, decent people who will be delighted to be treated decently and will respond in kind.

And just being free of RL niggles helps so much.... My avatar gets to be in perfect health, all the time, for instance, and looks it.  SL-me doesn't need glasses, isn't dolefully counting the calories in those ham sandwiches, doesn't need to fret about RSI and her workstation's ergonomics.  She gets to be free, and is a freer spirit as a result.  Sometimes RL-me is very, very jealous of SL-me!

In SL, you have choices.  You can, like the shouty guy, choose some simple and obvious things, and run with them to their conclusions.  But, if you give more thought to the possibilities, you can choose things that actually make you a better person.  And this brings benefits in return - I have made real friends in SL, and fantastical machines; I have explored wonders and had adventures, and in general I've had a heck of a good time.  The shouty guy got to call people arseholes and get away with it.  Is he having more fun than I am?  Somehow, I kind of doubt it.

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