Many use New Year’s Day as a time to reflect on the past and to plan for the future. Some of you may even reflect on your virtual past and make Second Life plans for 2010. As I reflected on my time in SL, I thought about some of the common and perhaps not so common things that I had never accomplished and/or experienced.
Here’s my list:
1. I have never built anything more complicated than a simple platform in SL.
2. I have never created a pose in SL.
3. I have never scripted in SL.
4. I have never owned a business in SL.
5. I have never had an occupation in SL.
6. I have never modeled in SL.
7. I have never had a fashion blog in SL.
8. I have never been partnered in SL.
9. I have never owned a MystiTool in SL.
10. I have never DJ’d in SL.
11. I have never owned a sim in SL.
12. I have never actively played an alt in SL, i.e. actually talked to people and friended people on an alt account.
13. I have never been an escort in SL.
14. I have never sent someone RL nude pictures of me in SL.
15. I have never been a stripper in SL.
16. I have never attended an inventory organizing party in SL.
17. I have never gone on a date in SL.
18. I have never been a vampire in SL.
19. I have never lied about my age or gender in SL.
20. I have never met someone in RL that I met in SL.
Well there’s my list of Twenty Things I’ve never done in Second Life.
Feel free to share your list if you’d like.
Right off the bat, I am going to throw out two statements that I have recently forced myself to acknowledge as true, though I realize that many people may disagree:
What happens online matters, and
Unlike Vegas, what happens online does not stay online.
Before we delve deeper into those two statements, I want to ask the following questions:
Have you ever logged into Second Life or on Plurk, because you felt like you were “missing something” when you weren’t online?
When you are online in Second Life, have you ever looked at the clock and said wow, where did the time go? I was going to log off an hour ago.
Do you ever feel the need to justify the time you spend online by saying, “Well if I wasn’t doing this, I would just be wasting time watching television.”?
Do you ever feel guilty about being online or lie about how much time you spend there?
Are you logging online out of habit versus actually having a specific reason to log on?
Most of you probably answered no to all of these questions, but I can tell you that I did not. I answered “Yes” to all of them.
Most active online users know of or have heard of Problematic Internet Use (PIU), but many people may believe that “if the time they are spending online is time they would normally be spending doing other “useless” type activities”, or “if the time they spend online is controlled to just a few hours in the evening or perhaps on Sunday afternoons”, then it’s not a problem. But I begin to realize it’s not just the number of hours that I spend actively involved online, it’s also the number of hours I spend thinking about it or reading blog posts or Plurking. Do I spend more time on my virtual life than I do actively engaged in my real life? Can you judge problematic internet use just by looking at time spent online?
I started thinking a lot about PIU in regards to my own online behavior after reading the following study. I was surprised to realize that “problematic internet users were more likely than nonproblematic users to use the Internet for meeting new people, seeking emotional support and playing socially interactive games.” I actually would have associated the social aspect of online interactions as a positive outcome of online activity versus problematic.
According to this study, you are at a higher risk of developing problematic internet use if:
You derive a sense of community from online relationships.
You use voice. Players that use voice are among the most social players and have the strongest social connections.
You feel immersed in your online activities.
You spend real world resources, i.e. money, to support your online social activities.
Ironically, time spent online was the weakest predictor of PIU. It is the quality of your online interactions versus the quantity of the activity that could present a problem.
Compulsive, rather than excessive, Internet use is more likely to result in negative outcomes.
So what sort of online behavior could be seen as compulsive? I begin to look back at my time spent online and think about what sort of behaviors stood out to me as problematic. I identified three possibilities. Two types of problems which I have actually suffered with and seen others suffer with, and one I have just observed.
You can’t talk about problematic online compulsive behavior without discussing online romantic relationships. Online romances can be healthy. I know many people that are able to maintain a healthy and loving online relationship, but it is very difficult to define and maintain boundaries online. Plus, many people online have other issues that may interfere with keeping an online relationship in perspective. When you start letting your imagination run freely, an online relationship can get out of control in just a few days. It can become more of an obsession than a relationship.
Though no matter the duration, you will find that your online dalliances will begin to influence you even offline. You may find that your behavior becomes compulsive, and in turn, your internet use could become problematic unless you begin to set clear defined boundaries and take time to step away from both the relationship and the computer. If you step away from both for a short period, and your online relationship does not survive the break, then you know you made the right decision and kept yourself from experiencing further heartbreak and wasting a lot of valuable time.
Unhealthy online romances are one of the prime examples of problematic internet use.
ADDING VODKA MAKES EVERYTHING BETTER
What happens when you take a person with a possible internet addiction and combine absurd amounts of alcohol? You could potentially take the possible internet addiction and turn it into massive problem.
I like to drink. In fact, I love drinking. Drinking can break down barriers and encourage bonding. But in an online environment, a lot of boundaries are already pretty much nonexistent. People say whatever they want whenever they want. What good can possibly come out of plurking to your 200 plus friends how drunk you are? Everyone does it occasionally, but if every weekend, your online friends look forward to being amused by hearing you slur your words on voice, than you may possibly be combining two problems.
It also leads to other potential problems such as stripping on webcam or saying ridiculous and/or mean things and blaming it on liquor. Even if this type of behavior doesn’t indicate a problem to you, it can be very annoying to those around you.
I know that many will say drinking online is better than going out and getting drunk, which could lead to other more serious and possibly even life threatening problems. Perhaps that’s true. But for those of you that may even remotely think that your online interactions could possibly be having a negative influence, then adding alcohol is not a good idea.
It is also interesting to note that alcohol/substance abuse has also been shown to be present in people who exhibit the signs and symptoms of PIU.
YOU CALL IT E-STALKING, SOME CALL IT LOVE
We tease about it. We laugh about it. We all admit doing it at one point or another, but checking someone’s online profile, memorizing their interests or favorites movies or even knowing their profile well enough to recognize when they delete a pick can be a big sign of compulsive and problematic internet behavior.
Little things like this done in a repeated fashion means you are becoming a bit obsessive and could be crossing into online stalker territory. Yes, the term “stalker” may be harsh. But there is a firm difference between casually glancing at your ex’s MySpace and religiously analyzing every aspect of their Facebook page.
Most people obsessively check profiles, because perhaps they no longer have the same level of friendship with the person that they once had and see it as a way of keeping updated on their activities. Though checking when they log into Second Life, when they Plurk or when they blog is self-damaging behavior. It’s like picking at the scab that is trying to heal, all you are doing is making it worse.
Been there. Done that. It is a problem!
SOLVING THE PROBLEM
I wish I had the magic solution to help solve these compulsive or problematic behaviors. Many experts recommend logging out and off. Though I don’t think completely avoiding any and all social networks is even a feasible solution.
The way I am trying to deal with my problematic behavior is by acknowledging I was having a problem and ending the cycle of denial. I have also decided to remember my two beliefs about online activity. What happens online matters: which means that my online activities have a real impact on my real life, and I can not try to pretend that they don’t. I also have to remember that what happens online does not stay online, so at anytime my online behavior could be exposed for my entire real life to view. I spent way too long trying to pretend that what happens online stays online, because I wanted it to. Pretending that my online activities didn’t matter and that no one would find out was my way of denying I had a problem.
Admit it is an issue. Acknowledge that it matters, and it does affect your real life. Attempt to solve it.
I spend most of my virtual time in a little bubble that I like to refer to as my skybox. It’s not that I don’t care what’s going on around the grid, but most of the time, I have to have it pointed out to me when it occurs. Though once I’m aware of it, I do enjoy the voyeuristic aspect of being a fly on the wall. It’s like a stage drama being played out in tiny episodes. I know some people get a thrill out of the drama aspect, but I enjoy trying to establish each individual’s motivations and trying to determine how I would react in that particular situation. Honestly, sometimes I do judge participants harshly.
For example, in the past, I have observed, from a safe little corner in my skybox, the beginnings and endings of a virtual connection between two individuals. I was not privy to the inner workings of their encounters, but unfortunately in the small fishbowl that we choose to live our virtual lives, such things can be obvious.
Perhaps it was a happy Plurk that they had a great night with someone special or several weeks later, it may be a Plurk that indicates for whatever reason they are no longer as happy. I wonder at the time what made a person get into this particular situation. Why would you so easily get close to someone so quickly? How could anyone have been so naïve?
Perhaps if I could rewind back a few weeks earlier and see it from the beginning, I could answer those questions. It could have started with a casual click in random banter. A person makes a comment, you respond, and before you know it, you realize that this person is more interesting than you expected. A few days of casual public conversation could lead to one long late night conversation, and interest could be piqued. There is an unforeseen connection. You wonder what it is about this person that makes you want to know more. It could be that they are charming, intelligent, humorous and unexpected. You begin to lower your defenses and before you know it, you are starting to look forward to seeing their name on your screen, and you find yourself smiling as you share silliness back and forth. It may have only been a few days but in terms of talking, you have spent hours and covered a spectrum of topics. You start to trust and find your mind wandering to thoughts of this person even when the computer screen is turned off.
This is the point that you could stop, but why would you want to stop? It’s the first signs that this may be becoming a silly crush. Perhaps one night you log off, but on a whim you think, I want a little more and pop back on for a moment, and get surprised by that person expressing a casual fondness for you. They may just say something simple such as, “I like you”, and you realize that you like them too.
It sounds innocent so far. Two people making a connection, and though this type of connection may come easily to some, let’s just say in this case, that it doesn’t happen as frequently for these two, so this particular connection is surprisingly wonderful.
So how could this go wrong? There could potentially be real world complications to consider or possibly a trust issue develops, or it could be a combination of both. One person could have real world complications, and the other person could present a few trust issues. Though at that moment, all of those things are forgotten as the beginnings of a new and seemingly perfect connection confound at least one of them.
As time goes on, the trust issues and real world complications may present a problem, it could be as simple as an idea that one of the involved parties could possibly have a habit of similar behavior. Something said in jest by a random person could be misinterpreted and mistrust grows. One party pulls back questioning the motives of the other. This situation could easily be resolved as long as the accused responds quickly and assures the other party that the connection is real and unique. Things go back to normal or as semi-normal as this situation could ever be.
Until a few days or weeks later, it begins to become obvious that one person’s interest has waned. This leaves the other person confused and potentially hurt. The question of motive begins to rear its ugly head again, and the lovely connection that seemed so amazing a few short weeks ago begins to fade.
What finally ends the painful back and forth of one person seeking contact and the other person halfheartedly responding? I could speculate that it finally ends when the person seeking contact stops. They realize how pathetic the entire situation has become, and that they must put an end to it before it becomes even more ridiculous. The self protection instinct has finally kicked in.
Though how do you end it when you really still want contact but can’t stand being the person left waiting over and over again? I suggest as open and honest as possible. First, reduce the ease and opportunity of contact. If you can’t contact them as easily, you won’t be as hurt when they don’t respond. Depending on the level of the initial connection, you may want to give the other person one last chance to respond and confirm or deny their level of interest. It may seem a last ditch pathetic attempt, but it also rules out the possibility that there was a misunderstanding. Though once you make that last contact and you get no response, you have to realize, no matter how painful it may be, that perhaps the connection was never really there.
It may have been a random virtual connection, but the time you put into it was very real. I have reached the realization that it is okay to be hurt, feel confused and question your judgment. I have also decided that the next time, I see someone hurt and confused over a similar situation, I will withhold judgment and remember no matter how much I thought I had it all figured out and could resist the draw of a temporary rush of endorphins, I too was there once.
I spend a lot of time walking through life feeling slightly superior to you, and you, and that guy in the corner and the girl reading the paper. I think I’m pretty special, and I realized that many people in Second Life think they are too.
We all seem to have an inflated sense of self, because everything about Second Life screams look at me! Look at what a pretty picture I made. Look at what a great blog post I wrote! Look at my pretty avatar! Look, I’m a model! Look I’m a famous clothes designer! Hey, look at the pretty pixel hair I made! Well, you all get the point. You are all quite intelligent and witty, right?
And most of you will try to deny it, but you fit in there somewhere. The entire premise of Second Life is to indulge your every idealized desire.
Honestly, it’s not just a problem in the virtual world. Like many concepts that seem to affect the Second Life population, this narcissistic attitude is a world wide phenomenon.
Our inflated sense of self is affecting our ability to form strong bonds and emotionally healthy relationships. We feel that we are too good for many people, so we don’t even try to get to know them. We also lash out quickly if we are criticized or might secretly suspect that someone could possible be slightly superior to us. Though rarely do we ever really think anyone is actually better than we are. How could they possibly be?
We can blame society and the rise of self esteem focused learning. We were praised for our individuality, and our parents were encouraged to praise mediocrity. Of course our parents were slightly narcissistic also, because they secretly thought that their little munchkin was such so amazing that his only worry in life would be choosing between being a world famous super model and a the leader of the free world.
So my question is how do we reverse the trend?
We can’t change the world, but we can possibly change our little corner of the virtual world.
We could start with not automatically just handing out over the top praise to anyone and everyone that attempts anything. It just overly inflates egos unnecessarily and cheapens the impact when we truly mean it.
As hurtful as rejection and criticism can be, I’ve found it very useful. It brings me down a notch. Reminds me that there are people out there that don’t think I’m that amazing. Sometimes we all need to hear that. As long as we are open enough to see it as an opportunity to grow and reevaluate ourselves.
Perhaps we need to step back and think in the long run what really sets me apart from anyone else? Most of us may find we are way more flawed than we thought.
I know I have been brought back down to reality quite a few times in the last few weeks. I am feeling quite average, and oddly satisfied.
I noticed recently that my closest friends in Second Life are two couples. Both couples have wonderful loving and realistic relationships, but I begin to wonder if their relationship went sour, where would that leave me? Would I have to choose sides or worse? Would I be stuck in the middle? Trying to spend time with each one separately while not referring to the other one at all?
It’s not always romantic relationships ending that cause this situation. Friendships, business relationships, etc. end frequently in both worlds with hurt feelings and ill will on both sides. We all have been stuck in the middle of two feuding former friends.
Yet not everyone is aware of the consequences of being stuck in the middle of a public breakup in a small town environment that is Second Life. When relationships or friendships end in small towns, the phones start ringing and soon the entire town from the mayor down to little Johnny are speculating if Mr. and Mrs. Smith broke up because of Mr. Smith’s hot new secretary. Some of the town may talk and discuss to offer sympathy. Others may talk spitefully, especially if Mrs. Smith was key in the town’s gossip circle as being especially quick to point out other’s flaws and giggle at other’s disappointments.
In Second Life, the cycle is even more quick and vicious. Text is copy and pasted over and over in IM and Plurk windows. Blogs are commented on, and many are eager to delight in other’s failed friendships, businesses and relationships. Everyone has an opinion that needs to be shared.
So what happens to the key few that are stuck in the middle of this mess? Many would say that the best step is to stay quiet, hope it blows over and respect the privacy of all involved. On some level, I would agree. Though, I have always been a big believer in doing my best to be honest, even if the truth is not always favorable to all parties involved.
I can say that in past experience trying to stay close friends with both parties is almost impossible to maintain. Unfortunately sides have to be chosen, or else close ties may have to be severed. You can not lend a sympathetic ear to both parties equally. You will only end up miserable in the attempt. Yet staying completely out the situation helps no one. The best course of action is to try to quickly ascertain the facts and choose a side. By choosing a side, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to blackball or spread untruths about the other person involved. Though, if in the course of trying to determine which side to choose, you discover that one friend is completely out of line to the point of inexcusable social behavior, it may be in the best interest of all involved to reveal in an honest and factual manner the details of the break-up. This may solve a lot of other people heartbreak in the long run.
Being stuck in the middle of a disagreement can be just as stressful as being involved in the actual conflict. When the dust clears, if the squabble was over something minor, and the friendship or relationship is repaired, the friend you stood behind will remember your kindness. If the other person involved in the disagreement wants to mend fences, then he or she will mend them with both of you. Though, if during the disagreement you stood back and did nothing or tried to offer advice to both sides, you may find yourself out in the cold.
If the disagreement is never resolved and the relationship is permanently over, then you will come out of the conflict with one friend and your self respect intact.
Though, there is one last scenario to discuss. What if you stood by the injured friend’s side, released factual information of how they were wronged, and your friend chooses to drag themselves back to the relationship against your best judgment? Then at that point all you can do is state your concerns and step back. Allowing yourself to return as a friend of both when you know the true nature of one of them would only be enabling.
I know that many people will not agree with this post, as they may be the stand back and let the chips fall where they may sort, but this advice has served me well in many similar situations.
I have a partner. Granted his name is not listed in that little partner box in my profile, and his picture is not listed under my picks. I have never hopped on a pose ball with him, or admired his prim penis. But he is my partner nonetheless. My partner in both worlds has only logged onto Second Life once.
I have never experienced a strictly Second Life partnership. I imagine that like real life relationships that each one is very unique, and the hows and whys of a virtual relationship may be even harder to define. In both worlds, I have encountered couples that spend almost every moment possible together, and those that function quite well from afar. Some couples would call their partner their best friend, while others insist that having time for other friendships is what makes their relationship so strong.
I could spend hours telling you the intricate ins and outs of my marriage, but obviously what works for us would most likely never work for any other couple. Personal dynamics of a marriage or long term partnership are just that personal.
I’ve heard horror stories of marriages ending through one or both parties complete immersion into SL, but for every tale of despair, there is one of hope. Connections made through computer screens that end in years of real life bliss. Of course, sometimes the two stories are related. Sometimes, real life happiness of a Second Life partnership may only come after the horror of a marriage ending. Of course, I know that Second Life doesn’t end relationships, people end relationships. The “injured party” may rebel and claim, “If you weren’t glued to that computer screen all the time, we could have worked through our problems.” Perhaps the inability to work through the problems is what caused the online immersion and not vice versa…. Who knows?
I enjoy the social aspect of Second Life. The social aspect is what drives everything else that I’m into in world. I shop for and dress Daila with the intention of going some place to be social. Are there times that I log on and spend hours without even talking to another avatar? Well of course, but my ultimate goal is to get to know others and make connections. What better way to waste time then by discovering how others tick? I also flirt. I knew the moment that I logged on that being social and flirting while married could lead to sticky situations.
So how do I juggle my need to flirt and get to know others with the more important goal of ensuring that my marriage is healthy and my partner doesn’t feel neglected? First, I ensure that time spent in world is not time I could be spending with him. His work schedule is very busy, so normally when I’m online he’s not home or otherwise occupied. Second, I try to keep an open and honest dialogue with him about my online activities.
I involve him as much as he wants to be involved and sometimes even more so. I ask his opinion on skin, hair, clothes, pictures and blog posts. Most of the time, I can tell he could care less, but he loves me and in turn tries to be interested in what interests me. Sometimes, I even spend time talking to him about blog drama, and he gives me an outsider’s perspective. I know that a lot of times he may see my SL interactions as silly, but he has never demeaned the time I spend here. Though, I do think he was somewhat relieved after my first year when I lost interest. Now, he knows that my interest in SL can be fleeting, and I can go weeks without logging in, and he accepts that there are times when I’m online every day.
As far as my social interactions in SL are concerned, there have been a few times when jealousy arose, or he felt that I crossed some invisible line in regards to the topics I discussed with members of the opposite sex. His most common response when I’ve talked to the same opposite sex avatar for long periods on multiple occasions is I don’t like that guy. He says it jokingly, but that’s usually my warning sign that I may be getting too close. I know there have been a few rare occasions when I’ve ignored the warnings signs and trudged into uncharted territory, but as always my interest waned, and things went back to normal quickly.
Over the years, I learned that certain things make him feel better regarding my time online. I encourage him to be in the room while I’m online. The password to my Second Life is now always typed in. It wasn’t always that way, but it just makes things easier on all fronts to have it that way. He’s on my Plurk line, though he’s never really commented on my plurks. In fact, I don’t think he has even logged on in months. We have our boundaries that we don’t’ cross. He doesn’t read my email, and I don’t read his texts. Though, if either felt the need, I’m sure we could reach some understanding.
I know that many would say that my pseudo-flirting online may be a time bomb waiting to explode, but after almost three years in SL, I think I learned some bomb defusing skills. A few people tell me that as open as I am, that they feel I put up invisible barriers that don’t encourage intimacy. I know that whatever barriers someone may feel that I put up are unintentional. But perhaps, I only have so much intimacy to give, and it’s all taken up by real life at the moment.
I wanted to do this post as a two-parter in which I told my side and have him tell his, but he seemed reluctant to write a post. We did do a little question and answer session about my time online and his thoughts, but almost every question was summed up with one basic answer, “Whatever makes you happy baby. “ And that actually sums up my opinion too. As much as I love SL and my friends here, and as stubborn as I can be, if he asked me to give it up, I’d never log on again. Though, I really hope he never does! I would expect that I’d know and be able to give it up on my own, before it ever reached that point. At least I like to think so.