The Power of Cyber Friendships

November 18, 2007 at 12:03 pm (Communication, Friendship, Love, Relationships, Second Life) (, , , , , , , )

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I often wonder what the real world would be like if we could borrow some of the aspects or capabilities from Second Life (SL) and project them into our everyday experiences. Some of the obvious benefits that come to mind include the ability to change from bathing suit to ball gown with the click of a button or the capacity to jet across the universe to our favorite secluded hide-away on the drop of a dime; early boarding card or first class seat not required. One facet in particular I often fantasize about bringing into RL is the concept of SL friends. From the virtual “little black book” known as our friends list to the honest and open communication that seems unique to SL friendships, I think our world could be well served by making these elements parts of our own realities.

For those not steeped in SL culture, the friends list is a list of people with whom you choose to interact in SL. One has to offer friendship to another before you can be included in this personal list. And once you’re a part of it, you are notified whenever this person logs on or off the grid. This all sounds rather rudimentary as many chat clients and IM technologies include this capability to connect. Yet I’d argue that the SL friends list carries some unique psychological power not found in other applications.

The act of becoming friends is a delicious dance that helps us each feel included and important to those around us. There is something very comforting about definitively asking someone to be your friend. Reminiscent of the grade school years, this simple act sets up a clear and pronounced relationship with another person. There’s little of the doubt that clouds the sometimes awkward interactions that happen when we cultivate new friendships in the real world.

Alternatively, the act of deleting one from our friends list can be equally empowering. Unlike real life where unfulfilling and even toxic friendships can linger in limbo slowly polluting our power like a noxious silent gas leak, SL allows us to delete unsavory characters from our list with one click. We can also periodically peruse our catalog of comrades to see who we’ve connected with lately and clear out any clutter. This action often inspires me to reach across the grid and give a shout out to folks I haven’t said hi to in awhile. Sadly, I find that in real life as I get older this simple experience of reconnecting with long lost friends and family has all but dwindled to a trickle.

What I find most amazing about SL friendships, however, is an unprecedented level of openness and generosity toward others. Despite the fact that SL is an online fantasy world, I find that people often open up more quickly, sharing deep and personal details about themselves that provide a picture of who they really are. This allows for a quicker and more intense connection. Perhaps we feel more comfortable sharing deets with peeps online because of the sense of anonymity that comes with virtual communications; we feel more comfortable sharing private details with near strangers given the perceived wall of privacy the internet seems to provide. Regardless of the reason what I do know is that I find people more apt to “talk and hug it out bitch” in world than in my own backyard.

Addendum: A funny thing happened when I sat down in front of my fireplace today for a little relaxation. I picked up the Sunday paper–which I rarely have time to read–and noticed an article on internet friends, or “e-friends” as the paper labeled them. The article titled “The Best Friend You Never Met” was featured in Parade Magazine (that insert in your local newspaper) and included this interesting quote on e-friends: “As more people turn to the Internet for comfort, information or distraction, some are finding a treasure they never expected: friendships as strong as or stronger than their relationships in ‘real life.'”(Parade, November 8, 2007).

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The Sims Are Alive With The Sound of…um…Music!

November 8, 2007 at 6:31 pm (Life, music, Second Life, Sex) (, , , , )

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Many of you who enjoy spending time on Second Life (SL) will probably relate to this scenario: One day your close friend calls and asks where the hell you’ve been for the last several weeks. “Did you meet some hot new lover and are acting out the John Mayer song Your Body is a Wonderland word-for-word? Are you deathly ill and cannot venture out for fear of unleashing your contagious disease on an unsuspecting public? Or did you accept some secret mission from Dwight Schrute and are feverishly removing your office supplies from their jello encasings and preparing to embark on said mission?” It is at this moment you wrestle with how honest to be with this friend and admit your addiction to SL. You decide to come clean and confess what you’ve been doing.

As you tentatively describe that you’ve developed a fever for fraternizing online with animated avatars in a virtual cartoon world, you hear yourself talking and realize how crazy you sound to the uninitiated bystander. You realize then that you can’t be totally honest with this friend and begin to frantically grasp at legitimate activities you can describe doing in SL–things that don’t include sex, BDSM, furries, or pose balls. “But what else is there?” you wonder as you scour the recesses of your brain trying to remember what else you like to do in world. “Aha!” you remember at last. “Music!”

I myself have had almost this exact conversation (sans gratuitous reference to my dear Dwight). And as I began to describe the amazing musicians I had seen perform in world in the last week, I was overcome with awe over the quantity and quality of interesting and impressive music that is being made on the grid every day. From folk and funk to classical and country, musicians from all over the world are finding new audiences through this medium. And, as members of the audience, we’re all able to enjoy it from the comfort of our home office chairs (unless you’re the unlucky one relegated to the laptop in the living room that night).

An expanded audience base is only one potential benefit the new social media, including SL, bring to music and musicians. It is the opportunity for greater musical collaboration over a broader spectrum of musicians that galvanizes me. Recently I decided to get into the act myself, so to speak. I met a “friend” online who is a jazz musician and teacher in real life (RL). We collaborated via email on an updated version of a Billie Holiday tune; he sent the tracks and I sang over top and returned the vocal mix. And, although we’ve never met in person, the creativity and connection we’ve shared through just that one recording experience has us both clamouring to continue to collaborate.

My friend and I decided to collaborate once again when famed jazz pianist and funk father Herbie Hancock recently announced a music contest within SL. He asked musicians to create new pieces using remixes from any of his works, whether classic or new. We’re still in the process of making the music, but I can tell you I’m so thrilled and humbled by the opportunity I am practically speechless (kind of a bad thing given I’m responsible for adding vocal color). I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy…

I won’t go into details on the musicians I’ve discovered in SL. That is an experience I suggest you explore on your own. But one thing I will recommend is that you join a group to keep you updated on the various musicians and venues that are active any time of day (on the world clock) all over the grid. I belong to Live Music Enthusiasts and receive daily, sometimes hourly, announcements of live music happenings in world.

Music is truly a universal language, and one that is spoken in spades within Second Life. The importance and potential implications this medium has for musicians cannot be overstated, imho. And if that’s not enough for you, well music in SL remains a great cover for all that virtual sex you might be having!

Ok folks…contest entry is posted. Check here to listen. Feel free to vote for it if you like it.

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