Group Dynamics, Communities, and the Mob Mentality

December 27, 2007 at 6:55 pm (Communication, Friendship, Life, Relationships, Second Life) (, , , , , , , , , )

group-of-people.jpg

The idea of community isn’t new to the online world. In fact, those who know would say the Internet itself was born out of Usenet groups and discussion forums that began popping up on college campuses in the eighties and early nineties (yes, I am old enough to remember that!). In the last several years communities have further evolved to encompass even greater purpose in this perpetually connected world of ours. From open source software to self help communities where regular folks get answers to their burning questions from other regular folks–arguably a return to the original objective of those communities of yesteryear–Web-based communities continue to be one of the greatest driving forces that push our ever evolving online culture to innovate. And Second Life (SL), one could contend, is at the forefront of that innovation.

So now that I’ve gotten my theoretical academic preamble out of the way, let’s get down to the smarmy tabloid topics I’d really like to talk about. I’ve been wondering about the concept of community in Second Life for awhile now. And recently I was reminded of that curiosity when a fellow SL blogger–ehem, I mean journalist–included me in a list he had compiled (*blush*–you’ll have to see for yourself what the list was about.). The list was long and included a variety of people he must know in SL. But I wondered: in addition to him, do they all know each other? Are they perhaps members of some giant online community or extended mutual admiration society?

Second Life communities–which could also be described as groups, friends, networks, sims, neighbors…you get the picture–seem to function much like our own circles of friends in the real world around us. Often these groups or communities center around similar tastes or experiences like music, art, politics, or sex. Some revolve around proximity, as in groups of neighbors (my friend Daxiaong has written a great post about his own neighborhood community). And I suppose some just grow organically from the seeds of mutual attraction.

This is the part where I admit that I haven’t had great luck cultivating my own community experiences in SL. Which is why I’m always in awe of people to whom groups seem to gravitate. But from what I’ve seen of them, many SL communities tend to magnify some of the good but mostly the bad and the ugly characteristics of group dynamics. They are often ripe with rotten relationship triangles or cheating friends and lovers. Many include the he-said-she-said back-and-forth I thought we all tried to leave behind in middle school. And, sadly, some even include the gang-ups and hang-ups of mob mentality.

Why is this? Why do people, pixelated or fleshy, seem to create levels of never-before-achieved drama when we gang together as groups? Is there something left of our Darwinian evolution from animals where we work to mate and then ascend to the top of the social spectrum of the pack? Is it simply human nature to seek others with like minds in order to wrap ourselves in the comfortable blanket of the familiar?

As usual I don’t know. But I think I know why in SL these group games seem so much more pronounced: because we can hide behind a veil of anonymity that we think shields us from the guilt and blame that should accompany bad behavior.

In the Buddhist sense, however, we’re never anonymous; our karma follows us far beyond this second, real, or any other life we might live. So why not make the most of this opportunity and try to push our evolutionary story even further? Move beyond forming Survivor-style alliances and bring our very best selves to the groups to which we belong. This might mean zipping our lips at times or finding forgiveness when we don’t want to. But what else is evolution for than to move beyond the behaviors that hold us back as a society?

I realize this was a rather negative commentary on such an important feature of the entire social network scene. So for those with positive experiences and stories to share, bring them on. I know they’re out there.

P.S. For those curious onlookers, I’ve written my own “list” in the comments section of the blog.

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10 Comments

  1. cindykesey said,

    Ok. Now for the list. Disclaimer: if you’re not listed that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to have sex with you. I just had limited typing room. 😉

    Name the avatar that you would most like to have second life sex with for…

    1. … their avatar: Aron Artaud, because his av keeps getting hotter and hotter.

    2. … their mind: that clearly must be Erosmo Masala, a really really really really smart guy.

    3. … their poetic/mystical/creative spirit: No one writes poetry like Trowzer Boa. No one. Makes me melt.

    4. … their social success/success in SL: tough one so I’ll make it a tie. I continue to be in awe of Digby Smalls whenever I hear him sing. And Stephane Zugzwang is the sweetest frenchman I know.

    5. … their libido: Ha this one was easy. Magneto Market, for obvious reasons.

    6. … wanting them to go against type for you. That is, if they are normally a top, you would want them to be your bottom, if they are straight and you are same sl gender: My neighbor Zog Osvar intrigues me with her sports toys and outgoing personality. I’ve not been with a girl in SL yet, but if I did she’d be my top choice.

    7. … and you would go against type for this: I’d still submit to Brazen Darrow if asked.

    8. … and you would most want to do a nothing-but-sex week with, who you are not currently having sl sex with: Another tie. What can I say, I’m indecisive. First, I’d say Salandek Writer, because I’m a sucker for a fellow writer. And second it would be Tomaslav Bade, who piques my curiosity so much it almost gets the best of me.

    9. … and you want a threesome, which two. They don’t have to be from the above list, but can be: Trowzer Boa and Baggataway Miles…because I imagine it would be so fun and funny my stomach would hurt for hours afterward…from laughing!

    10. … “The forbidden,” the one that, you’d like to publicly confess to, but the consequences would be toooooo awful. Examples would be your best friend’s partner, a professional contact, someone you know rl who is here… Someone who you want, but have never been able to confess it too. Don’t post… Just answer with whether they are online right at the moment that you post your answer: not online

    11. … nostalgia reasons: Koz, of course.

  2. Daxiong Ling said,

    Kudos to you, good madam, as I could never bring myself to be so open in such a list.

    Sometimes I can be so reserved…

  3. trow said,

    OMG…never ever will i worry about my picks…who are mostly just FRIENDS ANYWAY! 😉 Enlightening blog Cinderella, and the top ten/eleven list is eye opening and intriguing…

    Ashamed to say I have not put so much thought into my partners…more of a “Hmmm, let’s see what she would do if i said THIS….” kind of thing…

    But anyway, I am all about avoiding the drama and connecting with folks on all different levels, so your community and evolution comments are great food for thought..and I have to echo Dax’s comment..you are among the most honest peeps I know, and that takes alot of courage…good for you!

  4. Loki Popinjay said,

    I have seen the best and the worst of community life in SL. I think communities within SL and related to SL (like slprofiles.com or the SL community on Flickr) tend to follow the same principles that apply to all online communities. Everything is always more extreme, more intense , bigger or faster then RL. Drama always looms around the corner. Apart from the anonymity you pointed out I think that also has to do with the fact everything is documented since a lot of the communication is written down for all to read. Add to that the risk of misinterpretation and you have the perfect feeding ground for drama.

    That said things like the surprise rez-day party a bunch of friends organised for me in world last Sunday convince me there are a lot of positive sides to this community life.

    I’ll promise never to tag you again though 😉

  5. Crighton Johin said,

    “Move beyond forming Survivor-style alliances and bring our very best selves to the groups to which we belong. This might mean zipping our lips at times or finding forgiveness when we don’t want to.”

    Wow….this statement hit me square between the eyes. I’m dealing with a situation that requires much delicacy, and what I really want to do is absolutely rip the couple involved. But I also know that is not productive and is not who I want to be today. While not in a formal SL group setting, it definitely involves a group…my group of friends and someone else’s attempts to manipulate and turn us against each other.

    While I do not know what to do at this point, I’ve learned that forgiveness is THE starting point, and where I need to go. Thank you for the most excellent post.

  6. VJ Shojo said,

    Regarding the article, not the list. One of the problems with Second lLfe and other online communities. is that the communication is in the form of the terse text that is chat. Sociologists tell us that 80% of normal communication is visual. Take away that plus the subtlety of verbal communication and you are left with a language in which misunderstandings are sure to occur. Granted text allows you to compose your thoughts more than speech, but often what the writer thinks is unambiguous turns out to be open to interpretation by the reader and whatever state of mind they are in. For example, a person may think they are flirting and the object of the attention may just think they’ve a creep on their hands. Multiply that with group dynamics and it’s not surprising that relationships are difficult to maintain in a sea of misunderstanding.

  7. Zog Ozsvar said,

    Hey neighbour,

    Ive stopped blushing now. Flattered youve even noticed me!

    Pop round for a cup of sugar sometime.

    Great blog as ever

    Zog/Arabella

  8. Ero said,

    Cindy, the voice that leads men and women into worlds of blissful distraction. Wow. I first read this blog awhile ago and as always, you have justified your place at the head of the table of the cultural conversation, not only with your astute eye for details, patterns, mores, and what not, but by that exceedingly rare feat…example. You put your ass on the line practically every blog baby, and I am constantly impressed, inspired, and yes, floored.

    But do you really want to know how I know that you are gay? It is because although you listed more men then women on your list, anyone could tell which tributes had that tingle to them.

    Good luck keeping up with the every growing adoration you have created, and please learn chess soon so I can do something better than you.

    E

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