The Plague of Popularity: Do You Take Your Second Life Friends for Granted?

June 1, 2008 at 9:48 pm (Communication, Friendship, Life, Love, Relationships, Second Life) ()

Do you love me or do you not?
You told me once, but I forgot.

I don’t know about you,  but I spent many of my teen years filled with angst and consumed by a persistent desire to be part of the popular crowd. It was unfortunate I was plagued with parents who thought expensive name-brand clothing was extravagant and unnecessary. I say unfortunate because–probably like many of you–I grew up in an era known for its rampant materialism and shallow definitions of success. Ah the ’80s, when your worth as defined by others was derived from how many Izods you could layer underneath an oxford and what brand was displayed on your butt.

I like to believe times have changed a bit. Sure, there still exist needlessly overpriced clothing like Lucky jeans and Juicy Couture [$200 for jeans? You have to be kidding!]. But kids these days seem a little more focused on personal attributes and less likely to write you off simply because of your Wranglers.

What prompts me to muse on these moments and meander down memory lane you wonder? Well my last post discussed how studies have shown that Second Life can affect our personal self esteem in a positive way. And I mentioned that the opposite is also true; sad situations and suffering in SL can bring a cloud of melancholy and malaise to our real lives. Recently I realized how much my friendships within SL have a direct reflection on how sunny my disposition is during my day. And in that sense, it kind of feels like the terrible teens all over again.

I can’t shake the notion that each time we log into Second Life and our name appears on screen for all our friends to see, it feels like that moment of vulnerability in our youth when we stood before that boy or girl waiting to know if they’d dance with us or not. It’s strange to me how few folks welcome me to the grid when I first arrive. Imagine if a friend of ours walked in to a coffee shop or nightclub in real life. Most likely we’d stop in our tracks and reach out to hug them even if we’d just seen them yesterday. Yet in Second Life, there is no such greeting. In fact, I can go months without so much as a hello from that long list of comrades.

Regardless, my friendships are my favorite reason to be in Second Life at all. I admittedly get a thrill every time I hear the ding that comes when I receive an instant message from a friend; I excitedly look with anticipation to see who’s come knocking on my door. But sometimes I wonder if folks take those friendships in world for granted. I notice when friends partner up I hear from them less often, which is quite sad. And, like the relationship patterns we perpetuate in RL, sometimes we wait for our friends to make contact first–a behavior that also feels like a throwback to the turbulent teenage times.

So to wrap up this rambling post in a nuthshell, here is some advice. See that long list of friends in your upper right corner? When was the last time you picked up the proverbial phone and said hello? Go ahead and make the first move. I guarantee your friend will feel fantastic because you did. And that is real friendship–the desire to make someone else happy just because you can.


  1. Doug said,

    The word Friends in all persistants online communitities is often mistaken for friends. I don’t believe the are same thing. Of course friendships do blossom through regular contact, but is the naming convention wrong. I guess psycologically its nicer to think you have numerous online virtual friends. The definition of virtual on is “Existing or resulting in essence or effect though not in actual fact.” Maybe we should consider them merely contacts.

    Social networking has led to a constant race to accumulate friends online, are maybe as a result we now undervalue the potential they hold. What is the solution?

    Do we abandon the Friend concept? Of course not, that would ruin our experience. Maybe if we treat our Friend list more like we would a list of real-world friends things would be different. Most people have a relatively tight social group of friends,with an extended network of acquintences. Would you really consider a list of 100+ contacts friends?

    Consider how you make real world friendships. They are based on regular face-to-face contact. If we adapt that to online communities we should maintain Friends with those we have regularl contact, greeting etc. Other wise we should cull our contacts regularly. If we meet someone we like once and enjoy the interaction, sure lets be friends. But, if this friendship does not spawn regular contact in the following mutally online sessions, maybe we should cull them from our friends. After all you dont consider someone you met once in Starbucks a friend if they regularly walk past you in the street.

    Just one guys ramblings, but what do you think?

  2. cindykesey said,

    @Doug –
    I couldn’t agree more. I almost suggested in my post that we change the word “friends” to “acquaintances,” although your suggestion of “contacts” works just as well. I recently found myself doing exactly what you describe: mulling over my friends list and weeding out the ones I felt wouldn’t notice if I was off theirs. So far, I was right; I’ve received no questions from them asking me why I was gone.

    I guess what wounds me are the people I felt I did connect with, and their deafening silence. I often wonder if that is a behavior we cultivate in our lives that has transferred to the realm of the social network. Do we find it somehow validating when folks reach out to us first and so we simply wait for someone else to do the work?

  3. Loki Popinjay said,

    I think Doug’s view is correct. It’s not because someone is on my SL Friends list he or she is my friend. It’s a list of people I’ve met and liked or who offered and I usually don’t refuse. Other online communities like Flickr do make a distinction between “aquiantances” and “friends”. There you can label someone a “contact”, a “friend” or even “family”. An SL community site like (or MySpace for that matter) let’s you apply an order to your friends list to a certain degree. You don’t have that in SL. some people use “picks” to highlight who their best buds are but it’s nothing structural.

    Now about the fact the silence when you come online can be deafening … so true. On the other hand I don’t know about you Cindy but I don’t multitask all that well. Five or six people in IM and I’m going bonkers. Add to that one who wants to tell me something via Skype and another “ploing” from Google talk and I run screaming. At least for me it’s the reason I don’t greet everyone who pops online.

    All that to say I’d rather spend some real time with a friend even though it rarely happens then say hi and leave the person hanging because I can’t even keep up with already ongoing conversations. The old quality over quantity thing …
    One thing I noticed though … my best friends in SL are not necessarily the ones I spend most time chatting with but they are a constant and I know they will be there for me when I need them. You know that when you contact them they won’t brush you off or they will just tell you they are busy but propose another time to meet up. I think I know who my friends are in SL even without them being listed as such.

    You’re definitively one of them Cindy 😉

  4. Joey said,

    I’d guess that the population of SL avis might be skewed slightly towards those who are on the nerdy side of things, and (I know I’m generalizing here) nerds are not necessarily known for their social prowess and tend to be somewhat less outgoing than most folks. Still, I believe the majority of people come to SL to satisfy the very basic human need to socialize with others, but it’s also quite plausible that some may, from time to time, actually want to be alone to enjoy a quiet escape from the real world. Additionally, the human psyche is an ever-changing thing, and the puppetmaster’s basic personality and mood likely affects how they interact in-world.

    I’d also say you may be suffering a bit from expectations that may not be totally realistic given that a virtual world is an imprecise approximation of the real world. This isn’t to say that the relationships in SL are not “real” but rather they’re just different and tend to play along slightly different rules. Lower the expectation and focus on doing what you like to do and I think you’ll be happier. If I ever feel “lonely” in SL (which is rare), I just go out somewhere and strike up a conversation with a random avi or find some newb that looks like they need some help. But that’s just me, and as we know, we’re all different.

  5. ero said,

    What do you want to do?
    I don’t know. What to you want to do?
    I don’t know. What do you want to do?

    Yes, friendships. I’ve accepted friendships from people I’ve never “seen” (in the sense that I couldn’t find their avi amidst the crowd of bumping and grinding cyber bods on the dance floor). i have had many “friends” that I have never talked to since the day we met and exchanged friendship. All told, I fear I have nothing to say to most of the people on my friends list, but that doesn’t mean i don’t wish them well…it is because I never think of them. There has to be an analogy for this feeling…friends in SL are like those stacks of business cards I have in my top drawer in my office. All told, I probably have about 100. So far, I haven’t only called or emailed about 15, and maybe three of them have become regular correspondents. I wouldn’t mind if one of them emailed me out of the blue and said hi, but I would like it was a bit strange that that they were, perhaps, trying to get something out of me. In SL, as Cindy said, the social aspects (green light goes on, name pops up in right hand corner) certainly affords us the opportunity to connect the moment they enter the world, but I think this urge is Pavlovian and needs to be wrestled with more. I will readily admit that I don’t tend my SL garden–I don’t weed out dead and dying friends and perhaps I don’t nurture and water healthy friends sufficiently. Perhaps that is why, at the and of the day, it is when I get the IM when I am offline, and someone is just letting me know that they are thinking of me, that I am most moved. That asynchronous missive, not a “hi” or a “wb” but something resembling a coherent thought being shared between two complex individuals…that is lovely and rare.

    In sum, I suspect that I have been merely repeating Cindy’s point, I will close with an attempt to encapsulate my herd of cats:

    When I give you my “friendship” in SL, I am giving nothing of value–it is free and accessible to all. It is when I give you my time that I know we are friends. And if I wake up from a dream in which you are reciting Walt Whitman, then I imagine I am in love.

  6. Kimala said,

    Cindy –
    I just have to thank you for allowing me to be a lurker of your blog posts for months. You always give me so much to think about and moments where I breathe a sigh of relief and say.. .wow… someone else feels that way too!, Whew!

    SL does bring back teen angst. I too am a product of the 80’s materialism often caught without the latest greatest unless I bought it with my hard earned after school job income. SL shopping craziness has allowed me to keep up with the cool kids relatively easily but I still find myself quiet and shy at new venues when surrounded by people I don’t know all that well.

    SL friendships and the friends list in general are an interesting phenomenon. They don’t necessarily coincide. I keep people on my list oftentimes way too long because I worry of offending someone. A close friend on my list says if she doesn’t hear from someone more than 2 times a week then they are off the list. I’m not sure which way is the right way. My close friends know who they are and I smile big when I see their names appear online. I try to honor them as well in my profile. I suppose my contacts list ends up being more like my address book… I don’t call or email all those people sometimes for weeks or months.

    Thank you again for always giving me a validation or a new thought provoking way to view the SLworld.


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