Blurring the Boundaries

August 11, 2007 at 1:37 am (Privacy, Second Life)

This week was rather momentous. I was in San Francisco attending a conference and, for the very first time, I met a SL friend in RL. Although I knew what he looked like from the photo in his profile I admit the moments leading up to the initial meeting were filled with palpable anticipation. Would his impression of the real me match that he’d built in his mind? Had I been honest about myself enough for him to paint an accurate picture of the flesh and blood me?

This experience and several conversations with other friends this week led me to wonder about the differences between openness in SL and personal privacy in RL.

In both SL and RL I tend to be an open book, often sharing too much about myself too soon. Yet I’m also a believer in the idea that friends should love me for the true person that I am. And, if I feel they don’t see the real me from the outset, then what’s the point?

But when does the sharing of personal information become TMI? Or–said another way–when, if ever, is it dangerous to share personal information in SL? Moreover, is this growing propensity to blur the boundaries between SL and RL through crossover technologies such as the new voice-chat, Skype, ooVoo, telephone, and Webcam a bad thing?

Although I personally know of no specific instances of avi-stalkers in SL–and the real-life counterpart to those deviants–I have heard rumblings of these shenanigans. I’ve certainly never experienced them myself. Perhaps (and some friends I know argue) I should consider myself lucky as I’ve shared some pretty significant details about my home life, work life, and personal life (including photos) with friends and acquaintances alike. But my tendency to share details about myself extends into real life as well. And I don’t walk around feeling perpetually paranoid or creeped out that a potential stalker or identity thief is lurking around each corner.

Adding complexity to the situation seems to be my growing need to extend my SL relationships into the flesh. It’s as if, after awhile, the avi:avi dimension isn’t enough and I yearn for some physical connection to the real individual behind the screen. I don’t think I’m alone here since nearly everyone I meet already has an email address or Skype screen name with their avatar’s moniker.

So what does this inclination to divulge our most personal details to folks we barely know say about us or our trust in the individual on the other end? And does the seemingly inevitable evolution of Second Life interaction into real-life connection help or hinder that trust in the human spirit overall?

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