Cyber Crush: The Allure of Online Attraction

April 27, 2008 at 3:34 pm (Communication, Friendship, Life, Love, Relationships, Second Life) (, , )

Awhile back I invited guests to submit relevant topics to post on my blog. My great friend Joey Svenska finally took me up on the offer. This is his original post, in its entirety.
~Cindy Kesey

I think it is human nature for people to want to connect with others. We want to be liked and accepted, and either consciously or otherwise, we tend to seek out and bond with others whom we perceive to be similar to ourselves. I also think the majority of people who purposely put themselves into social situations–even virtual ones like Second Life (SL)–are generally receptive to interacting with others; otherwise, they’d have their noses in a book or their eyes glued to the television set instead of venturing out.

But as human beings we are, at our most base level, merely animals, and some of the most primitive of human instincts are those that involve the desire to seek out a potential mate. Thus it’s no surprise that with the right combination of physical attraction, charm, and witty exchanges, the desire to socialize and the innate primal impulse to find a partner can coalesce into a classic recipe for “hooking up,”especially when all of these elements are combined within a virtual framework designed for interaction. Add a couple of glasses of wine to that and it’s very easy to see how so many people in SL find themselves deeply infatuated with someone else online–whether they intended to or not.

As many of we SL veterans can attest, meeting and connecting with a new person in-world can be rather exciting, especially if we find our counterpart to be charming and visually-appealing. And of course, as we all have seen, in SL virtually everyone is drop-dead gorgeous. But why is it that the initial spark we often feel when meeting someone new is so short-lived? And why do we, time and time again, find ourselves craving the intense energy and strong emotional feelings that we get from new encounters?

I think some of the answers may come from an area of psychology known as cognitive biases. Cognitive biases are learned behaviors that influence and sometimes foul up our ability to make rational decisions. One particular cognitive bias known as the “halo effect” was identified by psychologist Edward Thorndike and later expanded upon by Solomon Asch. They discovered that when an observer finds a particular aspect of a situation appealing they tend to assume that the other undiscovered traits of the situation are also positive, even in the absence of supporting evidence. As such, when one person finds another physically attractive or particularly intelligent, it’s quite common for the observer to generalize that the observed person’s other personality aspects are equally appealing.

We also tend to perceive brand new people in the best light because we are initially unaware of their faults and shortcomings. Over time, we slowly and inexorably discover that the new person is just another ordinary human being, fraught with their own merits and faults. But during those blissful initial stages, the new person is often regarded as if they truly do wear a halo.

The halo effect seems to explain, at least in part, how we become so myopically focused on the positive aspects of a partner whilst we are–at least temporarily–blind to their differences and faults. As time goes by and as we learn more about the new person’s proclivities and foibles, our overly optimistic initial perception of the new person tends to wane along with the law of diminishing returns.

So why are we so addicted to the bliss of initial encounters when we know based on our past experiences that the magic almost always fades away? It’s probably because our brain experiences an arousal response when we meet new potential mates. The stimulation provided by a flirtatious conversation with a sexy new person in a romantic setting is a likely trigger for the release of neurochemicals in our brains, giving us a temporary “high”– something that feels really good and makes us crave more.

But alas, as with all mind-altering substances, the partaker builds up a tolerance to the conditions that facilitate the “high,” and as the effects are successively shorter-lived they thus require more and more of the stimulus to get to that exalted happy place. Paradoxically, as we learn more about the new person, their halo starts to dim and we begin to lose, little by little, the charge of that initial excitement. At that point I think the focus of the relationship must necessarily change from one of simple attraction into one based on honest communication, mutual respect, and shared experiences in order for it to grow and thrive.

After some reflection on this, it has become rather apparent to me how easy it is for people to become so totally enthralled, and, yes, even addicted to establishing new relationships. I also see how some of us can suffer a bit from our nascent online infatuations and even become somewhat frustrated as we continue to crave the intense feelings associated with the ephemeral high of those sublime first encounters.

So the next time an initial physical attraction sparks up your primitive mating instinct and gives you those warm fuzzy feelings, be sure to enjoy that moment to its fullest. As it’s quite likely that future encounters with the new person may become successively less thrilling. However, if you go into the situation knowledgeable of the halo effect, and you put forth some time and effort to really get to know that person better and communicate openly and honestly about your feelings, you may find yourself with something that is far more rewarding than a simple cyber-infatuation: that of a true friendship and a lasting relationship.

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Which came first Second Life or the messed-up marriage?

April 16, 2008 at 9:34 pm (Communication, dishonesty, Life, Love, Marriage, Relationships, Second Life, Sex) (, )

Did you hear that? It’s the sound a movie makes when you play it in quickly in reverse. It’s the same sound you heard when you played those old Ozzy and Led Zeppelin record albums (yes, record album…look it up kids) backwards to hear their supposed secret messages. But that sound has a new meaning. It’s now the sound you hear when someone uninstalls Second Life (SL) from their computer. All their experiences–the love affairs, explorations, live music, poetry readings, amazing conversations, drama, and discovery–played in reverse as their virtual world is sucked back into the void. And it just happened again.

Sadly the person who erased the existence of his virtual life this time was a good friend of mine. But I hear the sound more and more frequently as people struggle to come to terms with the ways in which Second Life is affecting their real lives.

Like the story of so many others, one ordinary online day my friend’s unsuspecting spouse stumbled upon his up-till-then secret Second Life romance. Shocked, she stood and stared at the computer screen, mouth gaping, silently soaking in what she was seeing on the screen: the sensuous embrace between her husband’s avatar self and his avatar sweetheart. What ensued, according to my friend, was a spat of monstrous proportions complete with sinister accusations, insufferable demands, and blanket ultimatums.

Sound familiar?

The sad thing about this scenario is that, because my friend was caught in the proverbial act so to speak, he seemed compelled to shoulder the weight of the blame for the state of the relationship he and his spouse shared. But that is just too simple and life is never simple, is it? For there must have been something that led him–and many others like him–to land and linger in Second Life in the first place.

What I’ve found is that people from all walks of life are floundering in uninspired and sometimes even loveless marriages, then flocking to Second Life in search of something to fill the void. Most of them don’t even realize that’s what they’re doing; they themselves foster the illusion that all is well on the homefront. (Ah, if I had a dime for every person I’ve met in SL who, upon first meeting, told tales of happy marriages later fessing up to the reality of their fizzling real life connections.)

My point is that for every person engaged in what many would deem “cyber-cheating,” there is usually an untold tale of marital strife that led them to seek out online diversions in the first place. In essence, it’s the same familiar chicken-and-egg cycle: the relationship is broken so we seek solace somewhere else. Then the virtual adventures cause partnership problems. Lather, rinse, and repeat.

So if you find your partners engaged in online relationships that you don’t understand, don’t simply slam down your gavel and thrust your verdict upon them just yet. Talk openly and honestly with him or her about why they are in Second Life.

And for those of you running from your real life and into the arms of your online loves it’s time to get real. Stop torturing yourself and those around you and make some decisions that will have a positive impact in your real life. It may mean that, like my friend, you must uninstall SL for awhile. Or perhaps you can get to the root of the problem with your partner and patch things up without saying goodbye to all the great things SL has to offer.

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The Ultimate Meetup: Polyamory in Second Life

March 8, 2008 at 4:17 pm (dishonesty, Guilt, Infidelity, Life, Love, Marriage, Polyamory, Relationships, Second Life, Sex)

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Let’s just say the cat is out of the proverbial bag. Recent events and media stories have thrust the polyamorous lifestyle back into the limelight. Oh it’s not entirely out of the smoky shadows and dark closets [I love that even the software I’m using to write this doesn’t recognize the word “polyamorous” and tries to spell correct.] But people are talking about it. And I think this is only the beginning.

One recent full-length article in the Washington Post featured stories from polyamorous couples, triads, etc. as they and their families attended a two-day conference in Pennsylvania. Although only 100 people attended the conference, the sponsor boasts a mailing list of over 15,000. Think about that. These are 15,000 people who, in the glaring spotlight of our often pious, puritanical culture–at least in the red-state, religious right-dominated US–have come to terms with the idea of polyamory enough to sign up for a mailing list. For each of them I bet there are thousands more of us who dabble with the idea; many of us sitting “safely” in the comfortable soft glow of our computer screens.

As Regina Lynn pointed out in her recent discussion of polyamory in Wired, the internet has done much to connect like-minded folks who venture online seeking an accepting community of their peers, polys included. But I’d go one step further and assert that Second Life has done more to bring the lifestyle into the mainstream, whether it’s consensual or still framed in the participants’–and their unsuspecting spouses or partners–minds as “cheating.”

The problem with where we are today is that we are experiencing–leading perhaps, if I might be so bold–a cultural shift in the way we deal with relationships. Whereas years ago the folks pursuing poly lifestyles often fit the sensitive ponytail man stereotype, people today who stumble upon these adventures are often what most of us would consider “normal.” Because we are the same people who have come to SL for business or curiosity and were blown away when we accidentally experienced intense attraction–and love–toward other amazing individuals we met there.

As barriers to “meeting up” continue to diminish in this new era of community and connection, and as the divorce rate continues to skyrocket (it is greater than 50% in the US), many of us look around and realize something’s gotta give. And I don’t really see any other option than to redefine how we experience love and relationships moving forward. Self-admitted poly Anita Wagner, as quoted by author Monica Hesse in the Washington Post article, puts it in context below: (sorry for the long quote, but it says it all):

“‘Many of us tried to make monogamy work,’ Wagner says. But monogamy, she says, often seemed to throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak. Its practitioners would break off ‘perfectly good relationships’ just because of intellectual incompatibility, for example, or because one partner liked ballet and the other liked bowling. Doesn’t it make more sense, polys ask, to keep the good parts of a relationship, and find another boyfriend who likes ‘Swan Lake’?

The compartmentalization of affection: It’s completely at odds with today’s Disney Princess/Coldplay-lyric view of marriage, in which your spouse is your lover, best friend, therapist and Wii buddy, and you also have identical taste in movies.

But as people are increasingly expected to self-actualize clear to the grave, what are the chances that they’ll pair up with someone who is on the exact same path of discovery?”

Thought: Maybe you can have it all. You just can’t get it all from the same person.

In my view Second Life provides a unique opportunity for us to test the waters of polyamory before actually diving into the deep end. In theory we can experience love and compatibility with new friends without bringing the baggage that comes with connections in the physical realm (read “multiple sex partners”). That’s not to say it won’t upset the marital apple cart. But perhaps that cart is rolling down a rocky road anyway.

I realize this is new territory. And, like most attempts to chart new terrain, there exist few maps and guidebooks to point out the pitfalls on the journey. By writing honestly and openly about these experiences–although that could be debated as I’m still writing under a pseudonym–I’m attempting to help us at least come clean and start talking about how it feels to meet someone new who brings something to our lives that our current partner may not. And also how it feels to be the lover of one who is loved by another.

So consider this an invitation to join the dialogue. What have been your experiences with polyamory and Second Life? Is your partner aware of your actions? Have you set up successful parameters that allow you–and perhaps your partner as well–to partake in the previously forbidden waters of multiple romantic relationships?

See my previous post about how my husband and I came to discover polyamory in Second Life.

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Maybe We All Need A SLife Coach

February 21, 2008 at 7:17 pm (Life, Love, Relationships, Second Life)

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“I’m not a therapist, but I play one on TV. ”

Writing this blog has provided me an amazing opportunity to analyze and investigate social behaviors that surface in Second Life. I often receive messages from folks who are grateful to find my insightful behavioral interpretations and constructive advice on how to navigate this complex virtual world. Of course others still discount the important role Second Life plays to many of us and the weight of the relationships that we cultivate in world. But I believe that sentiment is symptomatic of our somewhat cynical times.

According to BusinessWeek, analyst firm Gartner reports that by the year 2011 more than 250 million people will participate in some sort of online virtual world, whether it be Second Life, Kaneva, Weblo, Webkinz, or any number of others that cater to various audiences. And sure, many of those folks may log on to learn how to script, build, or design. But the majority of us are plugging into these online paradises to connect with people. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Is there?

On the surface, the answer is no. People have been forming online friendships since the early days of IRC and online chatrooms. But Second Life and other virtual worlds seem to elicit connections that grow much deeper than surface level. Dr. Benn Konsynski, professor at Emory University, in an MIT sponsored Webcast I attended recently discussed the psycho-social effects of virtual world play and referred to the phenomenon as “elevator effects: direct mirroring pathologies” where we–you and I sitting at our computers–physically react to stimuli felt by our avatars online. We’re represented by cartoon animations of ourselves but we feel the same emotions–and sometimes, I’d argue, more intensely.

So what goes best with a diet of rich emotions and intense feelings all served up in a complex collection of personal connections? A therapist! You laugh, but I see the writing on the wall very clearly: someday soon our society must grapple with the prevalence of these online relationships and the effect they are having on the lives we lead in the “real” world.

For legal reasons I must provide this disclaimer: I am not a therapist by training or trade. All Second Life and virtual world play should be done at one’s own risk. But I will continue to provide observations and–maybe to the chagrin of some of you–sometimes even try to help people see the proverbial forest through the animated trees. Because Second Life is NOT real life. We all have one of those, whether we like it or not. And especially if we don’t like it, we owe it to ourselves to spend less time online and more time trying to make our everyday existence better.

I’m going to leave you with this, my faithful and fascinating friends: Second Life can offer you a chance to reinvent yourself, explore alternate realities, and even find enriching connections with friends and lovers who will help you see yourself differently. But do not distort your reality by using Second Life to escape difficult situations. That will only prolong your pain. Seize today and make it, and your entire real life, the best it can possibly be. And if that doesn’t work, take a Xanax  and call me in the morning.

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Second Life: A Playground for Power Play

February 3, 2008 at 1:21 pm (Friendship, Love, Relationships, Second Life, Sex) (, , , , , )

 

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“You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

This is one of those bizarre sayings that somehow made it into our English vernacular. And like other phrases with questionable heritage, this one sounds weird yet makes sense. But we often seem to lose the meaning behind this particular adage. Ever come across those people with acidic personalities; men, women, and avatars who are quick to judge and even quicker to throw their barbs of negativity in your direction? Logic would tell us–as would our original snippet of wisdom–that these folks who rub others the wrong way would be friendless and forgotten. Not so.

Sadly, we are often drawn to the people who remain aloof and self absorbed. This is probably due our natural human desire to win others over; the more difficult the catch, the more captivating the chase. And I don’t think this tendency is any less apparent in Second Life (SL). I’ve watched from the periphery how glorified, self appointed sim divas attract adoration from an unsuspecting gaggle of devotees. Sure, eventually many of those starry-eyed supporters see through the charade and come to realize the cost of their ardor. But by then the damage is done. And the diva remains unfettered by the loss of the attention and, worse, empowered by her history of conquests.

As I pondered this premise, I began to notice a similarity between this scenario and the power paradigm of the BDSM and Gorean role play prevalent in SL. Thanks to an amazing and patient friend who chaperoned me as his guest, I recently enjoyed an opportunity to visit a Gorean sim to see what this scene was all about. And I was struck by how dutifully the female slaves “played” their roles and how devoted they were to their masters and others who were not of their echelon. Not only that, as a “free woman” I enjoyed an intense power dichotomy: satisfied with my superior status yet simultaneously fearful of upsetting the status quo.

Upon my arrival to the tribe’s home, my awareness was immediately heightened so much so that I physically felt a sense of timidity and trepidation (two terms NOT typically in my vocabulary). Even though I was not a slave, as a woman in a realm where men owned all the power I felt I must tread with tremendous caution and a sincere and meticulous attention to the details of my interactions. This might sound crazy to many of you–especially those who know what a high-spirited double fire sign I am. Yet the experience was exhilarating: I at once felt more alive (yes I see the ironic twist, given this is my avatar’s experience) and developed a deeper purpose to my public prose. This is actually a HUGE lesson for me and one that I’ve needed to learn for years. And it gave me deeper insight into why many people, women in particular, choose this lifestyle both in and out of the virtual world.

Power play–whether organic or deliberate like Gor–is a primary component of our interpersonal relationships. Who has the power is often determined more by our intrinsic nature than by the circumstances that arise. This is one of the things that makes Second Life so appealing: it is a playground for power play. The virtual venue provides a safe setting where we can try on different aspects of ourselves to gain insights into who and how we are. If we’re normally a dominant personality, we can submit for a bit. And if we’re traditionally timid and somewhat shy, we can step outside ourselves and become the life of the party. 

 

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Deep or Wide: What’s Your Friends List Like?

January 10, 2008 at 6:06 pm (Friendship, Life, Love, Relationships, Second Life) (, , , , , )

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Because clearly Facebook, MySpace, Second Life (SL), Twitter, and LinkedIn aren’t enough social networking tools for me, I recently joined yet one more site: a Second Life-focused networking site called SLProfiles. What? You’re struck by the irony that a social networking site like Second Life has its own social networking site to socially network with those you already socially network with in world? Me too! But a friend of mine was a member so I thought I’d check it out.

Within the first 10 minutes of being a member I had just as many requests for my friendship (that’s 10 requests in 10 minutes for the numerically challenged). I was immediately basking in my own glow; pleased as punch that I must have that certain je ne sais quoi that makes people want to befriend me upon just one glance of my photo. But after I came down off off my fleeting narcissistic high I became suspicious. And as I inspected these new-found friend wannabes, I noticed they all shared a unique quality: a friends list numbering in the thousands. Holy crap! Have I been inducted into the friendship hall of fame? These folks must be the most popular people in SL and they have requested my friendship! Glorious, I have finally arrived to take my rightful place among the elusive “popular crowd” to which I so desperately longed to belong in junior high school, right? Not.

It appears there are some people in SL–and probably other social networking forums too–who collect friends like stamps. (I stole that quote from Loki, to give credit where credit is due 🙂 ). And it got me thinking. Why would someone want a list of friends a mile long that they didn’t really even know? Has the definition of “friend” changed to mean affiliate or, even worse, market segment? Do these folks expect to become friends with these thousands of people on their list? As an experiment I accepted friendship from several of them to see if we would, in fact, become friends. Dialtone. Not even an auto-generated response thanking me for becoming their friend. Phooey! It’s back to the bottom of the social heap for me.

In looking at my own friends list in SL I noticed that I share some of the tendency I had witnessed; I too have a long friends list–not thousands of people, mind you–filled with many acquaintances and a handful of real friends. But there is a difference; I don’t fatten my friends list to merely feel famous. I tend to collect acquaintances who I hope will blossom into friends one day. And I must admit I feel a bit deflated when some of these friendship buds die on the vine without ever really flourishing.

So my point–and I do have one–is this: is it better to have a small collection of rich, deep, and often intense friend relationships or to have a dance card full of fabulous and somewhat frivolous friends? I tend to prefer depth to breadth. But that’s just me. I am an intensity seeker, looking for relationships that knock me off my feet. But I know plenty of social butterflies who flit from sim to sim happy to find familiar faces at each stop.

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Group Dynamics, Communities, and the Mob Mentality

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

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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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What’s “SLove” Got To Do With It?

December 4, 2007 at 11:21 am (Communication, Friendship, Love, Polyamory, Relationships, Second Life) (, , , , , , , , , )

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I’ve written before about my own experiences of falling in love online. And I’ve made it no secret that I think we all could benefit from the added ego boost that comes when we see our own power through a fresh pair of eyes. But lately I’ve noticed the unique tendency in Second Life (SL) to be incredibly loose with the use of the “L” word. This is something that appears to be unique to SL, as I don’t hear its utterance on every street corner in the real world around me. In fact, in my own past I recall laboring over whether the time was right to use it at all lest I communicate something I wasn’t ready to reveal. But in SL we seem to be quite liberal with the word and the idea. This has caused me to doubt its sincerity a bit and wonder how many of those love feelings are real and how many we manufacture in an attempt to reap the rewards of simply having them?

Many people I know in SL are quick to claim they’ve found “the one,” to only days later discard the shell of that relationship onto the pile of other rejects. We seem so hasty to label our experience as love or something similar, that perhaps in our desperation we see things that may not really be there. In essence, are our experiences in SL just added examples that we’re a culture addicted to being in love?

Another practice that has me puzzled is the act of partnering in SL. To limit one’s adventures in a limitless universe by staking out relationship territory to me defeats the purpose of Second Life altogether. Yet I think the partnership propensity is another example of how we attempt to find order in the chaos of the grid. Partnership–and other public displays of our affections such as the gushing tributes in our profiles–is a definitive and specific way to profess that we do care about another person. It also helps communicate, in a world where words are all we really have, the varying degrees of feelings we have for those in our circle of friends who are important to us.

A friend told me recently that Second Life can be a very lonely place. This concept amazed me, since there are so many things to do and see and so many people yet to meet. But there is a sense that, if we do not belong to someone on the grid–whether a partner or a family–we are missing some critical component of the experience. How many times have you looked at someone else’s profile and felt a pang of envy at the declarations of love and appreciation showered upon those who are a part of their circle of friends?

So what’s my point? Am I saying we should put on the brakes and be parsimonious with the love language? I don’t think so. I might be more apt to encourage us to learn from how free we feel to use the words in SL, and how great it feels when someone uses them with us in return. Then perhaps we take that freedom and become more liberal with love and appreciation in our lives everyday.

In addition, it may be useful to find another way to affirm our adoration in SL; one that isn’t weighed down by the baggage of varying and disputed definitions of the word (love means many different things to many different people). Not long ago I saw the word “slove” used to describe the intensity of emotion that is uniquely felt within SL and it seemed a perfect definition for the unique but incredibly intense feelings of love–or at minimum deep like or admiration–that are elicited in this crazy online world.

So I say, don’t be afraid to stand up and profess it loudly and proudly: I SLove you! See, doesn’t that feel good?

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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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