Thursday, September 10, 2009

Being online

This week is a time for reviewing the year and wondering what I've done with it. I am finding that time is speeding up in the way that everyone says it does. Christmas and birthdays seem to be getting closer together with every passing year.

I'm beginning to feel that I am separated from my contemporaries by my immersion in online activities. Working as a writer, knowledge-base writer and Second Life builder, I spend quite a bit of time online, but it's much, MUCH more than that. Many of the online forums and websites have their own language, not quite a jargon, more a series of running jokes. The "unicorn chaser" of BoingBoing, the "who'll bring pie?" of the SL forums, the Trout Recreant rating system from SL Universe, and knowing what being Ruth'd is, or what a Box-on-head moment is in Second Life. Understanding lol or ROFL or AFAIK or IMNSHO.

The people I resonate with in the virtual world and online are passionate, honest, in favour of civil liberties and against restrictions that make no sense (like the current ones on photography in public places) and they care about them, protest against things, work towards making things better. They are familiar with and aware about issues of IP ownership and personal freedom, scathing of people who are inauthentic. It's a state of mind and intelligence which is hard to pin down but absolutely recognisable to those who know what it is.

They are connected to the issues of the day and to each other, and they recognise each other too. It's a whole new world which I feel is passing other people by, either because they aren't online or don't want to be.

My real-life friends are fantastic people, also passionate about a wide variety of things, interested in lots of things, intelligent and interesting... but many of them have hardly anything to do with life online and nothing at all with virtual worlds. Many of them seem asleep to the dangers of identity cards, the threat to civil liberties and the reason why such things are important. It is odd trying to match up the people I resonate with in virtual spaces and those I am friends with in the real world, especially when the latter have so little interest in or time for the former. It means that I do have two separate lives, which are almost impossible to reconcile. I still find myself passionately advocating for virtual worlds when challenged - "why would you pretend to be something you aren't?" or "why don't you switch off the computer and do something in the real world?" - although I have given up on trying to persuade family and friends that the virtual world might have something to offer them. It's one of those things you have to learn by experience.

I'm assuming that if we don't manage to kill ourselves and the planet in short order, the cohesion of the virtual world and the real world will get easier. My sons and daughter use a variety of ways to keep in touch with their friends, including online messaging, texting, email, facebook, webcams and skype. I've noticed that even the boys are used to juggling several activities at once, and they rarely simply watch television, finding that too little to keep them interested. Often they are playing a game, talking to friends and watching television all at the same time.

There will always be people who decline to use computers and online methods of communications, but I guess that will be an increasingly small number of people as time goes by. I've had some of the funniest moments, some of the most romantic, and some of the most moving in an online or virtual setting. I can see enormous potential in virtual world for education and communication. I just hope that, one day, some of my real life friends will discover it too.


  1. Nice post and so true.

    I think most of us struggle to balance our lives and allocate our time optimally (work/play, self/friends/family, duties/me-time, earning money/ spending it, online /offline).

    I have lived and worked with technology long enough to see colleagues, friends and family radically change their attitude to digital media (we even used to call it 'new media'!) and I know I have too. It's now too much of cliche to say it's all driven by youth; if you can use a telephone or write a letter you can send an email or write a blog or operate an avatar. Age is no longer a factor. Happy Silver surfers can grow into happy Bald(ing) surfers. Sure there are people in Second Life who can't cope with Real Life but whose fault is that? I don't believe the Lindens lured them in maliciously...

    Virtual worlds can be truly empowering and liberating; who is to say time spent there is less 'worthwhile' than going down the pub and talking rubbish all night?

    Please keep on giving us stuff like this to think about Cali!


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